By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Every dancer takes a slightly different path to the stage. For Bennyroyce Royon, artistic director of Seattle’s Evergreen City Ballet (ECB) and prime mover behind the Ballet’s “Nutcracker Suites” for the holidays, the path includes figure skating, and a jury-rigged audition outfit.
“Sports were not my thing in high school,” Royon said. “I joined the school’s orchestra and show choir… I used to take figure skating lessons before attending Evergreen City Ballet.
“Then I found Evergreen City Ballet’s ad in the Auburn Reporter. They were looking for interested and talented teenage boys to audition. I remember auditioning on a Saturday wearing only socks, a white tank top, and my stretchy figure skating pants… My family didn’t have much money then, so they offered me a full scholarship.”
Royon was born in the Philippines, and grew up moving between Laguna and Pangasinan. He recalls being a happy-go-lucky kid, getting into all sorts of creative mischief. To this day, he misses the food, and the cousins he could always play with.
He moved to Auburn in 1996 at age 12, with his mother, siblings, and stepfather.
“My mom was still pregnant with our youngest brother Brian at that time… I remember getting used to eating mashed potatoes, drinking milk, and the cold weather. It was a huge culture shock!”
His studies and performances at ECB led him to the Juilliard School in New York City, and a career in dancing in NYC. He still maintains an apartment in Brooklyn, but his Seattle home sits on First Hill.
Asked about Filipinx presence in NYC dance, Royon has quite a list.
“Some of which are my friends! I continue to be inspired by Stella Abrera (American Ballet Theatre), Georgina Pazcoguin (New York City Ballet), and Mica Bernas (Mark Morris Dance Group). Other Fil-Ams dance artists worth noting are Alexis Convento, LaMae Caparas, and Norbert De La Cruz III.
“Things are getting better, but we are not there yet in terms of fully celebrating diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society. We still need more opportunities for BIPOC dance artists in the performing arts. More dance created by different people from various backgrounds and perspectives enriches all of our lives.”
The ECB’s artistic director post opened up in 2019. He took meetings with the board, and consulted with his fiancé about what the job would mean. Living bi-coastally meant travel stress and other challenges. But being close to family, and honoring the company that gave him his career, meant much to him. He sealed the deal.
“Nutcracker Suites,” his adaptation of the famous “Nutcracker” ballet, will be shown over the web on selected dates in December. Patrons can visit the website at evergreencityballet.org to purchase tickets, plus a digital program. Royon encourages folks to buy one ticket per household member, pointing out that the show is a crucial fundraiser that will help the ECB out during the rest of the year.
The bold, intense, and unorthodox show includes quite a bit of culture from the Philippines. “Representation is important to me,” said Royon. “Seattle-based Fil-Am drag personality Mx. Aleksa Manila is reprising her role of Mother Ginger this year, but with a bit of a twist involving Filipino desserts. I’m including the ‘parol’ as part of our Christmas tree set in Act I.
“The ‘parol’ is a traditional Filipino Christmas lantern that symbolizes the holiday spirit of people in the Philippines. I bought it from my last trip back to the Philippines in 2016. I asked my fiancé to ship it to me from NYC. The person in the post office helping him was Filipina and was thrilled to safely package it!”
Asked about plans for the future, Royon understandably stressed safety and wellbeing for ECB’s people.
He’ll work on training the next generation of dancers, as much as he can. But he does have a few lofty goals for when the virus lifts.
“I plan to create an arts and cultural center in downtown Renton. This center will house our ballet school and performing company. I plan to also expand our mission by providing opportunities to a diverse body of emerging BIPOC artists. I plan on launching a creative residency called ‘Made in Renton’ in the next year or so. This aims to cultivate collaboration, innovation, and community building through the creation of new works.
“I am currently looking for local sponsors and philanthropists to help make all of this happen. We have to all come together to keep the arts alive, especially now. The arts are integral to having a purposeful, fulfilling, and enriched life. Invest in the arts now and secure a future full of creativity, joy, and beauty.”
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.