An ill-fated love story in Philippine Ballet Theater’s ‘Ibalon’

The vibrancy of Ibalon: The Love of Handyong and Oryol lit up the stage of the Samsung Performing Arts Theater in Makati City as it hosted the opening show of the Philippine Ballet Theatre’s 37th season recently.

“From brainstorming the concept to creating new choreography and music that tells the story and down to putting production design and technical requirements, it really takes a village to premiere a new ballet production. This is an innovative way to bring the Bicolano epic to the consciousness of the Filipino people,” stated Cultural Center of the Philippines ad interim vice chairperson Margarita Moran-Floirendo.

Ibalon: The Love of Handyong and Oryol is the ballet interpretation of the CCP resident ballet company of the epic, Ibalon, which exists only in fragments, from Bicol and whose title is the old name of the region in southern Luzon. Deeply rooted in history and heritage, it focuses on the love story between the warrior hero Handyong, brilliantly played by Matthew Davo, and the cursed Oryol, dazzlingly portrayed by Jessa Tangalin. Together with the protagonist’s closest friends Baltog and Bantong — portrayed by Dom Delmo and Justin Orande — they journeyed into a mission to free the damsel in distress from the spell which finally transforms her back into a princess.

This reimagining came from a renewed energy within the group, even as they suffered from dwindling dancer base during the continued lockdowns because of the coronavirus pandemic.

King Gat Ibal introduces guests from lands afar.

“Emerging from the pandemic was a dance company whose future was uncertain. Many of the former members had left the company for personal reasons, leaving only a few of the younger ones,” lamented PBT artistic director and choreographer Ronilo “Ron” Jaynario.

“Because of this, the company was at halt and upholding PBT felt like a task almost impossible to do. Without the majority of the company dancers, I thought this was the end of the line. It was enough to falter and give up. However, the universe had different plans. The stars aligned when a new and fresh set of dancers, those who wanted nothing more but to dance, came to PBT,” he concluded.

The serpent in anguish: Eloisa Jessa Tangalin as Oryol.

In this version, Jaynario, who hails from Bicol himself, employed symbolisms such as the monsters being China’s behavior on the hotly contested West Philippine Sea disputes. Meanwhile, Paulo Zarate, whose work spans television soap dramas, films and pop music, incorporated modern tunes interspersed with traditional Filipino instruments in his original score.

Excerpts of the ballet were performed in Negros Occidental in May in celebration of National Heritage Month, and the company staged a show on 19 August at the Iloilo City Convention Center in Iloilo City, Iloilo. The PBT has recently toured the United States with a brand new repertoire, which included Ibalon. Come December, the troupe will once again welcome groups of families and friends to its iconic Yuletide Nutcracker shows.