by Joelle Jacinto
▶︎ Mir-i-nisa was premiered by Dance Theater Philippines as part of the inaugural year of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1969, and holds the distinction of being the first full-length ballet performed in the CCP, as well as the first full-length Filipino ballet performed in the CCP. Two of DTP’s three artistic directors, Julie Borromeo and Felicitas “Tita” Radaic (the third is our dignified premiere dance scholar, Basilio Esteban Villaruz) choreographed the ballet, as invited by composer, Eliseo Pajaro. Borromeo took on acts I and III, which were the scenes in the kingdom, while Radaic composed the underwater scene of Act II. The ballet translated a short story by Jose Garcia Villa, based on a myth where good wins over evil. Borromeo and Radaic performed as Nymphs of the Pearls in Act II, while the lead roles were portrayed by Nini Gener and Mary Anne Garcia, alternating as Mir-i-nisa, Odon Sabarre as the virtuous suitor Tasmi, and Tony Fabella as the boorish suitor Achmed.
Its importance in dance history would make us believe that it was a spectacular ballet, and should have seen more restagings through the years. For this is a gauge of whether a show is good or not: it is repeated; whether demanded by sponsors or audiences or the administration have acknowledged that ticket sales were impressive during this run. A performance is so good that people who haven’t seen it, but have heard about it, want to see it, and the people who have seen it would want to see it again.
I wasn’t very excited about Mir-i-nisa when I heard that it will open PBT’s 2019 season, but decided that ten years is enough time to rework flaws in any ballet. Frankly, the 2009 version looked rushed and underdeveloped. The company dancers at the time looked immature and many ensemble sections looked underrehearsed. Pimentel was forced into the lead role after Jay-Anne Tensuan was untimely injured. Importantly, Pajaro’s music was difficult to dance to, and often ended abruptly.
Today’s choreographers, already experienced and regularly working and experimenting with 20th century music, would have figured this out easily, and it is one of the main obstacles that Jaynario has conquered in this restage. Further, they had employed musicians from the Philippine Baranggay Folk Dance Troupe to enhance and accentuate the old recording of Pajaro’s music with traditional Maranao gongs and chants, making for livelier transitions and easily moving the story along.
Of course, we wouldn’t know that it was a pearl that was thrown into the sea from just watching the ballet, or that it wasn’t actually a pearl but salt and Tasmi wins the princess for his honesty, and I feel it is perfectly fine to spoil the audience beforehand. Because that isn’t the point of Mir-i-nisa, it is the dancing, much of it delivered gloriously by the now very capable company of dancers. Although I feel that Davo and Fegarido are not full princes yet, the male ensemble as a whole is very strong and formidable. More memorable than either of the princes, or any of the male dancers, is veteran Joel Matias, supposedly portraying a character role as Mir-i-nisa’s father, surprising us with lively tour jetes and pirouettes.
Joelle Jacinto is a dancer, teacher, and dance scholar.