What It's Like to Be a Ballerina: Abigail Oliveiro
The Candymag.com Team recently had the opportunity to watch Ballet Manila's latest offering, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's Cinderella, at the Aliw Theater. Watching one of our favorite fairy tales come to life onstage and in ballet, too, brought us memories of our childhood when everything was simpler and when we still believed that anything could be fixed with a little fairy dust. But we didn't only fall in love with the show, we also fell in love with ballerina Abigail Oliveiro's performance as Cinderella. To say that she was magical is an understatement. She was perfect.
We had the opportunity to talk to her via e-mail about her ballet journey, and she was glad to share her story and a few things she's learned with us, Candy Girls. Read on for your dose of inspo from her!
- You started taking ballet lessons at a young age. What made you love or learn to love this art form and dedicate your time and energy to it?
"My aunt was and is a really influencial ballet teacher in Singapore. So when dad took me to her work one day, I wanted to join in, too! I don't remember why but I remember absolutely enjoying moving to beautiful music. I'd get carried away with the music mostly. I've always been a performer at home. I'd wear my dad's shirts as oversized dresses and prance around the house whilst he played guitar. This was all before I was introduced to ballet at three. I was always singing and/or performing with my hairbrush along with the singers on TV as well!
"There wasn't a time that I decided I must focus or continue on with this art form. I just loved it! I didn't think 'I wanted to be a ballerina' at the time but it never occurred to me to ever stop. I was taking Royal Academy of Dance exams, as well, so there was always a goal you were working towards aside from personal goals."
- For a time, you juggled ballet classes with your university commitments. How hard was it? What did this stage in your life teach you, especially since you were juggling two things you loved: ballet and pharmaceutical science?
"I have to admit that it was extremely difficult and ballet took a back seat at some point. The passion for ballet was always there. But my University (Monash University in Australia) was in the City which was an hour and a half from my home which was in the East. And ballet, which was in the South, was another hour from my University. At first it was all possible! I was so motivated I thought, 'I could handle this in high school, I could surely do this!'
"The laboratory work started to pile up; you never really knew what time you were going to finish. You were allocated three hours to handle your practicals but you could be done within the hour and you could go over time. It was unpredictable. By the time I'd reach the train station, I was exhausted and most of the time I smelt of chemicals. I knew I had to sacrifice something. I had to let ballet slide as the research and studies consumed my time. From six times a week, I'd go to ballet three times a week at the most. I never sacrificed my weekend at ballet though. And I always longed for days I could be at the studio instead.
"Every holiday or semester break I had, I was at the studio for as long as I could be. I thought, if I can't be a ballerina, I would always want to dance whenever I could until I can't physically anymore. That time taught me that I couldn't 'have it all' for the rest of my life. At some point, something had to give. My ballet teacher however, told me at the end of my first year at University, that I was choosing the wrong thing to sacrifice. That I could always pick up my education again, but to give up ballet would eventually leave me with the regret of never trying and that I had a gift that needed to be shared."
"That time taught me that I couldn't 'have it all' for the rest of my life. At some point, something had to give."
- How do you prepare for a production and how long does it take?
"Whether there is a production or not, we dancers take our daily technique class and prepare our bodies for work. When there is a production, a casting list would go up and from there you will learn the role that you are given. So your daily technique classes would keep you in shape and keep you prepared for the dancing part. But with the character that you are about to portray, it's not just the technical aspect that is important. There is character development as well. So depending on the production, I would research about my character as much as I can. I would also check out YouTube if it is an existing character and see how other dancers portray it. That creates my base of the character. Every day we rehearse, adding another layer of my own interpretation of the character that goes on."
- Do you need to follow a particular diet or workout plan to prepare for your performances?
"Technically with the dancing, your preparation is already done every single day, six days a week. Learning the piece or ballet can take up to an hour to perhaps a week tops depending on what role you are given. Dancers often have to learn more than one production in a short amount of time. Often whilst we are putting up a production, we are already rehearsing the next one. Once we've learnt it, it's rehearsals every day until it goes on stage.
"Every dancer has different requirements. The Vaganova classes and repertoire that we do already keep us in shape. Personally, because my body is quite limber and my muscles are long and slow, I like to add in a bit of cross training to my everyday routine to keep my core more compact so it helps me hold myself together better especially for my partners. As for food, I don't follow any diet; I'd eat whatever's available that day, nothing specific. As long as there's food. But I do have a thing that I do before performances! I have to eat what I want or what I'm craving for! Usually the week leading up to a performance and especially the night before a performance, I would go out of my way to get what I'm craving for!"
- What's the most difficult thing you've faced so far as a ballerina? How did you overcome this challenge?
"The most difficult thing that I have faced so far and the reason why it's difficult is because I'm constantly facing it, is self doubt. It adds to my nerves especially before I go on stage. I have had difficulty in the past overcoming it and it has affected my performances, which only adds on to more self-doubt and frustration in the future. So I've learnt from that! I'm dealing with it much better now. Every day that I work, I work with the intention to better myself for myself and not for anyone else. It makes working almost a meditative thing. So when the self-doubt creeps in, I go back to that meditative place mentally and start again from there. Because I could do it there and I was confident, there's nothing to be doubtful of. It's about the mindset, focus, and preparation."
"I work with the intention to better myself for myself and not for anyone else. It makes working almost a meditative thing."
- What's your favorite thing about being a professional dancer?
"That I get to do what I love to do and what I dreamed to do every single day! I get to dance all day and it makes me so so happy! I get to share it with so many people on stage and I can let the actress in me go. It really is the best thing!"
- Is it important for aspiring dancers to start training early for the field you're in?
"I think it is important to start as early as you can, yes. Ballet creates magic but there's no magic to learning ballet. I don't think it's possible to say that you can put in too much time into ballet. Every moment you spend honing your craft only makes it greater and the art is limitless! If you want to dance, go for it! Don't wait. The more time you spend waiting for it, the less time you spend enjoying it."
Every moment you spend honing your craft only makes it greater and the art is limitless! If you want to dance, go for it! Don't wait. The more time you spend waiting for it, the less time you spend enjoying it.
- For Cinderella, you're performing with your real-life boyfriend Mark Sumaylo. How was it preparing for the production with him? Is working with him easier or more difficult?
"Preparing for Cinderella with Mark was incredibly fun! The nuances are very natural and we end up laughing so much! I would say working with him was actually really easy! I have worked with Mark in other productions before and so dancing together is a very familiar feeling and can get quite instinctive. Because of our close relationship, it's very easy to say what you think or ask for what you want from the other person."
- Any interesting anecdotes you want to share with the Candy Girls during your rehearsal sessions?
"Gosh, every rehearsal almost had something in it! To begin with, every rehearsal always had a light, fairytale aura to it. Ma'am Lisa's excitement was very contagious. I think when she decided that there would be a kiss in Cinderella, she described it as an 'artistic kiss.' All of us Cinderellas and Prince Charmings had absolutely no idea what that entailed! So when we asked, we learnt it was like a slow motion, last minute angling of the head that looked like a kiss. Mark and I gave each other a mutual look and grinned so we tentatively approached her at the end of that rehearsal and asked if we could really kiss. To our surprise she was all for it! Woohoo!"
- What were the most encouraging words you've received from a mentor or your mentors during your ballet journey?
"They would have to be what my ballet teacher Ms. Jane told me. I don't remember exactly how she said it, but it was the amount of belief she had in me. She said that all I had to do was to try with all my heart and if I wasn't offered anything to be dancer, at least I tried and I gave it everything. Trying would mean sacrificing a couple of years. Not trying would mean sacrificing the rest of your life with regrets and What Ifs. And to her, knowing the kind of gift I have, as a teacher, it would be unbearable to watch me walk away from it. That changed my life. I am the happiest I have ever been."
"She said that all I had to do was to try with all my heart and if I wasn't offered anything to be dancer, at least I tried and I gave it everything. Trying would mean sacrificing a couple of years. Not trying would mean sacrificing the rest of your life with regrets and What Ifs."
- What's your most important or most memorable role to date?
"My most memorable role would have to be Odette/Odile from the ballet Swan Lake. It was my very first Principal Role! I really never expected to dance as the lead in Swan Lake in just my second year as a professional dancer. Odette/Odile will always have a special place in my heart. The Gemini in me absolutely adores it!"
- Any advice for those who are looking to pursue their passion for dancing or for performing arts?
"The following advice is something that's close to my heart and I often remind myself when needed:
"Work hard and work honestly. Do it for yourself, slow and steady. Take away the bitterness. Finally, stop comparing yourself, because each of us have something unique offer. Don't be afraid to show it."
Catch Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's Cinderella on December 3 and December 4 at the Aliw Theater. Tickets are available via TicketWorld.com.ph.