Elyssabeth Apilado: Fated to be in ballet

Elyssabeth Apilado: Fated to be in ballet

Lyssa has learned that smiling when dancing makes all the difference – a tip she learned from fellow dancer Brian Sevilla. Photo by MarBi Photography

By Jv Ramos

Being a teenager who is serious about ballet is hard. Other than balancing schoolwork and dance training, one has to deal with the pressures of socializing, which is often deemed to be among the most important things for many teenagers. "Oo, dati talaga parang na-gi-guilty ako kapag may ballet tapos kailangan kong mag-say 'no' sa mga kabarkada ko," says Elyssabeth “Lyssa” Apilado, a trainee of Ballet Manila (BM), who's recently been catching the attention of judges in local and international competitions. (Yes, before I used to feel guilty whenever I would have to turn down my friends for ballet.)

Elyssabeth “Lyssa” Apilado says she is committed to ballet because she finds joy in it despite the many hardships it entails. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

"Like may time na nagkaroon ng ‘friendversary’ ang barkada, at nang sinabi ko na may ballet ako, ang sabi sa akin, 'Ano ba iyan, puro ballet ka na lang!' (Like there was a time when my group had a ‘friendversary,’ and when I told my friends that I couldn't come because of ballet, one said, 'Ballet again? When will you have time for us!’) Naturally, this teenage ballerina felt bad upon hearing the comment, but she didn't let it change her decision to proceed to the studio. She reasons, "Gusto ko kasi itong ballet, at may time namang iba para sa gala-gala." (I truly like ballet, and besides, we would have another time to hang out.)

Asked if she ever regretted those moments, Lyssa replies no and adds that her friends are now very understanding and supportive of her ballet goals. Plus she can't really blame their negative reactions, as there was a point in time when she was very detached from ballet, despite already making it to the company's scholarship program, Project Ballet Futures (PBF).

"Nag-start iyan kasi sa pagpunta nila sa school para maghanap ng mga mag-au-audition.” (It all started when BM came to our school to look for kids who will audition for ballet.) Being a hip-hop dancer due to her older brother's influence, she was pushed by her classmates to audition, thinking that ballet would be a walk in the park for one who was already into dancing.

For the 2017 Asian Grand Prix, Lyssa danced the 3rd Shades Variation from La Bayadere and became one of the finalists in her category. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

"Kayang-kaya ko raw, so nagtaas ako ng kamay para sa auditions. Natanggap nga ako, pero nang nagkaklase na, hindi talaga ako nadalian. Ibang-iba po ang ballet sa sayaw na nakasanayan ko." (My classmates told me that I could do it, so I raised my hand to sign up for the auditions. They were right, I did get in after the auditions. What didn't happen is me finding ballet to be very easy. Ballet is very different from the kind of dance I was used to.)

Teens who struggle would usually quit and go back to their comfort zone or embrace the new activity as a way of expanding their limits, but none of these thoughts ever entered Lyssa's head. "Hinayaan ko lang ang ballet. Tinuloy ko lang ito kasi alam kong di ko rin makakaya." (I just let my participation in ballet be. I continued going to class because I expected that I wouldn’t make it in the end.) 

The teenager kept anticipating that she wouldn’t pass the next evaluation, but when she realized that she was still standing tall after a year in PBF, which consists of many trials, she accepted that she was made for ballet. "Pagkatapos lang ng isang taon ako nag-decide na itutuloy ko at pag-aaralan ko talaga ang ballet.” (It was only a year after I was in ballet that I decided to continue and really study it.) 

It was a thrill for Lyssa (second from right) to win honorable mention with partner Alvin Dictado (rightmost) at the ATOD competition in Bangkok. With them are their mentor, Osias Barroso, and fellow BM dancers Shaira Comeros and Brian Sevilla who won third place. Photo courtesy of Alvin Dictado

Today, Lyssa is so thankful that she made that decision to commit to ballet, as she finds so much joy in it despite the many hardships it entails. "Dati, hindi ko po na-e-enjoy ang competitions," admits the young ballerina. "Like noong 2015, ang feeling ko hindi pa talaga ako ready. Pero noong 2017 onwards, na-enjoy ko na. Lalo na nang nanalo kami para sa pas de deux ni Alvin [BM2 member Alvin Dictado] sa Thailand, mas nag-enjoy na po ako." (Before, I didn’t really enjoy competitions. In 2015, for example, I really felt that I wasn't ready. But things changed from 2017 onwards. I think I’ll enjoy competing more after Alvin and I won our pas de deux in Thailand.) 

Last February, Lyssa and three other teenagers from BM – Shaira Comeros, Alvin Dictado and Brian Sevilla – competed in the Australian Teachers of Dance (ATOD) International Dance Competition in Bangkok. The two pairs came home with honorable mention medals and tons of good memories.

"Iyan din po ang gusto ko sa ballet – ang pagsasama ninyo. Ang friendships dito sa ballet ay lifelong,” she says, echoing the words of her colleagues. She adds that she's more motivated to dance due to the bonds that she's forged in BM. "Natutulungan po nila ako na gumaling at pati na rin sa ibang bagay.” (That's also one of the things I love about ballet – the bonds that you make here are amazing. The friendships you forge are lifelong. They help me improve in ballet and in other matters).

Lyssa shares her third-place finish at the recent AGP Regionals with her father Eduardo Apilado, her constant companion to and from her ballet classes and who, she says, guides her in everything she does. Photo courtesy of Elyssabeth Apilado

She elaborates, "Like may time po na pinagalitan ako ni Sir Shaz [co-artistic director Osias Barroso] kasi laging ako nakasimangot. Sobrang sakit na po ng paa ko dahil sa lumang pointe shoes noong time na iyon. Dahil nga napagalitan ako, tinulungan ako ni Brian [Brian Sevilla] kung paano mag-improve. Dapat laging nakangiti raw. Dapat hindi ipakita na nahihirapan ako. Basta! Dapat laging presentable!" (Like there was a time when Sir Shaz really scolded me for frowning as I was dancing. During that time, my feet were really in pain due to my worn-out pointe shoes. Because I felt bad about Sir Shaz getting mad at me, Brian helped me out. He told me to smile always, to never show that I'm in pain. And to always look presentable no matter what!)

When she applied Brian's pointers, Sir Shaz quickly noticed the change in her attitude and even asked where she learned how to present herself differently. The mentor laughed when she credited Brian. 

"Parte lang iyan ng ballet (Being scolded by Sir Shaz is just part of ballet,)" Lyssa claims, clarifying that Sir Shaz and the other teachers in BM always want what's best for their students. She, in fact, claims that Barroso is the key to her performing well onstage. "Para mawala ang aking kaba, ang iniisip ko ay ako at si Sir Shaz lang ang nasa stage. Bina-block ko ang lahat mga judges at ang audience." (To fight my jitters, I just think that it's only me and Sir Shaz on stage. I block out the judges and the audience.)

That technique must have come in handy once more when Lyssa competed in the Asian Grand Prix International Ballet Competition Regionals held for the first time in Manila on April 21 to 22. Dancing the Odalisque Variation, she emerged in third place in the Junior B Division – a victory made sweeter because she was able to share it instantly with her family who had come to watch her compete.

Lyssa dances as the Amazona rescued by Don Diego (Romeo Peralta) in Gerardo Francisco’s Ibong Adarna. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Lyssa was quite excited to be competing again but when the day itself came, she reveals that she got nervous just thinking of her fellow competitors. “Pero siyempre po mas inisip ko pa rin po na kailangan isipin ko na kaya ko ito kasi BM ako. Kaya du’n po ako ginanahan. Ipinakita ko po talaga ang best ko – kung sino ako at ano ang kaya ko.” (Of course, I focused more on thinking that I could do it because I’m a BM dancer. That’s how I got energized. I showed my best – who I am and what I could do.”

Though still nursing an ankle injury and feeling pain in her shin, she persisted because she knew she could do it. And indeed, her efforts were rewarded when the results were announced. Lyssa is delighted with her top three finish in the regionals, saying that it’s the first time for her to place in an AGP competition (although she was also a finalist in last year’s event in Hong Kong). She is eager to be going to Hong Kong again in August to compete with other winners in various regionals held all over Asia.

Asked what her dream roles are, the teenager has her eyes set on characters wherein her "madrama" (temperamental) nature could be advantageous. For classical ballet, she'd like to be the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, as she wants to experience portraying a long range of emotions by being Odette and Odile in one production. "Opo, alam kong challenging ang role na iyon, pero gusto ko talaga ang transformation to Black Swan (Yes, I'm aware that the Swan Queen is a challenging role, but I'm really attracted to the idea of having to transform into the Black Swan)." As for contemporary ballet, she's eyeing Agnes Locsin's Arachnida, a dark and sensual piece inspired by mating spiders.  

In Gerardo Francisco’s Muro-Ami, Lyssa (rightmost) and her fellow dancers portray underage divers forced into an illegal fishing system. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Before these roles are actualized though, she recognizes that she has a lot to improve on. She likes to emulate her idol in BM, principal dancer Katherine Barkman. "Pareho po kami ng idol ni Shaira [Shaira Comeros] and pareho rin kami ng reason. Napaka-hardworking po kasi ni Katherine." (Shaira and I have the same idol and our reason for admiring her is the same. It’s because Katherine is very hardworking.)

With the revelation of how ballet teaches one to work hard comes our subject's encouragement for parents to consider sending their kids to ballet too. She stresses: "Mas maganda naman po ang ballet kaysa sa computer nang computer. Mag-i-improve po talaga ang mga anak n’yo sa ballet." (It's better to be learning ballet than be occupied with computer games all day. Your kids will really improve here in ballet.)

Lyssa is thankful for the support she has been getting from her mentors, including artistic directors Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Osias Barroso, Eileen Lopez and Jonathan Janolo, and the rest of the BM family. It was them that she thought of when that fateful moment at the AGP regionals happened.

Nu’ng tinawag ang number ko at ang pangalan ko na third place, du’n po ako natuwa nang sobra, lalo na para sa BM kasi dito ako natuto bilang ballet dancer. Proud din po ako sa sarili ko kasi na-push ko ‘yung sarili ko. Gusto ko po talagang maging magaling na ballerina. Gusto ko rin pong matulungan ang family ko at makapagpasaya ng tao,” she enthuses. (When my number and name were called as the third placer, I was overjoyed, more so for BM because this is where I’ve learning to become a ballet dancer. I’m also proud that I pushed myself. I really want to be a skilled ballerina. I also want to help my family and to entertain people through ballet.)

Lyssa dreams of someday dancing the challenging dual role of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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