Abigail Oliveiro:  A swan takes flight

Abigail Oliveiro: A swan takes flight

Dancing as Odette, the White Swan, in The Swan, The Fairy and the Princess is a perfect fit for Abigail Oliveiro's lithe, willowy frame and distinct musicality

By Anjie Blardony Ureta

In Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa's contemporary piece, Bloom. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Soloist Abigail Oliveiro is, hands down, Ballet Manila’s resident polyglot. She can easily converse in four languages – English, Chinese, Malay and French – and is making great strides at learning Filipino. The latter, she admits, has been fast-tracked by her unusual fondness for Tagalog movies. “Every time I tell someone in the company that I watched this or that film, they all stare at me funny,” she says, revealing that she particularly likes romantic comedies. “I don’t care how cheesy they are,” she laughs. “They’re fun!”

Abi’s propensity for picking up new languages and easily adapting to foreign lifestyles is largely influenced by being raised in multi-cultural environments. Born in Singapore from Eurasian roots, she was 12 when her family moved to Australia where her parents and two brothers continue to reside.

One of Abi's most challenging roles so far has been that of Imelda in Martin Lawrance's Rebel where she played the former Philippine First Lady.

She had began taking ballet lessons at three and continued to take classes in her new home. However, her parents expressed their desire to see her through college first before making any serious decisions about her dancing. She was already halfway through her Pharmaceutical Science studies at a university in Melbourne when she decided to take a sharp detour and directed all her energy at expressing herself more fluently in yet another language – the language of Dance.

“I started really late at doing ballet full-time,” she recalls. “Before I came to Ballet Manila, I’d only danced ballet professionally for eight months. I joined my first competition in 2013 – the Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong – where I was lucky enough to be a finalist. That’s where Sir Shaz (BM co-artistic director Osias Barroso) first saw me.”

In some performances of Rebel, Abi (standing, third from left) was one of Imelda's Blue Ladies, along with (standing, from left) Henrietta Garcia, Marika Añonuevo, Czarina Villegas, (kneeling, from left) DoHyun Choi and Joan Emery Sia. Photo from Joan Sia's Facebook page

When she entered the same competition in 2015, she was already a member of Ballet Manila and had clinched a Silver Medal in the Senior Women’s Category for the Philippine-based company. 

Now on her third season with BM, Abi has nothing but gratitude for the rigorous training and growth opportunities the company has provided her. “To see how much they’ve invested in me and how much they continue to believe in me, it’s quite overwhelming… Because I literally came from nothing not that long ago and it’s their love and support that have really made a difference in my life.”

For Ballet Manila’s upcoming production of The Swan, The Fairy and The Princess, Abi gets to reprise the role of the Odette, the White Swan – a perfect fit for her lithe, willowy frame and distinct musicality.

Abi performs as the cunning Odile, the Black Swan, in a full-length production of Swan Lake in 2014. 

Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang gave Abi (leftmost) a taste of Filipino classics as she was cast in the story “Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya” together with Dawna Mangahas, Alvin Santos and Joan Emery Sia. Photo from Alvin Santos' Facebook page

Unveiled at the Imperial Theater in Moscow in 1877, Swan Lake is now considered a gold standard among the classics. Its famous heroine is a beguiling princess whom a sorcerer turned into a swan. At midnight, she and her swan maidens regain their human form and in one of those evenings, she meets a prince and falls in love. However, at a royal ball, a doppelganger arrives to bewitch the prince in order to seal Odette’s fate to remain a swan forever – a tragic twist that has made Swan Lake one of the most heartbreaking ballets of all time.

Abi embraces the White Swan as a familiar yet ever-evolving character. “Swan Lake was my very first full-length ballet. I was given the chance to dance Odette within a year of joining the company and it was scary at the time. Since it was such a famous classical role, you had this perception that it had to be done a certain way, but then you also want to put yourself into it.”

“I feel like I’ve continued growing with the role so now it’s less about what it’s supposed to be like and more about how I feel and what I want to show through my dancing. Being a classical role, I can only innovate within the boundaries of tradition but I feel the character has much more layering now than before.”

Accepting her award as silver medalist in the Senior Division of the Asian Grand Prix 2015 in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Asian Grand Prix

“Of course, this time it’s also special this time around because I get to dance with my very own prince,” she adds, disclosing her excitement over being partnered by fellow soloist and real-life beau, Mark Sumaylo, who plays Siegfried.

While she and Mark have performed the famous Swan Lake pas de deux in several concert programs and tours, her most vivid recollection would certainly be the time when they volunteered to dance at a nursing home for the elderly while vacationing in Australia.

“We were supposed to dance an excerpt for a fundraiser but I went down with pneumonia,” she recounts. “When I got better, we were staring at all these costumes and thinking what a waste… Then my dad, who worked as a nurse in an aged care facility, suggested that if I felt well enough it would be nice if we could dance for the old folks because they would really appreciate it. We loved the idea. Were just too happy to do that for them!”

Partnered by real-life beau Mark Sumaylo in Cinderella, Ballet Manila's pre-holiday presentation

“When we got there, they brought us to this small space in the cafeteria and the audience was sitting really close. I asked Mark how we would manage to dance in that set-up and he said it’s okay since Swan Lake is a ballet that kinda rotates!” she recounts amusedly.

“Honestly, I was so nervous! It was probably one of the toughest audiences for me to dance for because everyone was wide-eyed with expectation and I can actually see their facial reactions – what if they don’t like it? But they gave us a warm applause and later on, some patients even went to my dad and told him how much they loved the performance! Their happiness made it all worthwhile. It was so gratifying.”

Featuring guest artists Mikhail Martynyuk of the Kremlin Ballet, stage actor Miguel Faustmann as Peter Tchaikovsky and the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Alexander Vikulov, Ballet Manila’s The Swan, The Fairy and The Princess goes onstage at 8 p.m/ on October 14 and 15, and at 3 p.m. on October 16 at the Aliw Theater in CCP Complex, Pasay City. Tickets are now available at TicketWorld Manila via www.ticketworld.com.ph or through (632) 891-9999. 

Abi – dancing in Paquita for BM 2.0 – is grateful for the rigorous training and growth opportunities Ballet Manila has provided her. 

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