A home for Hyuma in Ballet Manila
By Giselle P. Kasilag
Three months ago, the regular audience of Ballet Manila was surprised to see an unfamiliar face dancing major solo parts in the company’s season-closer, Deux. A rather tall Japanese dancer led the male corps in a stunning rendition of Augustus “Bam” Damian III’s Aramica, performing the lead role usually reserved for principal dancers Gerardo Francisco and Rudy De Dios. This he did just before dancing Acteon in an excerpt of Diane et Acteon with now principal dancer Jasmine Pia Dames.
The presence of Hyuma Kiyosawa in Manila – though temporary – was immediately felt. His powerful yet refined dancing, along with his affable personality, made him an instant fan-favorite in the local dance community.
Unfortunately for his Philippine fans, Hyuma was just passing through.
After winning the silver medal in the junior male division in the 2018 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, he accepted a contract with the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet which will begin in July 2019. He left Manila this week.
The 2018 USA IBC where he competed alongside Ballet Manila’s own Katherine Barkman (now with The Washington Ballet), Nicole Klaudine Barroso, and Joshua Rey Enciso was not Hyuma’s only history with the company. His mentor, Nikolai Kabaniaev, had partnered BM’s artistic director, prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, back in 1985 when they were both dancing for the Kirov Ballet. When their paths crossed once again at the competition, Nikolai introduced Hyuma to Lisa who was thoroughly impressed by the young man’s performance.
Undoubtedly, the road to the 2018 USA-IBC, and subsequently that spot in the prestigious Joffrey Ballet, was a grueling one – with beginnings that had absolutely nothing to do with dance. Hyuma’s father, a professional weightlifter, realized that his six-year-old son lacked the flexibility needed to pursue a career in sports, and decided to enroll him in a ballet school.
“I had the most inflexible body you can think of! He told me to just try ballet. In Japanese accent, ‘ballet’ and ‘volleyball’ sound exactly the same. I thought he said volleyball, so okay! I went to the studio and they made me wear interesting tights and interesting shoes. Then they said, ‘Let’s stretch!’ so, okay! I started stretching, and then we started dancing. And I was thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’”
The teacher set him straight and because he found himself enjoying the class, he kept going. His father thought he would quit after two years and switch to sports. Instead, three years later, after changing ballet schools and winning a local competition with a scholarship to the Kiev Ballet School, Hyuma flew to Ukraine where he trained in the same school as the ballet superstar Sergei Polunin.
A year later, he returned to Japan and won in the Japan Grand Prix International Ballet Competition. Nikolai Kabaniaev, one of the judges, offered him a scholarship to the Kirov Ballet School in Washington, DC. Hyuma accepted and uprooted once again, this time for the US. He stayed in Washington for two years then moved to San Francisco where he rejoined Nikolai (who had left Washington a year before) at the City Ballet School.
“It was hard work every day especially with my teacher, Nikolai. Every day, he said, if you don’t push 120 percent, you wouldn’t get better,” explained Hyuma. Despite his accomplishments, he began doubting himself and his ability to keep up with his classmates. He wanted to go home. But his mother said no, gently explaining to her son that this was how he would become better. He stayed and indeed, became better.
Competing in the 2018 USA-IBC was Nikolai’s idea. The goal was to land a contract with a professional ballet company. At 17 years old, Hyuma was ready to move on. The training and rehearsals coupled with performances and school work made for an extremely hectic schedule and an exhausted body that at some point, he began to wonder why he was doing this in the first place.
“It was a great year and I was able to progress as a dancer but it was definitely hard!” he admitted, looking back to the frenetic 2018 that he experienced.
He competed as a solo performer, dancing the Peasant Pas de Deux variation from Giselle, Flames of Paris, The Leaving Song (by Nikolai Kabaniaev), Raymonda variation, Diane et Acteon, and Wild, Wild East (by KT Nelson).
The competition was fierce. An added pressure was Hyuma’s teacher sternly telling him: “Hyuma, you have to get a contract. And you have to get a gold medal!” It wasn’t that Nikolai was being harsh but at 17, Hyuma had already outgrown the ballet school and the competition was his ticket to his future. The young dancer understood exactly what was at stake.
Round after round, he powered through. But it was only when the sheet listing the medalists (without ranking) was posted on the announcement board that Hyuma gave himself the chance to hope. Come awards night, his name was called for the silver. No gold was awarded for his division.
He left Jackson with a medal and a contract, achieving exactly what he had set out to do. Throughout Hyuma’s ballet journey, his father was still hoping that he would switch to sports at some time. The silver medal finally made him realize that it was really ballet for his son. He was very proud of Hyuma’s achievements. Japan celebrated his triumph.
After winning the silver, Hyuma found himself quite idle for the first time in his life. He completed his high school studies then returned to Japan to live with his parents. The last time he did so was when he was nine years old, just before he took that scholarship in Kiev. It was a difficult adjustment for the independent teenager.
“I was driving them nuts and they were driving me nuts!” Hyuma laughed. “It was a fun time but also interesting. They think I stayed the same since nine years old. I’m not the same!”
When the snow started falling in Nagano, he realized that his body could not take the combination of not having a formal ballet class and the harsh weather condition. He needed to move somewhere warm, and somewhere he could dance while waiting for his contract to take effect.
Then he remembered Lisa.
“As a dancer, I have to progress. I have to move forward. I have to have good experience. I didn’t want to waste this one year. Then I thought of Miss Lisa that I met in Jackson. I looked her up on Facebook then I texted her: ‘Hi, Miss Lisa Macuja! I met you in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m in Japan. Can I take classes in Ballet Manila? Japan is freezing and I’m working all by myself.’ And she said, ‘Of course! We have a performance in March. Do you want to be in it?’ And I said, ‘Of course!’ How can I say no? That’s awesome! That’s more than I hoped for!” shared Hyuma.
That was on January 15. Lisa immediately replied to his message and within 10 minutes, Hyuma was already planning his trip to the Philippines. He left frozen Nagano and came to a warm and sunny Manila on January 25.
“Everyone has the warmest heart… like the Philippine weather! They always welcome me. They come and talk to me. It was really nice and I felt at home from the first day,” he said.
Ballet Manila’s open studio was the biggest surprise for Hyuma. He saw pictures of it in Nicole Barroso’s Instagram account which he had started following after they met in Jackson. The entire time, he assumed that there was a glass wall. Instead, he discovered a three-walled studio that opened up into a lush garden. Dancing there, he said, made him feel so free.
He was equally impressed by the dancers with everyone moving beautifully as one. He could see how they achieved this unity precisely because of the quality of the teachers, with Lisa along with co-artistic director Osias “Shaz” Barroso and ballet master Jonathan Janolo leading the way.
His Philippine adventure included trips to Tagaytay and Batangas for quick vacations where he bonded with the dancers. But the “work” side of the experience brought him to malls, provincial basketball courts, and multi-purpose halls when he joined the company’s Ballet & Ballads tour. It was his first time to perform outside of a formal theater set-up and dance for crowds that are not quite familiar with ballet. The result was an educational experience not just for the people that the company performed for but for Hyuma as well.
As a young dancer with no prior company experience, joining the final production of the 23rd season, Deux, was particularly exciting. He landed the lead role in Aramica, alternating with principal dancers Gerardo Francisco and Rudy De Dios.
“The first time I saw it, it was wow! It was so powerful. What a wonderful choreography! I wish I can dance this, even on the side,” shared Hyuma. “It was so cool! Sir Shaz told me to learn how to dance Joshua’s (Enciso) part so I started learning it. I remember it was so hard learning all those fast moves. After the first week, I started rehearsing with everyone, and I really enjoyed dancing that part. By the third week, Miss Lisa told me to learn the solo part. I thought it was the one with the three boys. Two days later, Sir Shaz told me to go learn from Rudy and Gerardo. And I thought, wait… is that the principal part?!”
He wondered if he had heard correctly but Shaz confirmed it. And when he approached the two principal dancers, they were very generous with Hyuma and helped him learn the part. The result was a well-applauded performance of the piece on the second weekend of Deux. He reprised the role in the Asian Grand Prix Manila regional competition last April. By then, he had really become a member of the BM family.
“A dream come true!” declared Hyuma of his first company experience. “That’s what I dreamed of since I was nine years old and like… what a wonderful world! I’m so happy that I’m still alive, and I came to this point and be lucky enough to meet wonderful people because I’m allowed to be happy! What could be better? This is my dream come true for sure!”
Four months in Manila left a strong impression on the young dancer who promised to return as soon as he is able. Surrounded by his peers who, like him, think of ballet 24/7, Hyuma has truly found a home in Ballet Manila.