The princes of ‘Ibong Adarna’: Brothers through twinkle toes and woes

The princes of ‘Ibong Adarna’: Brothers through twinkle toes and woes

Ballet Manila danseurs Rudy de Dios, Romeo Peralta and Mark Sumaylo may be playing brothers in conflict in Gerardo Francisco’s Ibong Adarna but in real life, they are kindred spirits. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Jv Ramos

An enchanted bird singing melodies that heal or turn people into stone may be the image that comes to mind whenever Ibong Adarna is mentioned. But ultimately, the epic is about the three Berbanian princes – brothers who are only able to settle their differences after many chapters of rivalry and adventure.

While Ballet Manila danseurs Rudy de Dios, Romeo Peralta and Mark Sumaylo, who play Prinsipe Juan, Prinsipe Diego and Prinsipe Pedro respectively, have trained themselves to be one with their characters, no trace of competition or jealousy exists among them once they’ve stepped out of the rehearsal space.

During our interview, the three continuously gush about each other’s talents and achievements (be it ballet-related or not); are always in agreement how one felt about being a male ballet dancer and being in Ballet Manila; and are constantly laughing and expounding on each other’s jokes.

In short, principal dancer Rudy and soloists Romeo and Mark exhibit more brotherly love than their blue-blooded stage counterparts.

Rudy de Dios: A natural fit in prince roles. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

For instance, when the topic of favorite roles comes up, Mark excitedly answers, “’Yung pagiging Don Jose (Being Don Jose),” and then quickly points his index finger at Rudy. “Noong napanood ko si Rudy as Don Jose, ginusto ko talaga ma-explore at ma-experience’ yung character niya. Pero noong practice na, ang hirap pala! Gusto ko nang umayaw (When I saw Rudy as Don Jose, I really wanted to explore and experience the character. But when I was finally able to do it, I realized it was so hard. I wanted to back out).”

Upon hearing Mark’s comments, Rudy laughs and confirms that Don Jose from the ballet Carmen truly is a challenge to dance, for one has to express the character’s temperamental and dark nature. “Mas gusto ko ‘yung fun and light na roles, so ang paborito ko sa mga prince roles na nagawa ko na ay ang Nutcracker Prince. Nakakatuwa siya sayawin para sa akin (I prefer fun and light roles, so my favorite among the prince roles I’ve dones if the Nutcracker Prince. For me, it is a joy to dance).”

Romeo Peralta: No regrets about choosing ballet. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

“First prince ko ang Nutcracker prince, so memorable sa akin iyon. Pero siguro, si Albrecht sa Giselle rin (My first prince was the Nutcracker Prince so that was memorable to me. But I also like Albrecht in Giselle),” cites Romeo, who’s the most pensive of the three. “Pero mahalaga rin sa akin ‘yung contemporary pieces (But contemporary pieces are also important to me) – those make you complete as a dancer. Sa contemporary ko naramdaman na lumakas ako as a dancer (I feel that I’ve grown stronger as a dancer in dancing contemporary pieces).”

When Rudy and Mark hear this, they nod in agreement and go on to explain that every role has its challenges.

Rudy, who has been dancing since age eight and seems to fit naturally in prince roles, recalls that every classic role he played was without frustrations. “Familiar ang mga tao sa kuwento ng Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake… So may expectations, at may naka-set na standards na. Napu-push ka to meet those standards. Kung di mo magawa, it’s frustrating. Parang nakakahiya kung di mo ma-meet ang standards (People are familiar with the stories of Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake… So they have expectations and there are set standards. You are pushed to meet those standards. If you’re not able to deliver, it’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing if you don’t meet the standards).”

Mark Sumaylo: A dancer’s life is never boring. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Sa contemporary naman, may mga gusto ang choreographer na kailangang sundin. Pero mas pwede kang mag-explore. Mahirap din (In contemporary dance, you have to follow what the choreographer wants you to do. But you have more room to explore),” says Mark.

Listening to what his fellow danseurs have said, Romeo says that to portray the characters right, whether classic or contemporary, one has to keep rehearsing until the movements become natural – until one turns into the character.

As of writing, Rudy, Romeo and Mark are just weeks away from the premiere of Ibong Adarna or from fully embodying the sons of King Fernando. Their journey with award-winning choreographer Gerardo “Geri” Francisco has so far been exhausting and exciting.

Kaunti na lang, mabubuo na (Just a little more and it will be complete),” shares Romeo.

Though their previous experience working with Geri makes things run smoothly, the three express that his choreography always poses a challenge. “Mahirap siya. Ang lagi ngang sinasabi namin ay bawat count, may movement sa kanya (It’s difficult. We always say that with him, there seems to be a movement for every count),” remarks Rudy. “Pero worth it siya! Lagi kaming nananalo kapag siya ang choreographer (But it’s worth it! We always win when he is the choreographer).”

Grabe din ang takbo ng utak niya (His mind works differently),” says Mark with a tone of admiration. “Laging nag-iisip, laging nag-dro-drawing. Sinusulat niya ‘yung counts and formation. Wala siyang tigil. Ang maganda rin, nagagawa niya pa rin ang movements, so alam mo kung ano ang gusto niya (He’s always thinking, always drawing. He writes down the counts and formation. Non-stop. What’s also good is that he can still do the movements, so you know exactly what he wants you to do).”

Perhaps, it is witnessing Geri work first-hand that makes Rudy, Romeo and Mark feel that they still have a long way to go as choreographers.

Rehearsing with Ibong Adarna choreographer Gerardo Francisco and soloist Abigail Oliveiro in the title role. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Para sa akin, mahirap ang mag-choreograph (For me, it is hard to choreograph),” declares Rudy. This confession comes as a surprise as he himself has won an award for choreography. His piece Solo Tango won the Best Modern Choreography award in the Senior Division of the National Music Competition for Young Artists in 2008. “Kailangan ng maraming oras at pag-iisip. Nakaka-drain siya, lalo na sa akin na sumasayaw pa. Siguro pag nag-retire na ako, doon pa lang ako mag-ko-choreograph nang todo (It requires plenty of time and thinking. It’s draining, particularly when you’re also still dancing. Maybe when I retire, that’s when I can fully concentrate on choreography).”

“For now, huwag muna ‘yung mga full-length productions, ‘yung two-minute pieces lang (For now, maybe no full-length productions for me, just two-minute pieces),” jokes Mark. “Dahil draining talaga (Because it’s really draining)!”

“Draining”, “frustrating” and “mahirap” (difficult) – such strong words make you wonder why these men keep showing up at the studio. When asked, Rudy, Romeo and Mark are silent for a moment, and then begin to fire even stronger descriptions:

Di ako alam talaga ang ibig sabihin ng salitang ‘passion’, pero iyon ang ballet para sa akin (I don’t know what the word passion really means, but that is ballet for me),” quips Rudy.

Nagustuhan na rin namin ito (We’ve also grown to like this),” says Romeo, revealing that like Rudy and Mark, he once went through a stage wherein he didn’t like going to ballet class. “Masaya kami kapag nag-ba-ballet. Happy kami dito sa Ballet Manila. Wala talaga kaming naging regrets sa mga desisyon namin. (We’re glad when we’re dancing ballet. We’re happy here at Ballet Manila. We really have no regrets with our decision.”

To expound on what they all feel about ballet, Mark describes what he goes through. “Dati nagtrabaho ako, hindi ko siya nagustuhan! Parang naging routine lang! Sa sayaw kasi, paiba-iba. ‘Yung pieces, iba-iba. ‘Yung jumps, iba-iba. Ni-re-rehearse mo siya araw-araw, pero iba-iba rin. May araw na on at may araw na off. Hinahanap ng katawan ko ‘yung mga araw na on. (I tried another line of work before, I didn’t like it. It was just like a routine. In dance, it’s always different. The pieces are different. The jumps are different. You rehearse everyday but it’s also different. You have ‘on’ days and off. My body looks for ‘on’ days).”

Napaka-fulfilling ‘yung mga araw na on. ‘Yung kapag nagawa mo nang tama (‘On’ days are always fulfilling. When you are able to do it right),” agrees Rudy.

After sharing a few laughs about their performance mishaps and common distractions such as video games, and going through a quick photo shoot that allow them to show more of their wacky side, the three danseurs know that their day is just about to begin.

Minutes later, there they are settled on the studio floor, stretching their bodies and conditioning their minds for the hours of practice ahead. Their smiles of gratitude don’t fade in spite of the harsh demands of their art.

Boys just wanna have fun: Rudy, Romeo and Mark crack up, recalling their most embarrassing moments on stage. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Winged ballets: The Dying Swan

Winged ballets: The Dying Swan

Finale: Gerardo Francisco completes the choreography of Ibong Adarna

Finale: Gerardo Francisco completes the choreography of Ibong Adarna