Why ‘Le Corsaire’ is memorable to principal danseur Romeo Peralta

Why ‘Le Corsaire’ is memorable to principal danseur Romeo Peralta

As Le Corsaire’s slave trader Lankadem in 2010, Romeo takes a bow along with Yanti Marduli as Gulnara and the rest of the cast. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

By Jv Ramos

If a danseur spends more than a decade working on his craft, chances are that he has performed the beloved classics several times, transitioning from corps work to the major roles. Having begun his ballet journey in 2000, principal dancer Romeo Peralta has gone through several Ballet Manila productions of the spectacle-filled classic, Le Corsaire. But more than simply tracking his progress as an artist, this pirate ballet is associated with many defining moments in Romeo’s career.

His very first Le Corsaire was in 2000 when Ballet Manila staged it at the GSIS Theater. At the time, he was just twelve years old and a newbie in ballet, having been a scholar of the company for only a few months.

"Wala pa po akong kaalam-alam kung ano ang istorya ng Le Corsaire noon. Ang inalam ko lang kasi ay kung kailan ako papasok at tatayo na may rifle sa stage (I knew nothing of Le Corsaire’s plot. I only paid attention to when we should enter the stage and hold a rifle),” chuckles Romeo, but he soon corrects himself. “Ah, actually, di ko rin ‘ata alam. Sumusunod lang kami sa mga matatanda at tumatayo sa likod nila. Naalala ko rin na kapag pinapanood ko ang mga nasa gitna – sina Sir Shaz [Osias Barroso, BM co-artistic director] at Sir Jeff [Jeffrey Espejo, another danseur who was one of Romeo’s first ballet instructors] pa ang Conrad dati – na-i-inspire ako. Ang galing-galing nila kumilos!” (I don’t think I even knew my part well. We would just follow what the older guards in front were doing. I also remember that every time I would watch those dancing at the center – like Sir Shaz and Sir Jeff – I would always be inspired. They moved so well!)

His first involvement with Le Corsaire, however, didn’t end with looking up to older danseurs and looking forward to more ballet performances. “Muntik nang natigil ang pagba-ballet ko dahil sa production na ito.” (My ballet career almost ended because of this production.)

Le Corsaire is special to principal dancer Romeo Peralta who has taken on various roles in the pirate epic through the years. In this season’s restaging, he plays the traitor Birbanto for the first time. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

The artist elaborates that since he had an important activity in school that day, he decided to prioritize it and skip a matinee show of Le Corsaire. "Maiintindihan naman ng company kung may kailangan kang gawin sa school, pero ang mali ko doon ay wala akong pinagsabihan. Hindi ako nagpaalam kay Sir Shaz o kaya kay Teacher Jeff. Nagpakita na lang ako sa GSIS two hours bago mag-gala. Excited pa nga ako noon, kasi nga wala na akong gagawin for school pagkatapos ng show.” (The company would understand if you had school work, but my mistake was that I didn’t inform anyone that I was going to skip the show. I didn’t tell Sir Shaz or Teacher Jeff. I showed up in GSIS two hours before the gala. At that time, I was very excited because I didn’t have to attend to school work after the show.)

Instead of receiving a warm welcome in the dressing room, however, Romeo was given bad news – that he had been removed from the scholarship program since his no-show compromised the afternoon performance. "Out na raw ako sabi nina Alvin and Glenn (scholars-turned-professional dancers Alvin Santos and Glenn Ragel told me that it was my last day as a scholar)," he continues. "Nalungkot ako siyempre, pero di naman ako nag-rebel. Alam kong ako ang may mali noon. Natatandaan ko na pinuntahan ko sina Sir Shaz at Sir Jeff. Kinatok ko sila para i-explain ang side ko at mag-apologize. Naintindihan naman nila ako, pero dahil iyon na ang naging desisyon, wala na silang magawa (I was devastated, of course; but I didn’t rebel. I knew that I was the one who did wrong. I remember approaching Sir Shaz and Sir Jeff. I knocked on their doors to explain my side and apologize. They understood where I was coming from, but couldn’t do anything about the company’s decision.)

Ready to go home and bid ballet farewell forever, Romeo was unexpectedly stopped by the costume manager who informed him that Eric V. Cruz, Ballet Manila's first artistic director, wanted to speak to him. Since he never had any previous personal encounters with the man who barked instructions on stage, the teenager thought that he would just be reprimanded for the last time.

   In 2013, Romeo (front, fourth from left) was one of the pirates in the production that marked prima ballerina      Lisa Macuja-Elizalde     ’s final portrayal as Medora as part of her  Swan Song Series . Photo by Jojo Mamangun

In 2013, Romeo (front, fourth from left) was one of the pirates in the production that marked prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s final portrayal as Medora as part of her Swan Song Series. Photo by Jojo Mamangun

What happened in their short conversation, however, was that Romeo was given a second chance. "To be fair to the rest of the company, you'll be removed from all the other Le Corsaire shows. But since it's your first offense, I'll allow you to keep your scholarship." Those were the life-changing words of Tito Eric, as Romeo recalls. "Sinabihan rin niya ako na mag-move on and learn from my mistake. Masaya akong lumabas ng kuwarto, at doon ko na rin sinabi sa sarili ko na hindi na mauulit ang ganyang incident.” (He also told me that I should move on and learn from my mistake. I left the room happy, and it was then that I told myself that such an incident would never happen again.)

Though seen by many as the production that almost ended his dancing days, what Romeo's first Le Corsaire really did for him is to see ballet as a serious endeavor from start to finish – that even if he was just a scholar with a very short stage time, what he does affects the production and the entire company. “Na-realize ko na bilang scholar, dapat may ibigay rin ako. Hindi puro pagpasok lang sa klase.” (I realized that as a scholar, I have to offer the company something. It’s not just about showing up for classes.)

Due to his renewed disposition for ballet, Romeo tried to redeem himself when Ballet Manila staged Le Corsaire again, in 2002. He learned its plot and characters, and landed the role of a pirate. “This time, di lang po ako nakatayo sa likod. Ang mga pirates ay may kaunting eksena di katulad ng mga guards ni Pasha.” (This time, I wasn’t just standing in the back. The pirates acted in a few scenes unlike the guards of Pasha.)

He adds, “Two years after, isa pa rin ako sa mga pirates sa Le Corsaire. Well, automatic naman iyan. Kung Le Corsaire ang show at male dancer ka, pirate ang role mo at masayang experience talaga ito.” (Two years after, I was assigned as a pirate again in Le Corsaire. Well, that’s actually an automatic thing. If the ballet is Le Corsaire and you’re a male dancer, you’re bound to be a pirate and that experience is so fun-filled.)

In playing a villain like Lankadem, Romeo gets to explore the character more and be in the moment. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

Romeo explains that though they didn’t command the stage like the five lead characters, dancers who were cast as pirates always had a great time due to the understanding they shared. “Iba ang feeling namin noon, lalo na noong 2004 or ‘yung time na pumunta ang BM sa Aberdeen [Youth Festival in Scotland]. Para sa mga boys , kung corps ka, di ka lang basta corps. Kailangan malakas ang dating. Iyon ang namulat sa amin ni Sir Shaz. Para sa amin, wala talagang small roles, small actors lang.” (Being a pirate gave me a different feeling, especially when I was cast as a pirate in 2004 or the year BM went to Aberdeen. For us boys, if you’re part of the corps, you’re not just a corps dancer. Your entire unit has to produce a strong performance. That’s what Sir Shaz instilled in us. For us, there really are no small roles, just small actors.)

Mastering ballet more and more, Romeo soon inherited bigger roles in Le Corsaire. For BM’s 2008 production, he was cast as a Bedouin, one of the traitor Birbanto’s cohorts. In the 2010 production, he played another villain, Lankadem the slave trader.

Ang naaalala ko kay Lankadem ay siya ang taga-command ng first act. Kontrolado niya ang mga characters at siya rin ang nag-se-set ng mood,” comments Romeo. (What I remember about Lankadem is that he commands the first act. He controls the characters and establishes the mood.)

Inaral ko ang role na ito bit by bit – ang mga kilos ng character at pati na rin ang pauses – gusto ko kasing maging maganda at special ang last production ko sa BM.” (I studied this role bit by bit – the movements of the character and his pauses – since I wanted my last production with BM to be amazing and special.)

Romeo (second from right) is cast as a pirate in one of the shows of Le Corsaire in 2010. Photo by Jojo Mamangun

At the time, Romeo recalls thinking that Le Corsaire would be his last ballet performance because he had decided to leave BM to finish his college studies.

“10-10-10” is the term that Romeo gave to this period in his career. The first 10 signifies his birth month; the second stands for the year 2010, and the last 10 reveals the number of years he had dedicated to ballet. “Nang pinag-bow ako ni Ma'am Lise [BM artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde] pagkatapos ng show, ang nasa isip ko noon ay hindi na ako babalik sa ballet. I really thought na last [production] ko na ang Le Corsaire.” (When Ma’am Lise invited me to take my final bow after the show, I knew that I wouldn’t return to ballet. I really thought that Le Corsaire was my last production.)

After completing his degree, however, he realized that he was not done with ballet. Romeo returned to BM and reprised the role of Lankadem in 2013. Here, instead of him taking a final bow in a Le Corsaire production, it was Lisa Macuja-Elizalde who did.

Iyon naman ang last Medora ni Ma’am Lise. Para iyon sa kanyang Swan Song Series. I remember that 2010 was my first time to be Lankadem in Cast A, and dahil nga last Medora naman niya ito and nagkasama kami sa stage, that Le Corsaire was also special for me.” (That production marked the last time Ma’am Lise played Medora. It was for her Swan Song Series. I remember that 2010 was my first time to be Lankadem in Cast A, and since she was Medora and we shared the same stage this time, this Le Corsaire was also special to me.”

He continues, “Dahil ang dami ko nang nadaanan na Le Corsaire, memoryado ko na talaga ang ballet na ito. Kapag nag-play ang music, alam ko na agad kung paano ako sasayaw at pati na rin ang galaw ng ibang characters. Hindi ko na kailangan ito isipin.” (Because I’ve been through so many Le Corsaires, I already know this ballet by heart. When the music starts playing, my body knows immediately what it should do, as well as what the other characters should do. I don’t need to think about it.)

For this season’s Le Corsaire, Romeo will take on a role he has never done. “First time kong mag-Birbanto (It’s my first time to be Birbanto),” the principal announces with a tone of excitement, as he’s also amused by how much he’s grown with the pirate ballet. He considers Birbanto an even bigger villain than Lankadem. He betrays his friend, the lead pirate Conrad, and causes a rift in their group all because of his greed.

Even if a danseur has played a certain role several times, Romeo (second from right, in the 2013 Le Corsaire) believes the challenge is to find ways to make it interesting. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

The danseur emphasizes that despite being a villain and the one controlling the fate of many characters, Birbanto is very different from the slave trader Lankadem. “Ang challenge ay kailangan kong mapakita ang kaibahan niya kay Lankadem. Di dapat pareho ang pagka-approach ko sa character na ito.” (My main challenge is differentiating Birbanto from Lankadem. I shouldn’t apply the same approach to this villain.)

Physically speaking, Birbanto is not demanding for the body, according to Romeo, but what it demands from him is the mastery of the character or being able to convince the audience that unlike the other pirates and villains in the story, Birbanto is an opportunist and follows no code.

Marami-rami na rin ang mga villain roles ko dito sa BM, at parang mas gusto ko na ako ang nanggugulo kaysa sa pagiging bida (I’ve been assigned many villain roles here in BM, and I seem to favor being the character who causes chaos rather than being the protagonist),” reflects Romeo. “Di ko alam kung bakit! Dahil siguro mahilig ako sa mga intense na scenes. Iba ang feeling kapag ikaw ay si Tybalt sa Romeo and Juliet, si Diego sa [Ibong] Adarna, Don Jose sa Carmen, etc. Mas na-e-explore mo ang character at napi-feel ‘yung intensity ng moment.” (I’m not sure why! It’s probably because I enjoy intense scenes. You feel different when playing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, Diego in Ibong Adarna and Don Jose in Carmen etc. I get to explore my character more and really be in the moment when I play the villain.)

Asked how he keeps Le Corsaire interesting for himself, Romeo goes back to the biggest takeaway he got from his first involvement with the said ballet: that even if you’re playing the smallest role or a role that you’ve done before, you shouldn’t belittle it.

The principal dancer concludes the interview with more words of wisdom. “Kung danseur ka, dapat isipin mo lagi kung paano ka mag-i-improve. There’s no such thing as a perfect performance, so kahit ibigay pa nila sa akin ulit ang role ng Lankadem na ginawa ko na nang maraming beses, makakahanap pa rin ako ng areas which I can improve. Kapag naghahanap ka ng ways para mas ma-improve ang sayaw mo, magiging interesting lagi ang ballet!” (If you’re a danseur, you should always think of ways to improve your art. There’s no such thing as a perfect performance, so even if I’m given the role of Lankadem again, which I’ve done many times before, I could still identify areas that I can work on. If you’re continuously eyeing improvement, ballet will always be interesting!)

Romeo claims to know Le Corsaire by heart that when the music starts playing, his body supposedly knows immediately what it should do, as well as what the other characters should do. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

The characters of 'Le Corsaire': The pirate named Conrad

The characters of 'Le Corsaire': The pirate named Conrad

Jamil Montibon: Making the most of another chance in ballet

Jamil Montibon: Making the most of another chance in ballet