When Master Pieces—a sort of greatest hits compilation of works by Ballet Philippines—began, I settled in my seat for two hours of dutiful art appreciation. “Dutiful” in this sense can mean
A. Good for you, the way leafy green and yellow vegetables are good for you.
B. The responsibility of every cultured citizen.
C. Showing support for Filipino artists, who are acclaimed in other countries but are unrecognized at home.
D. All of the above.
The first piece, Farandole, set to music by Georges Bizet, confirmed my expectations. It was a showcase of grace and technical prowess, impressive, but largely indistinguishable from a performance by a good ballet company anywhere in the world. Which is probably where the dancers will end up, given the limited opportunities for professional ballet dancers in the Philippines. (Well, maybe not in Britain, where the result of the Brexit referendum backs up my suspicion that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Couldn’t the Queen do something, along the lines of, “We are taking back this country because you clearly don’t know what to do with it”? Excuse the digression.)
As far as I could tell the most Filipino thing about the opening piece, apart from the dancers’ nationality, was the set design: None. The dancers performed valiantly on a stage that announced the lack of a budget for set design. Granted, there was nothing to distract us from the beauty of human movement. The fact that Dance MNL the Philippine Dance Festival exists at all is the brave organizers’ declaration of faith in art over general indifference.
When the piece ended, I joined in the polite applause. “Polite applause” being
A. A tribute to the talent and discipline of the dancers.
B. A way of showing the other viewers that we are not philistines, or asleep.
C. “That’s nice, what else have you got?”
D. All of the above.
The next piece, Halik, choreographed by Paul Morales, was an excerpt from the ballet Crisostomo Ibarra. I did not know this at the time because I didn’t buy the programme. However, I could tell from the very expressive performers that it was an emotionally charged scene between two lovers saying goodbye. There was a sadness about the piece, a sense of wistfulness and regret. Maybe the evening was not going to be as dutiful as I thought.
It wasn’t. My sense of duty rapidly changed into relief that I was there to witness something that reached for greatness.