Mark Sumaylo finds his true self in ballet

Mark Sumaylo finds his true self in ballet

Mark Sumaylo started late in ballet, but he says it is here where he has found himself. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Michele T. Logarta

For award-winning dancer Mark Sumaylo, a bamboo pole and his regal bearing paved the way to Ballet Manila.

A native of Cagayan de Oro, Mark was only 16 when he joined the Lyceo de Cagayan folkloric dance troupe as an instrumentalist.  During rehearsals for a show, the director needed a propsman and asked everyone to stand up. 

Bloom is very special to Mark because it was choreographed on him, Dawna Reign Mangahas and their fellow Ballet Manila dancers by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Mark remembers that time: “He said ‘Come here. You are tall.’ Talagang binigyan niya ako ng kawayan (He handed me a bamboo stick). What do I do? He said you just stand there. Isa ako sa propsmen. Sa singkil scene, may nakatayong propsmen sa likod na ‘yun lang ang trabaho (I was one of the propsmen in the singkil scene. Props men stand at the back and that’s all they do. Hold the bamboo stick).”

After that, Mark never went back to his guitar. He was told to join the dancers. That, he says, was how he got his start in dance. He traveled to Vietnam and to Korea for cultural festivals. He eventually landed leading roles in folk and ethnic dances and even became the Prince in the singkil dance. 

Matangkad kasi ako, 5’8”. Naging senior din ako ng dance troupe. I was absorbed by the school to help the dance troupe after I graduated.” At one point, Mark even became the assistant to the director of the group.

When he partnered Lisa Macuja-Elizalde for the first time, Marks recalls he was so nervous that the prima ballerina had to remind him to relax. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

The thought of doing ballet never entered Mark’s mind until a visiting choreographer came to the university to direct a Broadway production for the school. 

Kasali ‘yung dance troupe namin sa King and I. Nanonood kami ng YouTube tapos ginagaya-gaya namin. Dumating siya bigla and observed us. He called my attention and told me may potential ka para mag-ballet. Ako naman di ko naintindihan ang potential and I just said OK. Tapos, nawala lang sa isip ko (Our dance troupe was part of the King and I. We were watching YouTube videos and imitating what we saw.  He arrived all of a sudden and observed us. He called my attention and told me I had potential for ballet. I didn’t understand what he meant and I just said OK. After that, I didn’t think about it anymore).”

Mark stopped schooling temporarily.  But with the help of the Lyceo dance troupe director, he was able to return to the dance troupe at the university while studying ballet under a scholarship. 

It was in 2008 that he remembers first meeting Ballet Manila’s co-artistic director Osias “Shaz” Barroso who had arrived in CDO to assess the regional entries to the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) 2008.

Mark and his girlfriend, fellow BM soloist Abigail Oliveiro, are interviewed by Maridel Martinez-Andanar of SBS Radio in Melbourne.

Mark recalls he wasn’t selected from among the video submissions, but that despite this, he was given another chance. He was put in as a wildcard contender.

Before leaving for Manila, Mark and the others who were selected were coached by Barroso in preparation for the NAMCYA. “Sabi niya ‘Ituro ko man lahat ng nalalaman ko sa iyo, at ibibigay ko lahat (He told me, even if I teach you everything I know, and I will), there’s no magic in dance especially in ballet. You have to spend years and years in training. I started ballet late also at age 19, and that was informal ballet.’”

Mark credits BM, especially Barroso and artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, for helping him and the other dancers reach the national levels of NAMCYA, especially in providing space for class and rehearsals.

He went on to become a finalist in the nationals round of the NAMCYA. 

In 2013, he joined BM where he is now a member of the main company. He has done the lead roles in M.A.Z.N., Arachnida and the White Swan Adagio of Swan Lake as Siegfried.

Performing Agnes Locsin’s Arachnida, Mark and Joan Emery Sia show strength and agility. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

“’Yung White Swan na ‘yan di ko makakalimutan kasi si Ma’am Lisa ang naging partner ko. Grabe, first time… Hindi ako nakatulog sa sobrang kaba kasi si prima ballerina Lisa Macuja ‘yan. Pinapanood ko lang siya dati, ngayon kasayaw ko na. Ang kamay ko nanginginig sa rehearsal. Parang hindi mo siya pwedeng bitawan kasi mababasag. Sobrang late na ako sa music kasi binababa ko siya nang dahan-dahan. Sabi niya Mark, relax ka lang! Sorry po, di ko mapigilan. Iba ‘yung pressure, iba ‘yung feeling (I will never forget the White Swan because Ma’am Lisa was my partner. It was the first time. I could not sleep from extreme nervousness. That’s the prima ballerina I would watch and now I would be her partner.  My hands were shaking at rehearsal. I felt like I couldn’t let her go because she might break. I was late in keeping up with the music because I would lower her very, very slowly. She knew I was nervous. She told me to relax and I said, Sorry, I can’t help it. The pressure, the feeling, was different).”

Mark and Joan collaborate on another contemporary piece, M.A.Z.N. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

And when show time came, Mark remembers that he felt like he was floating and couldn’t feel the floor. “Kinukurot ko ang sarili ko para ma-divert ‘yung sobrang kaba. Si Ma’am Lisa ‘ata ang nagdala sa akin!” (I had to pinch myself to snap out of my nervousness. It seemed like it was Ma’am Lisa who took the lead!),” he says, laughing.

The BM production Bloom – a choreography of Belgian-Colombian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa – was extra special for Mark because it was his first time to be part of the “first cast.” He explains that it was choreographed on him, company artist Dawna Reign Mangahas and the other dancers.

"Sobrang saya ako na nangyari ‘yun. Sobrang special sa akin ‘yun (I was so excited that it happened. It was very special for me).”

In 2015, Mark was a semi-finalist in the Senior Division of the Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong. 

Veteran actress Luz Fernandez has her photo taken with Mark, one of her co-stars in Tatlo Pang Kuwento ni Lola Basyang.

In February 2016, he played Ninoy Aquino in BM’s world premiere of Martin Lawrance’s Rebel, an interpretation of the classic Spartacus using the EDSA People Power Revolution as backdrop. It is a part that he will reprise when BM presents Rebel once more to open its 21st season this month. (Shows are on August 19, 20 and 27 at 8 p.m. and on August 21 and 28 at 3 p.m. at Aliw Theater.)

In the company’s season-ender last March, Mark danced as Don Jose in the excerpt of Carmen. “Mahirap kasi nga nu’ng pinanood ko ‘yung video ng buong Carmen, masyadong dramatic. Kelangan nasa katawan ‘yung acting kasi hindi siya magiging effective. Kelangan talagang aralin by heart. (It’s hard because it’s very dramatic. The acting must come from the body, for it to be effective. I really needed to study it by heart).”

Mark (rightmost) reprises his role as Ninoy Aquino in Rebel when BM opens its 21st season. With him are co-stars Dawna Mangahas, Rudolph Capongcol and Abigail Oliveiro during Rebel’s first run in February. Photo by Sofia Costales

Mark has yet to do his dream role of Romeo. The attraction the role of Romeo holds for him is that it’s all about love and affection, Mark says. “Ako ‘yun eh... masyado akong emotional (That’s who I am... very emotional.)”

He and his co-dancer sweetheart Abigail Oliveiro have done a music video together and danced the White Swan. According to Mark, having a co-dancer for a girlfriend has its advantages. It’s inspiring, he says. He also knows he’ll get the truth if he asked her for comments on his performance.

Malaking tulong din kasing siya ‘yung magbibigay ng talagang totoong comment. Maganda ba ‘yung ginawa ko o pangit. ‘Yun din ang gawa ko para sa kanya. (It’s a big help to have some tell you honestly whether my performance was good or bad. I’m also doing the same for her). It’s give and take.”

At 29, Mark is giving himself five more years of dancing. “Ako naman kasi kelangan kong humabol kasi late na ako nag-start. Extra workout talaga kung kaya pa, gagawin ko pa. Last year na-injure din ako, stress fracture, dito sa left shin gawa ng pagtalon (I need to catch up because I started late in ballet. I need to do extra workout while I still can, I will do it.  Last year, I had an injury, a stress fracture, due to jumping).”

If he had a choice, Mark jokes, he would rather just stand on stage and do nothing like he once did many years ago holding that bamboo pole for the singkil dance. “Gusto ko tumayo! Kasi sabi nila may tindig ako. ‘Yung katawan ko, okay for a ballet dancer. Sinasabi nila, tatayo lang ako. Hindi ko kelangan marami pang gawin. (I just want to stand on stage. They say I have the bearing. My body is okay for a ballet dancer. They tell me all I have to do is stand. That I don’t need to do anything else).”

At BM, it seems Mark has found himself. He has definitely found love as well. And that makes him a very happy man.

Mark is giving himself five more years of dancing. In that time, he hopes he will be able to dance his dream role as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Ballet Manila dancers off to the 2016 Asian Grand Prix

Ballet Manila dancers off to the 2016 Asian Grand Prix

Talk about dance: Abira Mukherjee

Talk about dance: Abira Mukherjee