‘Bad Boy’ of ballet makes good

‘Bad Boy’ of ballet makes good

Though often cast as the villain in productions, Ballet Manila company artist Francis Cascaño says he is quite friendly in real life. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Mary Ann R. Mandap

Ballet Manila danseur Francis Cascaño can aptly draw comparisons with Robin Padilla, the so-called “Bad Boy” of Philippine cinema.

That’s because he is almost always given the role of the bad guy in Ballet Manila’s productions. “Okay lang. It’s practically second nature to me to play the villain,” he grins.

In 2011’s Romeo and Juliet, Francis is Tybalt, Juliet’s short-tempered cousin who is eventually slain by Romeo.

Contrary to what he often portrays, Cascaño is genial and likes to joke around off-stage, according to BM insiders.

But apparently, Francis is quite effective as an antagonist he is sometimes still surprised at the audience reaction to him.

“During the finale of Romeo and Juliet where I played Tybalt, the audience booed me when I bowed to them. I thought to myself, I must have been an effective Tybalt,” Cascaño recalls.

Besides Tybalt, Cascaño has played other dark and disturbed characters such as the evil sorcerer Rothbart in Swan Lake, the gamekeeper Hilarion vying against Albrecht for Giselle’s attention in Giselle, the matador Escamillo whom the seductress Carmen leaves Don Jose for in Carmen and the destructive twin Gunaw (Doom) in the environmental fable in Si Sibol at Gunaw.

Francis is menacing as the evil sorcerer Rothbart in Swan Lake (2011).

Cascaño, a Ballet Manila company artist, started ballet at 15. His father and the father of BM pioneers Eduardo and Jerome Espejo were former soldiers and also close friends. Cascaño’s life changed in the summer of 1998, when, during a visit to the Espejo house, the brothers asked the elder Cascaño if Francis could try ballet. His dad did not object. He was not bothered at all by the stigma attached to boys who dance, according to his son, probably because the Espejo brothers had been working with BM for three years by then.

With his father’s blessings, Cascaño was whisked off by the Espejos to BM and to a ballet production at a shopping mall which greatly impressed the young lad.

As the self-assured bullfighter Escamillo in Carmen (2012), he steals Carmen away from Don Jose.

At that time, Cascaño was more inclined toward sports and initially thought of becoming an athlete. He hesitated in pursuing ballet seriously at first. “I decided to try ballet after finding out there were lots of girls there,” he says laughingly.

He joined a summer workshop in ballet where his passion for dancing was encouraged. He later did errands as a stage hand and danced as an extra before moving on to his first production at the Meralco Theater. Then he was included in the cast of The Nutcracker staged at the GSIS Theater. From there, he was later on given meatier roles to tackle.

Francis plays the destructive twin Gunaw in the environmental fable Alamat: Si Sibol at Si Gunaw (2005).

Cascaño eventually married former BM dancer Kate Gelvoria. The couple have a son who, according to his father, won’t be following in their footsteps anytime soon because he is flat-footed.

As a BM danseur, Cascaño has joined international festivals and competitions, including the 9th Asian Pacific International Ballet Competition in 2003, the Helsinki International Ballet Competition in 2005 and the New York Ballet Competition, also in 2005.

He was fortunate to have joined a BM tour to Russia in 2005, memorable not only because it involved several performance stops but also because it was in the middle of winter which challenged their group more attuned to tropical weather.

But what made the trip unforgettable was when three dancers, including Cascaño, had to be left behind for a few days in Russia because of a glitch in their travel documents. Everything was sorted out, but they completely missed Christmas back home. Still, Cascaño considers that tour a valuable learning experience that tested their limits.

Cascaño, 32, will next appear in BM’s latest production, Don Quixote, as the legendary bullfighter Espada opposite Rissa May Camaclang as Mercedes. Espada and his sultry partner Mercedes engage in a rousing dance as the townsfolk cheer them on.

Francis (front) in the contemporary piece Bloom by choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, restaged for Ballet Manila’s anniversary show BM 21 in 2016

The most challenging part of being a ballet danseur, Cascaño says, is staying in shape and to keep improving in his craft. The daily classes at the BM studio ensure that he is in prime condition. To supplement this, he also bikes around the village where he lives, or joins friends in biking to and from Tagaytay City.

Through the many years he has been with BM, Cascaño can be depended on to shift from classical to contemporary dance as required by the company’s diverse repertoire. But he has proven to be most reliable as the villain everybody loves to hate – but only on stage, of course.

Asked for the most important lessons he has learned being with BM, the “bad boy” of ballet who made good sums up: “To take care of your body because it is your instrument, to love your craft and to dance with all your heart.”

Among the most important lessons Francis has learned in ballet is to love his craft and to dance with all his heart. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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