ARRIVING just a few minutes before curtain time, I didn’t have the chance to look around for friends among the audience. But surely, they and I must agree that the “Masterworks” performance of Ballet Philippines at SM City Cebu was truly memorable and, at times, made our jaws drop.

Organized for the benefit of the Arts Council of Cebu and the Cebu School Development Program of St. Theresa’s College, “Masterworks” fulfilled its commitment to showcase classical, neo-classical and contemporary numbers.

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While I’ll always be biased for classical ballet, “Masterworks” presented from beginning to end performance pieces that left the audience constantly wide-eyed and primed for the succeeding numbers.

Because I have two left feet, I have always been in awe of people who can, at will, transform their bodies to whichever way the slightest tune or sound inspires them. It’s said that grace in dancing is inborn, not learned, and that at best, the others can only be taught techniques in execution.

True or not, the dancers of Ballet Philippines had me applauding them from number to number, stopping only in anticipation of the next dances. And just when one number became my favorite, the succeeding numbers made me take back my words.

“Igorot” choreographed by Agnes Locsin threw us into rapt respect as the dancer’s vivid movements and colorful costume pictured the daily routines of the mountain tribe.

Contrarily, the stage took on a lively and playful atmosphere as excerpts from “Ensalada” presented a caricature of Filipino urban life. Expertly using such well-loved Filipino compositions as “Bakya Mo, Neneng” and “Mamang Kutsero,” the performances brought the audience to that time in their lives when joys were simple, love was uncomplicated and fun was clean.

Those who think ballet is only for the soft-limbed and lift-ophile, “Evacuation” corrected them. Dancing demands athleticism as well, as two dancers performed the artistic creation of Augustus “Bam” Damian III.

This was echoed in “Swimming the Ilog Pasig” as Alden Lugnasin’s choreography captivated the audience with its dancers’ translation of synchronized swimming, complete with Speedo swimsuits, trunks and caps. Created to reinforce efforts to clean up the Pasig River, the dance execution proved how so much can be said and so many movements can be executed within a four-layer set of steel bars carrying a dozen dancers.

One memorable movie some years back was “Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan?” Thanks to Ballet Philippines, I saw this relived in dancing form, as emotionally rich and deep as the movie version.

Close to the day of hearts, one number once again reinforced the popularity of “Romeo and Juliet,” particularly the balcony scene. While the dancers exhibited an impressive performance, I will always be partial to other performances of the same piece by other dancers in the past.

The finale “Te Deum” sent the audience pensive and reflective as Denisa Reyes’ choreography translated a country on the brink of revolution, each citizen wanting to be heard, and everyone appealing to the Almighty for safety, protection and redemption.

A dance so powerful in message about times gone or beyond.

(lelani.echaves@gmail.com)