For Glenn Ragel, ballet is sweeter the second time around
By Jv Ramos
Ballet Manila company artist Glenn Ragel may be soft-spoken and reserved; but when it comes to speaking about what matters most to him, this young man surely doesn’t hold back. He shares every memory that pops into his head; and instead of pleading with him to stop doing so, you can’t help but ask him to tell you more about what he holds dear.
There, of course, is the matter of family. Born to a military father, Glenn, the youngest of his siblings, would often get away with what he wanted growing up. “Hindi naman dahil spoiled ako (It’s not because I’m spoiled),” he laughs. “Hinahayaan lang ako ng tatay ko. Sinasabi niya sa kuya ko na mag-ma-mature rin ako balang araw. Nangyari naman.” (My father would just let me be. He would always remind my older brother that I would mature in time. True enough, that’s what happened.)
“Anong sabi ng pamilya ko nang napunta ako sa ballet? Wala naman. Suportado naman nila ako, lalo na si nanay. Naalala ko ‘nung pinakita ko sa kanila ‘yung na-receive naming supply. Sinuot ko ‘yung sapatos at pati ang tights sa bahay. Natuwa sila. Tapos, niloko ako ng kuya ko, ‘Paglaki mo, magiging bading ka!’” (What did my parents say when I began doing ballet? Not much. They supported my decision, specially my mom. I still remember when the company gave us supplies. I wore the shoes and tights at home. They were happy about it. My older brother, on the other hand, teased me, ‘You’re going to become gay when you grow up!)
His older brother’s teasing comment didn’t come true, for today, Glenn is very much in love with his Korean girlfriend that he continually immerses himself in her culture. He speaks conversational Korean, fills his playlist with Korean songs, cooks popular Korean dishes and doesn’t fail to relate various topics to the home country of his significant other. “Simple lang ang nagpapasaya sa akin. Like when I get a message from Korea, masaya na ako! (It’s the simple things that give me joy. Like when I get a message from my girlfriend in Korea, I’m happy already!)
Then, there’s the matter of ballet, which even in his thirties, is an activity he wants to continuously do, despite having engaged in the dance form at the start of his teenage years. He was actually into basketball before, even participating in inter-school games when he was in Grade 6. But one time, he got sick and had to be absent from school and he was dropped from the team.
“Doon ko nasabi na mukhang gusto talaga akong pasayawin (That’s when I realized that maybe I’m really meant to dance instead),” he laughs.
Curiously, it was while playing basketball that ballet came into Glenn’s life. He was on a basketball court in Camp Aguinaldo with other sons of military officers when they were approached by Eduardo “Jojo” Espejo, himself a military kid. Jojo, together with brother Jeffrey, were among Ballet Manila’s pioneer dancers who were dubbed as the “Flying Espejos” for their amazing leaps. Their younger brother, Jerome, would also later dance with BM.
“Sinabi niya, ‘O! Kung mag-ba-basketball lang kayo dito, mapipilayan lang kayo. Punta kayo sa bahay.’ Dahil sila ang astig sa kampo, pumunta kami sa bahay nila at doon tinignan kami. Tinaas nila ang paa namin at tinignan ang arch. (He told us, ‘If you just keep playing basketball, you’ll only get injured. If you don’t want that, come to the house.’ Because he was one of the cool guys in the camp, we obeyed and went to his house and that’s where they assessed our bodies. They stretched our legs and looked at our arch.)
After inquiring about their ages, Glenn and his other basketball playmates were asked to come back the following Saturday, and that’s when they were brought to Ballet Manila for an audition. They were all taken in, and Glenn thought that he would just give ballet a try that summer.
But as he spent more days in the studio and had his first taste of performing before a crowd in a recital, Glenn got hooked on ballet and decided that he’d do it for the rest of his life. “Na-attract kasi ako sa disiplina nito. Di siya kagaya ng basketball na takbo ka lang nang takbo.” (I got attracted to ballet due to its discipline. It’s very different from basketball wherein you just keep running around.)
Soon, the budding danseur found himself even transferring schools just so he could fit in ballet into his schedule. At the time, the boys’ class was held from six p.m. onwards. So he picked a school where his class schedule would be from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. After school, he would commute from Cubao, Quezon City to the Ballet Manila studio in Pasay. “Minsan 4 p.m. dumadating, minsan 5:30 p.m. Minsan, 11 p.m. na ako nakakauwi, tapos gigising ako ng 4 a.m. para sa 6 a.m. kong klase. (Sometimes, I would arrive at 4 p.m., sometimes 5:30 p.m. There were times when I would get back home at 11 p.m., and then I would wake up again at 4 a.m. for my 6 a.m. class.)
To this day, Glenn can’t quite believe that he survived those complicated times.
“At nagbibinata pa ako noon so marami talagang nangyayari sa buhay ko (I was in my teenage years back then so there were really many things happening in my life),” he shares.
What motivated him to go through it all? None other than his ballet teacher, Sir Shaz. That’s Osias Barroso, BM’s co-artistic director who, at the time when Glenn and his fellow scholars were juggling academics and ballet, was dancing lead roles, conducting company rehearsals and teaching the next generation of danseurs.
“Ang sabi ko, ‘Wow! Kaya pala ng iisang katawan lang ang lahat ng ‘yan!’ Na-inspire kami talaga, dahil ang hirap talaga ng ginagawa niya.” (I said, “Wow! It’s amazing how one body can do all that.” We were really inspired by him because what he would go through every day was really hard.)
In addition to that, Glenn says Sir Shaz would tirelessly motivate the young boys in the studio, which was needed as every one of them felt that the classes were getting harder. “Sinasabi niya na may plano sila sa amin – na in three years, isasabak na kami sa competition (He would remind us that the company had long-term goals for us – that in three years, we would be fielded in competitions),” Glenn recalls. “At nakikita namin ‘yon sa mga seniors. ‘Wow! Ganu’n pala ang magagawa namin,’ sabi ko. Sobrang taas na nila kung tumalon at ang mga katawan nila lumaki.” (And we would really see that happening to the seniors. ‘Wow! So that’s what I’ll be capable of doing in the future,’ I said. The seniors could jump very high and their bodies were really growing.)
It was in 2003 that Glenn began to experience the rewards of his diligence and hard work. He began dancing soloist roles, and was soon trusted to represent the company in an international competition in Japan. “Akala ko okay na ang talent ko noon. Pero pagdating doon, wow! Ang daming magagaling na ka-edad ko!” (Back then, I thought I was good enough. But when I went there, I was surprised! There were so many good danseurs who were the same age as I was.)
The intense field of competitors didn’t discourage him though. “Sabi ko lang sa sarili ko na kailangan ko pang mag-improve.” (I told myself that I really had to improve.)
And that’s exactly what Glenn did when he came back home. He went on to work hard on his training, and as he learned the harder dances of the company, many more international opportunities dropped on his lap. Among these was joining the delegation to the Aberdeen Youth Festival in Scotland. “Naalala ko na kami ang ‘darlings of the crowd’ noon. Kung saan kami, nandoon din ang mga tao.” (I remember that we were the darlings of crowd there. Wherever BM was, the crowd would follow.)
But his fondest memory with BM on foreign shores was when he was unexpectedly included in a United States tour back in the early 2000s. He was just supposed to be a reserve dancer, but a week before the company’s departure, someone left the company. Glenn was chosen to join the tour as a replacement.
“Four days ko lang po inaral ang mga sayaw. Buti nga na iba doon ay nasayaw ko na dati (I only had four days to learn all the dances. It’s a good thing that I had already danced some of the numbers before),” he narrates. But that just offered little relief, for when the company reached the States, he not only had to cope with the skills of the more experienced dancers, but also get used to the drastic changes in weather.
“Hindi sanay ang katawan ko sa States. Grabe ang lagnat ko doon! At habang nilalagnat ako, iniisip ko ang mga steps. Inaaral ko ang mga bago naming ni-rehearse.” (My body wasn’t used to the cold weather in the States. My fever there was so high! And while I was nursing a fever, I was busy thinking of my steps. I was reviewing the new dances we rehearsed.
“Pero nakayanan naman! ‘Yung training ni Sir Shaz ang reason kung bakit nag-survive ako. Down ‘yung katawan ko pero ‘yung nasa isip ko ay kaya pang sumayaw.” (But I got through it! I survived it all because of Sir Shaz’s training. Though my body was down, my mind kept telling me that I could still dance).”
Glenn admits that his two-week experience of matching the energy of his fellow danseurs in the States made him believe in himself more.
Unfortunately, Glenn’s high streak with the company came to an abrupt end due to what he describes now as his poor and immature decision. In 2005, he left BM, thinking that he and his then dancer girlfriend would be given better opportunities elsewhere.
How did this danseur find his way back to BM? Glenn says that it was artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s mother, Susan Macuja, whom he had earlier bonded with while touring abroad, who encouraged him to come back. “She told me that they (Shaz and Lisa) would understand – that when I left, I really was not thinking.”
Though he sorted that part out, Glenn had to work on other things. Well-aware that Ballet Manila demanded strict technique, Glenn took some time to train before his comeback in late 2009. And, while he was able to keep up with the other boys in the studio, he still underwent great difficulty. “Mahirap po ‘yung adjustment dahil marami na po ang bagong sayaw noon.” (The adjustment was very difficult because the company had so many new dances already when I returned.)
Despite this, Glenn persisted. Not long after his return, he was included in company tours abroad. “Sinabak agad ako sa tour of duty (They immediately made me join the tour of duty),” he jokes, turning serious when he adds that he was just grateful to be granted another chance.
Moreover, he was given opportunities to dance roles for soloists, such as the second lead in The Nutcracker and the villain in Le Corsaire. “Ang favorite ko talagang role ay si Lankadem, ‘yung kontrabida sa Le Corsaire. May kaunting comedy siya kasi at parang ikaw ang nagdadala ng istorya (My all-time favorite role is Lankadem, the villain in Le Corsaire. The role has a bit of comedy in it and it’s as if you’re the one controlling the plot),” Glenn notes.
Now that he’s one of the senior members in the company, Glenn observes that he’s very different from the danseurs who are in their twenties. “Mas mature ako ngayon. At mas tahimik ako kasi kailangan kong i-reserve ‘yung energy ko para sa rehearsal. Dahil ang mga kasama mo ay punong-puno ng energy at mahaharot talaga. Pero masaya! (I’m more mature now. And more quiet because I have to reserve my energy for our rehearsals. In rehearsals, there are boys who are so full of energy and are really rowdy. But it’s fun!)
He says that when he and his other 30-something colleagues see the younger dancers in action, they nod at each other and assure themselves that they can all still do it too. Glenn then says, “Mind over matter na lang dahil gusto ko pa talagang sumayaw.” (You just have to practice mind over matter because I really still want to dance.)
“Pero nakakaya ko pa rin talaga dahil sa training ni Sir Shaz! Babalik at babalik pa rin ako doon.” (But I think I’m really able to continue dancing because of the training I received from Sir Shaz. I can’t stress that enough. If it were not for his training, I wouldn’t have been able to do ballet for this long.)