From hip-hop to ballet: Elmoe Dictado’s call to dance

From hip-hop to ballet: Elmoe Dictado’s call to dance

Patience and hard work are the cornerstone of Ballet Manila soloist Anselmo Dictado’s career in ballet. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Jv Ramos

“Dancer pa rin! Baka ipinagpatuloy ko ang hip-hop. (I will still be a dancer. I may have continued on with hip-hop),” quips Anselmo Dictado, when asked what he would be doing today if he were not a professional ballet dancer. “Parang hindi ko ma-imagine ang sarili ko na hindi sumasayaw. (I can’t imagine myself doing something else besides dancing.)”

His roots being hip-hop, Elmoe had to struggle when he shifted to ballet.

More known by his nickname “Elmoe,” this ever-smiling Ballet Manila soloist performs so effortlessly that one would think that he’s been dancing ballet all his life. But the truth is the subject only entered ballet when he was 18. “Sumasayaw na po ako dati sa school, sa Arellano, pero hip-hop. ‘Yung neighbor ko nagba-ballet, so ginusto ko rin i-try. (I used to dance in school, in Arellano, but it was hip-hop. When I found out that my neighbor was doing ballet, I wanted to try it too.)”

What’s more is he obtained an arm injury from hip-hop dancing before his first ballet class in Steps Dance Studio. “May time po sa hip-hop dancing na hinagis po ako at nabalian ako ng braso. Ipinagpatuloy ko pa rin ‘yung pag-aral ng ballet kahit na-injure ako (There was a time when during hip-hop dancing when they threw me up in the air and failed to catch me, so my arm was broken. I pushed through with learning ballet despite my injury).”

Elmoe has come a long way from his first recital – expanding his repertoire to include classical favorites such as Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio among many others. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

Elmoe recalls learning ballet during the latter part of his teenage years to be very difficult. “Matagal po bago ako natuto ng ballet… Naalala ko nga ‘yung sayaw ko sa first recital. Pang-bata lang! (It took a long time for me to learn ballet… I still remember the dance that I did for my first recital. It was for kids)!”  

His drive to learn and excel in ballet, however, was stronger than the struggle to make his body adapt to the technique and the feeling of insecurity; so in just two years, he found himself making a career out of ballet and joined Ballet Manila in February 2011.

He comments on his first few months with the company: “Nakakatakot noong una dahil doon sa isyu na maraming lalaking dancers. Mahirap daw makipagsabayan. At na-experience ko ‘yun!  Mahirap ang competition dito sa Ballet Manila. Pero ngayon, okay na po (Being with the company was scary at first because of its number of male dancers. Some said that it was difficult to compete with them. And I experienced that. The competition here in BM is very difficult. But I’ve learned how to keep up).”

In front of the Magnolia Theater in China, Elmoe represented Ballet Manila in the 2016 Shanghai Contemporary Dance Ferstival together with principal dancer Gerardo Francisco. Photo by Gerardo Francisco

Elmoe is proud that all his hard work has led to dance festivals and competitions, such as the First Shanghai International Contemporary Dance Festival and the Asian Grand Prix; and of course, landing memorable roles in BM’s season performances, such as the Jester in Swan Lake, Blue Bird in Sleeping Beauty and the lead in Pinocchio.

Right now, Elmoe is busy preparing for what he considers as his “big break” in the area of season performances:  the role of Don Juan, the youngest prince, in Gerardo Francisco’s Ibong Adarna. One can say that he has princely traits in him due to his fearless attitude towards dance, honesty regarding his shortcomings and innate caring nature for the younger dancers in BM. (Unknown to many, Elmoe acts as a scout in the ballet scene. When he sees potential in a boy, he recommends them to the company.)

The soloist is excited to be portraying Don Juan although he says doing mime alongside dancing is particularly challenging for him. Nevertheless, he is eager for the public to see the full-length ballet production of Gerardo Francisco. “Sobrang proud po ako kay Sir Geri. Ginagawa po niya ang lahat at sobrang focused siya para mapaganda talaga ang Ibong Adarna (I’m very proud of Sir Geri. He’s been giving it his all and has been so focused in perfecting his choreography for Ibong Adarna.)”

Perhaps what solidified Elmoe and Gerardo’s work chemistry is their experience in China last year, wherein they represented BM in the First Shanghai International Contemporary Dance Festival and danced Gerardo’s very own piece entitled OFW.

Big break: Rehearsing with principal dancer Katherine Barkman and choreographer Gerardo Francisco for Ibong Adarna where Elmoe is taking on the lead role of Don Juan. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Elmoe relays his favorite part of that trip: “’Yung nagre-rehearse pa lang po kami, di po kami pinapansin ng mga tao. Mali-mali po ako kasi ‘yung ginagawa ko dahil gutom na ako. Nagalit nga si Sir Geri sa akin… Pero nu’ng nag-perform na kami, marami po ang lumapit sa amin at nag-congratulate. Magkapatid daw kami ni Sir Geri dahil ‘yung galaw namin iisa lang po sa stage. Pinansin na po kami mula noon. Kapag kumakain nga kami, nagugulat kami ni Sir na may nag-aabot ng dumplings sa amin. Nakakatuwa! (When we were still rehearsing, no one was minding us because I kept making mistakes because I was hungry. Sir Geri scolded me, in fact… But after our performance, people started to approach and congratulate us. They said that Geri and I were like brothers because we danced as one on stage. From that moment on, everyone in the festival recognized us. When we were eating, for example, Geri and I would get surprised that people would offer us dumplings. It was heartwarming!)”

Elmoe is very thankful that Gerardo thought of him as Don Juan in one of the two casts for the production, especially since he’s often associated with comedic roles. “Noong una nga natakot ako dahil makaka-partner ko si Katherine Barkman na principal dancer ng BM. Pero ngayon, okay na. ‘Yung mime lang talaga ang challenge sa akin (At first, I was very nervous because it would mean having BM principal Katherine Barkman as my partner. I’m okay with that part now. It’s just the miming scenes that I find challenging).”

Harlequinade is one of the many classical ballet pieces that Elmoe has come to enjoy performing. Photo by Jojo Mamangun

While things seem to run smoothly on his end, Elmoe emphasizes that to get to compete, take on lead roles and participate in festivals takes time and plenty of hard work. “Kailangan mo maging patient dito. Iyan ang sinasabi ko sa mga bata at sa kanilang mga magulang… Hindi puwedeng nag-uumpisa pa lang, may kapalit na agad. Di rin puwedeng pagkatapos mo sumayaw ng isang buwan, ng isang taon (You have to be patient in ballet. This is what I tell young boys who are learning and their parents… You can’t expect to be rewarded immediately after starting… Nor can you be given opportunities after just one month or even one year).”

According to the soloist, this is one of the main reasons why boys quit; they want results without going through the struggles. “’Yung willing lang na magtrabaho ang nabibigyan ng pagkakataon (Only those who are willing to work hard will be given opportunities).”

While Elmoe’s very proud of what he’s achieved so far, he looks forward to spending more years and exploring more roles with his second family, Ballet Manila. He, too, wants to see more boys like him, especially those he recruited, excel in ballet and enjoy the life of a danseur even with the challenges that come with it.

Elmoe can’t imagine himself not dancing. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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