Anatoly Panasyukov: 'Ballet is in the heart'
- Mirava M. Yuson () - November 14, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Anatoly Panasyukov is tall, lean and easily shines in a crowd — especially when decked out in his colorful garb, complete with attention-grabbing belt buckles. He looks every bit the ardent tourist in Manila, but the Russian ballet master’s history — both professional and personal — may prove surprising.

Happily recounting his younger days, he stops to mention that he just took a bus from Pioneer St., and plans to walk to Megamall and hop on the train for TriNoma after our interview. Just by his casual mentions of his frequent visits to CCP and Makati, among other popular cultural hubs, Anatoly unexpectedly proves that he knows Manila just as much or perhaps even better than most metropolitan denizens.

How can he not, especially after having lived here for 15 years? His deceptively youthful energy notwithstanding, Anatoly is already a grandparent, and yet his career in ballet shows no sign of stopping; neither does his sheer love for the craft and the country he has chosen to practice it in.

Describing it as “an exotic country,” Anatoly remarks that he has never regretted his choice to stay here, though he still remembers his decision with utmost clarity: it was either Las Vegas or the Philippines and he chose the latter, arriving here in 1994. A year later, his sister came to stay with him.

Throughout the conversation, Anatoly emphasizes his mindset of choosing love over money. After all, he stresses, if it were all about money, he wouldn’t have remained here. He is well aware of the challenges of marketing ballet to the general public. “It’s very important to destroy the mentality that ballet is for rich people,” he says, before snapping back to talk more animatedly about his students. Anatoly highlights that he is a self-confessed family man — but that statement does not refer to just blood relatives.

From 2 to 9 p.m. every day, Anatoly teaches ballet to kids and teens at the Meralco Theater. He affectionately calls them “children.” And in turn do they call him “Papa.” He admits to certainly feeling like their parent, especially when they call him to explain that they can’t come to class because they have an exam the next day. “We have only a modest number of dancers,” he notes, because most of his students understandably have to balance ballet with school.

One might expect that although he has lived most of his life on stage, ending up a stage parent would be typical of someone like Anatoly. However, he easily knocks down that notion as well, shrugging his shoulders and saying, “If you don’t like to dance, don’t dance.” He feels for the children forced by their parents to take up ballet when they don’t have a natural inclination for it in the first place.

“Show expressions — that’s what I want to see in my dancers,” he says, adding to his observations that it is very easy to tell, especially during performances, who were forced to take up ballet and who enjoy it of their own accord. He is curious as to why, in the Philippines, children as young as three years old are enrolled in ballet, whereas in Russia, the typical starting age is eight or nine.

As the conversation steers towards ballet in general, Anatoly becomes progressively more enthusiastic in his gestures and impressions. Adopting a grim look to imitate those who simply have no interest in performance dance whatsoever, he promptly laughs and says he does not begrudge them. “Ballet is in the heart,” he nods, and then goes on to explain the perks: “If you can do ballet, you can do anything.” Referring to other dance styles which possess very similar steps, he happily demonstrates that styles like ballroom and jazz are pretty much just ballet with limbs turned in instead of out.

Clearly satisfied with the direction his life has taken, the ballet master says that his only disappointments stems from the fact that ballet in the Philippines carries a still-apparent stigma — that it targets a very specific demographic. Momentarily pausing to recall memories of his days at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow, he laments the state of the arts in the Philippines, whereas in Russia, there is even a Kultura channel.

“Filipinos are naturally good actors,” he praises, and although he is thankful that theater has at least gained a wide audience here, one cannot hire a celebrity to help boost the number of attendees at ballet shows. Instead, to combat this, the Philippine Ballet Theatre regularly conducts outreaches, and even performs for schools, which is why they are happily gaining converts.

An important outreach program involves SAYAW Foundation, which started 13 years ago when passionate art patrons banned together to institutionalize support for talented Filipino artists. SAYAW gives free ballet classes to public school students. CORE or Cultural Outreach in Education is also in partnership with Philippine Ballet Theatre, the leading resident classical dance company of CCP which was founded 25 years ago.

In Metro Manila, SAYAW and PBT conduct free ballet classes in Mandaluyong and Las Piñas in cooperation with the respective local city governments. There are around 100 public school students per city who get a chance to attend free ballet classes with the best teachers and choreographers in the Philippines, led by Anatoly himself. 

Anatoly’s career appears to have no end in sight. There are prospective plans to take the Philippine Ballet Theatre abroad someday. But for now, he continues to happily teach, while sidelining with some equally exciting projects when he can fit them into his schedule. “I’m a simple guy,” he says, despite having just enumerated feats of having judged cheer-dancing competitions and beauty pageants, as well as having appeared on TV and done his fair share of acting for local channels. “I’m so happy, I have so many friends here,” he finishes, beaming.

He will be visiting his home country soon — “visiting” being the key word as what he insists on, as he will want to take a short break after PBT’s yearend production of Nutcracker Suite, which climaxes its 25th season this coming weekend. It promises to delight audiences of all ages on Nov. 19 and 20 with morning, gala night, and afternoon performances at the CCP. Presaging the Christmas traditions of magic and wonder, PBT artistic director Ron Jaynario restages this classic as choreographed by Gelsey Kirkland.

* * *

PBT will offer four performances of The Nutcracker at the CCP Main Theater — Nov 19 at 11 a.m., gala night at 6 p.m., Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are available at the PBT Office, Backstage Meralco Theater, Ortigas Avenue or at the CCP Box Office. To order advance tickets, or for information regarding performances, call 632-8848. Group ticket sales are also available.

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