Rudy De Dios: The prince takes a step in a new direction
By Giselle P. Kasilag
There was much celebration on stage after Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde announced the promotion of eight dancers after the last performance of the company’s 23rd season recently. But the mood soon turned somber when the final announcement was made. While he was not yet leaving the company, Rudy De Dios will be relinquishing his position as principal dancer when the next season begins in September. Though he will still be dancing with BM, he intends to concentrate on choreography and is expected to premier his version of Carmina Burana to close the 24th season in 2020.
A very emotional Lisa appeared to be somewhere between denial and bargaining as she encouraged the audience to help her convince the danseur to change his mind. The attachment was understandable. They had been dancing together since 2004 when Rudy first joined the company as an apprentice.
When Lisa’s dancing partner and now co-artistic director Osias “Shaz” Barroso retired in 2006, Rudy was among the young dancers who alternated to fill the very big shoes that Shaz left behind. Eventually, only Rudy remained. He was by her side when she took her final bow in 2014.
In a way, both Lisa and Rudy embody the millennial hashtag #BalletIsLife. Both started dancing at a very young age, and had never known any other life.
For Rudy, it was also the family’s bread and butter. His mother worked behind the scenes of a ballet school where he was offered a scholarship at the age of eight. He accepted it and was soon performing on stage while continuing to help his mother backstage.
Rudy’s professional dancing career began in 2002 when he graduated from the Philippine High School for the Arts where he majored in Ballet. He danced with Ballet Philippines for two years then auditioned at Ballet Manila where he was accepted as an apprentice in September 2004.
His talent was immediately noticed and he soon found himself dancing in some of Ballet Manila’s most iconic pieces including Ric Culalic’s Arnis. By December, he was already dancing as Ali to Lisa’s Medora (with Francis Cascaño as Conrad) in an excerpt of Le Corsaire.
Less than a year with Ballet Manila, Rudy was promoted from apprentice to company member. By 2007, he was named demi soloist. What followed was a steady climb to the top. He was promoted again in 2008 as soloist, in 2009 as junior principal, and in 2010 as principal dancer – outranking a number of dancers who either started out with him or came before him.
But Lisa’s and Shaz’s faith in him was handsomely rewarded.
He won the Best Modern Choreography in the Senior Division of the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA) in 2008 for Solo Tango. Along with fellow principal dancer Gerardo Francisco, he won first place as performer at the 2009 WifiBody Independent Contemporary Dance New Choreographers’ Competition for the piece Balikbayan (OFW).
He received the Outstanding Male Lead Performance for both Modern Dance and Classical Dance from the 2012 Gawad Buhay Awards for Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (Ang Prinsipe ng mga Ibon) and Swan Lake, respectively. In 2013, he was once again recognized by the Gawad Buhay Awards with the Best Male Lead Performance in a Classical Dance Production for Don Quixote. He was a semi-finalist in the 2nd Beijing International Ballet and Choreography Competition, Choreography Division, held in China in July 2013.
In June 2017, he received the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila.
Ballet Manila dancers sometimes refer to him as “Rudy of God” partly because of his name, but mostly because of his dancing and partnering skills.
“Whenever I see Rudy dance, I always find myself admiring how he is made for it,” says principal dancer Joan Emery Sia. “To me, his dancing is very athletic and yet full of finesse – a fine balance he has managed to pull off all these years. He is a generous dancer – always giving his all. The irony of this is that it leaves whoever is watching him crave for more. He is a true artist through and through.”
Principal dancer Romeo Peralta admires his versatility, describing him as “easily one of the best artists that joined Ballet Manila!” Rudy can easily shift from classical to contemporary dance without missing a beat. The long list of roles he has performed is a testament to that. His repertoire includes Swan Lake (Prince Siegfried), Le Corsaire (Conrad), Carmen (Don Jose), Don Quixote (Basilio), La Fille Mal Gardee (Colas), Giselle (Albrecht), Romeo and Juliet (Romeo), The Nutcracker (Nutcracker Prince), Sleeping Beauty (Florimund), La Bayadere, Pinocchio, The Swan, the Fairy and the Princess, Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (Prinsipeng Ibon), Cinderella (Prince Charming), Reve, Arnis, Dancing to Czerny, OFW, Reconfigured, and Aramica. The pas de deux Ilsa-Dyur was created for him and Lisa Macuja-Elizalde by Bam Damian.
“Rudy’s dancing is amazing!” gushes principal dancer Mark Sumaylo. “Aside from doing powerful tricks in ballet, he is a versatile danseur that can give justice to the character he is performing. He can do everything effortlessly. He can even change a trick on the day of the performance. That’s how amazing Rudy is. In addition to that, he lands like a cat every time he does a big jump!”
While he is admired by many for his work on stage, Gerardo cites his attitude offstage as well.
“I like him for being so kind and down-to-earth,” he says. “Siya ‘yung tipo ng tao na hindi mayabang (He is the kind of person who does not boast). He is so focused on what he does on and off the stage. Working with him is not difficult. Walang reklamo, hindi maangas (No complaints, no attitude), to think that he’s a principal dancer ha! Rudy is the kind of dancer who is easy to work with.”
The two men have known each other for almost two decades. Back when they were both still struggling as young dancers, it was Rudy’s kindness and generosity that helped Gerardo survive financial difficulties. They shared food and other basic necessities, barely making it from one day to the next.
It was Gerardo who encouraged Rudy to join Ballet Manila. Their onstage collaboration includes Reve and OFW. Their chemistry is undeniable. Every time they dance together, they set the stage on fire.
Humble and down-to-earth are two adjectives often used to describe Rudy. Principal dancer Elpidio Magat agrees.
“I admire his being down-to-earth and humble,” says Elpidio. “I see him as a quiet person – walang yabang (no airs) and madaling kausap (easy to talk to). I never see him get angry or upset during rehearsals. Pag nahihirapan siya (whenever he has a difficult time), he makes jokes about the situation but still in a professional way.”
“Professionally, he is one of the guys in the studio that would just work quietly but knows when to have fun,” shares principal dancer Romeo Peralta. Fun, he adds, was how they dealt with Rudy’s allergy that once manifested mid-way through a performance of Don Quixote.
Citing it as his most memorable (and funniest!) moment with him, Romeo explains that Rudy had eaten shrimps prior to the show. They were already dancing when “he transformed and morphed onstage because of his allergy!” They even took photos backstage to make light of the situation. His face already swollen and disfigured, he attempted to keep going. But by intermission, it proved to be too much and Lisa decided to let Rudy sit out the remainder of the show.
It is this quiet determination that has earned Rudy the respect of his dance partners.
“I admire how passionate, dedicated, and very talented he is!” exclaims principal dancer Jasmine Pia Dames. “His dancing is very powerful. He can do almost everything, and he never gets tired.”
The pair danced together in Kinabuhing Mananagat, a piece which Rudy himself choreographed.
For Joan, however, partnering with Rudy was literally a dream come true!
“The very first BM production I ever saw and where Rudy was in was Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang,” she shared. “When I watched him in Prinsipe ng mga Ibon, I was so moved, I cried. And since that day, it became a dream of mine to be his Prinsesa Singsing. I'm so thankful I got to dance with him when we did that ballet during the Christmas season.”
One dancer who never thought she would get to partner with Rudy was fellow principal Abigail Oliveiro who is much taller than most of the ladies of Ballet Manila. Rudy being on the shorter side of the spectrum made it nearly impossible for them to partner until Gerardo choreographed Ibong Adarna. Abigail played the mythical bird while Rudy took on the role of Prinsipe Juan.
“Rudy is a force to be reckoned with,” declares Abigail. “I find it so incredible how at one he is with the stage. He always gives off so much energy! Having had the chance to partner him in Ibong Adarna, I felt just how much he gave and it is either you match his zest or you get left behind and swung around! He is always invested in his roles and is such a reliable partner. Dancing with him, he delivers his character so believably that it makes it so much easier for me to react/dance as the character. It makes it that much more fun.”
Truly an heir to Shaz’s style of partnering, Rudy has been known to handle his ballerinas with the same care as he did with Lisa regardless of rank or experience.
“We were partners for Swan Lake,” adds Joan. “Of course it was daunting at first. He partnered Ma'am Lisa for many years. I was afraid I would upset or frustrate him. But he was, in every way possible, perfect. He would always say ‘Ako na bahala’ (I’ll take care of it). Humble but gallant, he puts his ballerina first every time. Plus, his acting definitely puts me deep into the story line!”
Come 24th season, Rudy will be shifting his focus towards choreography. Though Lisa is convinced that he can successfully dance and choreograph at the same time, she respects his decision to concentrate on the latter – but with the option to still perform should he choose to.
While he will no longer be carrying the title, Rudy has clearly set the bar high for the younger dancers to emulate. Ballet is life. It will always be Rudy’s life whether on stage or behind the scenes. And the ballet community in the Philippines is much more colorful for his many contributions.
Top photo: Rudy’s intense and powerful dancing has set the bar high for younger danseurs to emulate. In this photo, Rudy takes on the lead role of Aramica in Ballet Manila’s 23rd season closing production, Deux. Photo by MarBi Photography