Rudolph Capongcol: Prince of tights

Rudolph Capongcol: Prince of tights

He once couldn’t stand wearing tights, but Rudolph Capongcol has embraced it as a reality in being a danseur. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Jv Ramos

How does a child who's interested in basketball and drums end up in professional ballet? Ballet Manila soloist Rudolph Capongcol says that it first had to do with peer pressure.

Back when he was a tween, he noticed that his group of playmates was gradually decreasing. "Nagtaka ako kung bakit isa-isa silang nawawala. Tapos may nagsabi na kinuha daw sila para maging scholars. (I got curious about what was keeping my playmates from showing up, And then, someone said that my friends were recruited to be scholars)."

Rudolph has been taking on the prince roles in Ballet Manila’s classical productions such as The Nutcracker. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

Wanting to reunite with his playmates, he decided to show up for the next audition. Unaware that it was an audition for ballet, Rudolph was taken aback to see his friends in tights. "Natawa lang ako. Ang bading!" (I laughed at the sight of them in tights! I found it too gay!)," recalls Rudolph, who still hasn't lost his childhood habit of finding amusement in everything he encounters. "Sabi ko sa sarili ko nu’n, mukhang walang mangyayari sa akin dito. So ‘yun, sabi ko sa nanay ko na ayaw kong ituloy (I told myself back then that it seems nothing will happen to me if I do ballet. So I told my mother I won't push through with the audition)."

That was supposed to be the end of it; but when he walked away from Steps Dance Studio, Rudolph was haunted by all sorts of what-ifs: What if I made it as a ballet scholar? Would I be able to improve? What if I can't keep up with the other boys? What if I really am cut out for it?

Aiming high, Rudolph works hard not just to equal his idols in dance but to surpass them. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

To end the questioning, Rudolph decided to audition the following year; but like his previous time at the studio, he couldn't make peace with the tights. "Nakasuot ako ng maong shorts at medyas. Ayokong lumabas ng banyo! Hirap na hirap ako pero natanggap naman! (I wore denim shorts and socks. I didn’t want to go out of the bathroom! I had a really hard time dancing during the audition, but they still got me!).” Rudolph then sheepishly reveals that what made him attend ballet class after ballet class was the allowance involved. He confesses, "Tuwing Sabado lang ako pumapasok – kapag kuhaan na ng allowance. (I only attended ballet class on Saturdays – the day when dancers get their money.)”

So, when did this tights-hater begin to take ballet seriously? "Nu’ng nag-compete ako sa CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) in 2009." It was through participating in a local competition that Rudolph saw where ballet could take him. “’Yung goal ko noon ay makapag-compete sa ibang bansa at makapasok sa isang ballet company. (Back then, my goals were to compete in a foreign country and to be able to enter a ballet company.)"

With a renewed spirit and fiercer focus on ballet, Rudolph fulfilled the goals he set for himself. In 2012, he flew to Hong Kong and participated in the Asian Grand Prix, wherein he won third place in the Senior Division. Then, a year after, in the same prestigious competition, he took first place in the Pas de Deux Division, with Jasmine Pia Dames (now also a Ballet Manila soloist); and received the Sansha Most Promising Male Dancer.

Rudolph fulfilled his long-time dream role when he danced as Basilio in Ballet Manila’s Don Quixote. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

In mid-2015, Rudolph joined Ballet Manila. He comments, “Super grateful ako rito. (I’m very grateful to be here)” for the company has opened many opportunities for him.

Among these opportunities is dancing his long-time dream role, the charming Basilio from Don Quixote. The soloist jokes, “Dream role ko kasi ‘yun noong bata pa ako. ‘Yung personality ko kasi parang Basilio – malapit sa babae! (Basilio has been my dream role ever since I was a kid. My personality is like his – very close to the ladies!).”

But, as any danseur knows, being Basilio is more than the romantic charm; it requires plenty of stamina and time to master the technique. Rudolph, who was able to nail the character and the steps, considers his time as Basilio as his most fulfilling moment so far. “Ang competition kapag season performance ay ang iyong sarili, (Your main competition when you’re dancing for a season performance is yourself),” he notes. “Mahirap din kasi napapansin mo minsan ‘yung audience nag-iingay habang iniisip mo ‘yung mga steps (Dancing for a season performance is as difficult as participating in ballet competitions, for you have to know how to deal with a rowdy crowd while doing your steps).”

The second cast of Ibong Adarna rehearses with choreographer Gerardo Francisco (second from left). In photo are (from left) Rudolph Capongcol, Anselmo Dictado and Elpidio Magat as the three princes. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Right now, Rudolph is challenging himself to deliver the most convincing Prinsipe Diego, one of the prince characters in Gerardo Francisco’s Ibong Adarna, the first ballet production of BM’s 22nd performance season. The rehearsals with choreographer Gerardo Francisco, according to the danseur, have been tedious. “Aralin mo ang sayaw, aralin mo ang sayaw! Iyan ang sinasabi sa akin ni Sir Geri kapag nakakalimutan ko ang steps (Study the dance, study the dance! That’s what Sir Geri tells me whenever I forget the steps),” shares the subject. “Maganda ‘yung gawa ni Sir Geri na mahirap pero masaya naman. Masaya ang ginagawa namin kahit paulit-ulit. Kailangan ito para sa magandang show. (The choreography that Sir Geri did is beautiful. It’s hard to dance but fun. We’re having fun in rehearsals even if we’re doing the movements over and over again. Repetition is necessary for a successful show).”

Dancing with prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde in Martin Lawrance’s Rebel.

Asked if he still gets nervous after all his wins and exposure to a variety of audiences, Rudolph says that controlling his nerves is something that he deals with before every performance. “Para mawala ang kaba ko, dinadaldal ko po ang mga kasama ko. Kahit nasa isang part ako ng stage, iikot pa rin ako sa kabila para makipagkuwentuhan sa ibang tao (To get rid of my nerves, I talk to my colleagues backstage. If there’s nobody beside me, I make an effort to go to the other side of the stage, so I could have someone to talk to).” He recalls that there was even a time when his company backstage was a Chinese stage manager who didn’t understand what he was blabbing about. “Okay lang sa akin iyon kahit hindi ako maintindihan. Basta may nakikinig! (I don’t mind if the listener doesn’t understand me. What matters is that someone is listening!).”

Rudolph is known to talk incessantly before performing – a habit that his fellow princes in Ibong Adarna, Elpidio Magat and Anslemo Dictado, have gotten used to. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva.

Fortunately, his cast mates, specifically Anselmo Dictado and Elpidio Magat, fellow-BM soloists and his prince-brothers in Ibong Adarna, are not bothered by Rudolph’s pre-performance habit. They, in fact, welcome it. “Okay naman kaming tatlo. Nag-uusap naman kami bago sumayaw at iba kami talaga sa labas ng sayaw (The chemistry among us danseurs is great. We talk before our rehearsals and we get along outside the studio).” He adds that the other danseurs’ performance help him in delivering a good Prinsipe Diego.

But ultimately, there’s nothing easy in ballet, concludes Rudolph. He may have fallen in love with the art, the tights that come with it, and the people he works with; but he continuously faces serious difficulties. The most bothersome for him is dealing with the recurring pain of an old leg injury.

Before taking the Rebel stage, Rudolph received a gentle tap of encouragement from Lisa whom he partnered in a haunting dance for two in this original choreography. Photo by Ian Santos

He expresses, “Mahirap ‘yung gusto mong sumayaw pero may nararamdaman ka. Kailangan mo talaga ipahinga! Kahit feeling mo sayang ang araw (What’s hard is wanting to dance but you’re in pain. If that happens, you really have to rest. Even if you feel that you’re losing one day of training).”

With a serious tone, the soloist adds, “Kapag pumasok ka sa ballet, bawal ang tamad! (When you enter ballet, you can’t be lazy!)” And here’s where you know that the fun-loving Rudolph isn’t just after personal growth, but the growth of Philippine ballet as well. “Dito, di mo lang dapat i-idolize ang isang tao, dapat kang mangarap ng mas mataas. (Here, you shouldn’t just idolize the great danseurs, you have to aim to be better than them).”

Though Rudolph keeps teasing that the reason he’s in ballet is being around the ladies, we know the reason he’s in BM is, there’s more that he’d like to achieve. “Habang kaya pa, gagawin ko (I’ll keep dancing for as long as I can).

Rudolph Capongcol says laziness has no place in ballet. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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