Alvin Dictado: Falling in love with ballet, one step at a time

Alvin Dictado: Falling in love with ballet, one step at a time

Alvin rehearses Arnis, a twenty-year-old choreography by Ric Culalic now being performed by BM's new generation of dancers. Video by Giselle P. Kasilag

By Jv Ramos

That Alvin Dictado was born for the stage is the first thing that comes to mind when you meet this teenage danseur. For aside from being effortlessly camera-ready all the time, he resorts to dance moves whenever he can’t find the words to express his point.

Alvin is building up his strength so he can become an even more effective dancer and ballet partner in the future. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

When asked about his idols in Ballet Manila, for example, Alvin begins to snap his fingers and moves his shoulders with swag, raising eyebrows all around. Asked what he is doing, he lets out a laugh and reasons that he is just imitating the moves of Ballet Manila principal dancer Gerardo Francisco.

Ang ganda talaga ng galaw niya po, lalo na noong siya ay si Basilio sa Don Q.” (His moves are exceptionally great, especially when he’s Basilio in Don Q). This danseur adds that he was inspired to work harder upon witnessing Francisco performing the male lead in the ballet classic Don Quixote in 2017.

When the topic turns to what he doesn’t like about ballet, our subject forms a mouth out of his left hand and begins opening and closing it repeatedly to signify a nagging individual. Jokingly, his fellow dancers Shaira Comeros, Brian Sevilla and Elyssabeth Apilado join him in mimicking the amount of lectures they receive from their mentors.

Minsan, mahirap talaga kung paulit-ulit mo naririnig tapos hindi mo pa rin makuha. (Sometimes, it’s really hard when you hear the same criticism over and over again and you still can’t get things right),” humbly says Alvin. “Pero ganyan talaga. Kailangan ng [he makes the gesture of a nagging mouth again here] para gumaling (But that’s just the way it is, you need to go through that in order to improve).”

As a junior dancer with Ballet Manila, Alvin has taken on classical roles such as in Swan Lake in October 2017. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

The ironic part about all this is, Alvin never pictured himself as a dancer when he was younger. He, in fact, was ashamed of seeing his older brother Anselmo (Elmoe), a soloist in the company, in ballet performances. "Kapag nakikita ko nga ang kuya ko na nag-ba-ballet, ang nasa isip ko ay bading siya! So, tinanong ko siya, ‘Kuya, bading ka ba? Sabi niya, ‘Hindi. Ballet ito. I-try mo.’” (Every time I’d see my older brother dance ballet, the thought that would enter my head is that he’s gay. So, I confronted him one day, ‘Brother, are you gay?’ And he replied, ‘No. What I’m doing is ballet. You should try it sometime.)

It took repeated prodding and five years of his brother being in BM before Alvin agreed to try the dance form. In the beginning, he was still skeptical, but fell in love with ballet as he spent more weeks in the studio.

Pero bumalik ang pagka-ayaw ko sa ballet noong na-injure ako (But my strong dislike for ballet came back when I got injured),” admits the fun-loving teenager as he points to his once-injured arm. “Hindi ko kasi alam kung magagawa ko ulit ang sumayaw. Pero si Sir Shaz [BM co-artistic director Osias Barroso], sinabihan niya ako na kaya kong bumalik at nangyari nga (That’s because I really couldn’t tell if I could actually come back and dance again. But there was Sir Shaz. He assured me that I could make it back and he was right).”

Alvin strike ballet poses with Brian Sevilla, Shaira Comeros and Elyssabeth Apilado in Bangkok where they participated in the 2018 Australian Teachers of Dance International Dance Competition last February.

Alvin strike ballet poses with Brian Sevilla, Shaira Comeros and Elyssabeth Apilado in Bangkok where they participated in the 2018 Australian Teachers of Dance International Dance Competition last February.

With Alvin’s recovery and return to ballet came a fired-up attitude. He would dance his heart out in every class, rehearsal and performance, turning himself into one of the company’s most reliable junior dancers. “Gusto ko lang bawiin ang lahat ng na-miss ko (I wanted to make up for all that I’ve missed),” comments the teenager with a shrug. And while he doesn’t mention it, it’s more than likely that he can’t imagine ballet, an activity he once frowned upon, being taken away from his life.

Due to this boy’s grit and enthusiasm for ballet, he has been sent by BM several times abroad to perform and compete in notable dance festivals and events. These include the 2016 and 2017 Asian Grand Prix International Ballet Competition (Hong Kong), the 2016 Beijing Dance Performance Series for Dance Schools (China), the 2016 Dance Open International Ballet Festival (Russia) and the 2017 International Dance Festival (Vietnam).

Elyssabeth Apilado and Alvin Dictado wear their Honorable Mention medals for their Harlequinade pas de deux at the 2018 ATOD Competition.

Most recently, he participated in the 2018 Australian Teachers of Dance International Dance Competition (Thailand), wherein his Harlequinade pas de deux with Elyssabeth Apilado was awarded Honorable Mention.

Alvin’s most memorable trip was to Russia in 2016 as he and his fellow BM delegates got to meet Russian dance legend Tatiana Alexandrovna Udalenkova.

Of these many journeys abroad, Alvin picks his 2016 trip to St. Petersburg, Russia as the most memorable. "Na-meet po kasi namin doon si Ms. Tatiana (Tatiana Alexandrovna Udalenkova, BM artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizade's teacher) at doon ko nakita kung saan talaga nanggaling ang Vaganova." (That’s where I met Ms. Tatiana, and that’s where I witnessed where our Vaganova technique really came from.)

That moment was truly special for him and his fellow delegates for it became a reminder that they were not simply dancing; they were upholding a great ballet legacy.  

He continues, "At kagaya nga ng sabi ni Sir Shaz, kailangan mong mag-move on kaagad sa mga pinanalo mo.” (As Sir Shaz would say, you need to move on quickly from your achievements.)

Clearly, this young man has a deep respect for his teacher, as he strives to live all his teachings.

Regarding roles that he'd like to play, Alvin cites one each from the classical and contemporary genres. "Dream ko pong maka-partner si Katherine Barkman [BM principal dancer] bilang Basilio (I want to partner with Katherine Barkman as I portray Basilio)," bravely declares the teenager. "Sa contemporary naman po, gustong-gusto ko ang OFW (And when it comes to the contemporary, I’d really like to dance OFW).”

Alvin (leftmost) performs in Muro Ami by Gerardo Francisco. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

As he speaks of the latter, he sends eye signals to his colleague Brian Sevilla, suggesting that they should pair up for the mentioned contemporary piece – a choreography of Gerardo Francisco for two danseurs, portraying the experiences of overseas Filipino workers. Brian, being obsessed with ballet himself, gladly embraces the idea.

"Mas gugustuhin ko talaga ang pumunta sa studio kaysa sa tumambay sa may amin (I really prefer coming to the studio every day rather than being idle in our neighborhood)," stresses the teenager. "Hindi lang naman kasi sayaw ang mayroon dito. Feeling ko rin na natagpuan ko dito ang tinatawag nilang lifelong friends.” (After all, it’s not just the dancing I like here. I’ve also formed what they call lifelong friends here).

Always the joker, Alvin (right) mimics being scolded by his mentors, as Shaira Comeros, Brian Sevilla and Elyssabeth Apilado follow suit. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

When it comes to advice he'd like to give boys who are interested in ballet, Alvin, without thinking twice, says, "Ang masasabi ko lang ay huwag nilang pakialaman ang sinasabi ng iba. Kung gusto nila mag-ballet, gawin nila. Gaya nga ng sabi nila [his fellow ATOD awardees Brian Sevilla, Elyssabeth Apilado and Shaira Comeros], may future po dito (All that I can say is, don’t worry about what other people think. If you really want to take up ballet, go do it! As they say, there really is a future for them here)."

To further his already colorful dancing career, Alvin is proactively addressing his weakness. "Pinapalakas ko po ang upper body ko para gumaling ako sa partnering (I’m strengthening my upper body to be much better at partnering)." Here, he again drops Shaz's name, stating that partnering is a big part of any great danseur's life.

Indeed, despite being the joker in the room, this teenager takes ballet seriously and is determined to make more waves in it in the coming years.

Alvin Dictado once shunned ballet, but eventually grew to embrace it. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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