art + music by Emil Hofileña

Ballet Manila’s Snow White brings it back to the people

The second full-length choreographed production from prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde juggles a bit too much, but reaches many

Choreographed by Ballet Manila’s own artistic director and CEO Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, Snow White takes inspiration from a variety of sources. With ideas from the Brothers Grimm, Jules Massenet’s opera, and the 1937 Disney film, it tells the story of a fair princess who is sought by an evil queen for her beauty.

Snow White bears many similarities to Macuja-Elizalde’s first-full-length choreographic work, last year’s Cinderella. Both productions combine classical music and dance with more modern elements, and both are primarily aimed at younger audiences and families. The result this time around is a show that easily accomplishes Ballet Manila’s mission for their 22nd season: to bring ballet back to the people. Though its efforts to become accessible to everyone occasionally spread it too thin.

Thankfully, Snow White’s production design is closer to the splendor of Ballet Manila’s Ibong Adarna than to the sparse set decoration in Swan Lake. The various locations are suitably immersive, and clever costume design come across as organic to the setting. This is particularly true for the tricky-to-get-right forest animals and the seven dwarves. The ballet’s greatest achievement, though, is the Evil Queen’s lair, made to look like one enormous, overgrown mirror.

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Macuja-Elizalde’s choreography isn’t as heavy on classical ballet as you might expect, but the routines that are there are impressive in their own ways. The Evil Queen dancing with her reflection is inventive and haunting, while Snow White’s first encounter with the Prince—the central piece of the entire show—is playful and romantic.

Where Snow White stumbles is in its integration of some of the more child-friendly elements. From a storytelling perspective, it makes sense to have the seven dwarves be clumsier and more childish, but it’s a little disappointing that their routines are far less elegant (ending their big number by collectively dabbing, no less). And while having the dwarves interact with the audience is great for kids, this ends up taking major time away from Snow White and the Evil Queen. The latter’s inevitable demise, in particular, feels hurried and anticlimactic.

But these elements are only disappointing because any time spent with Snow White (Katherine Barkman) and the Evil Queen (Abigail Oliveiro) is the best part of the show. Even beyond their dancing, both ballerinas turn in exceptional performances, crafting memorable characters with nothing but their faces. Barkman displays genuine wonder and kindheartedness, while Oliveiro’s aggressive, pointed movements contrast impressively with her eternally poised, scornful expressions. Even if the entirety of Snow White doesn’t always succeed, its many strengths—especially its two lead performers—always tip the scales in the show’s favor.

SNOW WHITE WILL BE PERFORMED AT THE ALIW THEATER IN PASAY ON DECEMBER 2 AND 3. FOR TICKETS, VISIT TICKETWORLD.COM.PH.
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Emil Hofileña
Emil is a staff writer at Rogue Media. He spends way too much time and money watching movies, crying to Hamilton, and fawning over Carly Rae Jepsen. He believes all stories are worth telling. Follow him on Youtube at youtube.com/cinemil and on Twitter at @EmilHofilena.
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