Dawna Reign Mangahas: The reluctant Fairy Queen
By Anjie Blardony Ureta
Without a doubt, The Nutcracker is the most popular Christmas ballet of all time. In this endearing tale, a girl named Masha is given a nutcracker by her godfather for Christmas. She falls asleep and dreams that the unlikely gift changes into a handsome Prince who takes her on a fabulous journey to the Kingdom of Sweets. Here they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy – the Queen of Confections – who will be brought to life by Ballet Manila principal Dawna Reign Mangahas in the upcoming production of The Swan, The Fairy and the Princess.
Cited by Dance Magazine Europe as one of its "Dancers to Watch" in 2014, Dawna is known for her profound artistic expression, technical precision and unmistakable confidence during performances. Few would ever guess that it is the same girl that typically breaks down in tears right before she goes onstage for a difficult classical role like the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“Dancing the classics is always tough, especially in a company where the standards are very high,” she admits. “I’ve danced the Sugar Plum Fairy several times before, yet I still find myself crying right before a show just to release my anxiety. You can’t simply act or emote your way around the role. To give justice to her regal character, I need to really master the steps and make the performance as flawless as possible. I feel that tremendous pressure each time I am assigned a classical role – but I also enjoy the feeling of fulfillment after a good show. Of course if I wasn’t satisfied, I’d go cry some more!”
When The Swan, The Fairy and The Princess was first performed by Ballet Manila in 2009, Dawna had just moved up the ranks from trainee to company member – good enough to join the production’s corps de ballet. Earlier that year, she also placed second in the Junior Division of the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA). However, despite her obvious potential, Dawna’s first years as a professional ballerina were quite tentative because she had to divide her attention between school and studio.
Thankfully, her perseverance paid off and in 2012, after presenting her parents with a diploma in BS Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Santo Tomas and securing the requisite board license to go with it, she was finally free to dance to the music of her heart.
On top of her steadily growing repertoire of classical and contemporary roles, Dawna brought home the Bronze Medal in the Senior Division of the 2013 Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong, together with a Silver Medal in the Pas de Deux Division (with partner Elpidio Magat) and a special citation. Within two years, she soared to principal status and was given the privilege of leading the company in the world premiere of Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa’s Bloom, a breathtaking piece especially commissioned for Ballet Manila’s 20th anniversary concert in February 2015.
Ironically, by the time the 20th season opened in August, Dawna was nowhere in sight. Ever the dutiful offspring, she had gone to the US to join her mother in what she now describes as the “longest three months” of her life.
“It pained me to leave but I had no choice,” she recounts. “I’d put it off too long and I didn’t want to continue disappointing my mom, so I left. I had no agenda, no plans, no timeline. Everything was open. All I knew was that I wanted to come back and continue dancing as soon as I can.”
In New York, Dawna only had the chance to take ballet lessons twice (“because they were too expensive”) and suffered through the consequence of falling out of shape. She was also haunted by the gnawing dread of not having a career to go back to. Despite all the uncertainty, auditioning for an American company was never an option: “It didn’t even cross my mind. I was focused on returning to the Philippines. Everything else was up in the air at the time but that was the one thing I was sure of.”
And return she did, just as BM opened its next performance season. Thankfully, she was welcomed back with open arms and offered a contract to continue as principal dancer. Dawna admits her confidence sagged when she realized how far she had fallen behind compared to the new ballerinas that emerged during her brief but critical absence.
“I got depressed for a while,” she reveals. “Feeling ko napag-iwanan na ako. So many things happened while I was gone and I had to work twice as hard to get back into shape and regain my momentum. In fact, I feel that I’ve only fully recovered this current season. All of last year was about catching up and being in step with everyone else.” (However, despite this modest self-assessment, Dawna still managed to clinch a 2015 Gawad Buhay nomination for Outstanding Featured Performance in a Classical Production for her fiery comeback role as Mercutio’s mistress in Romeo and Juliet.)
Now that she’s back on track, Dawna remembers to cherish every precious moment she is given onstage – even if it includes shedding copious tears during those nerve-wracking minutes right before the curtains rise. “Being away made me realize that ballet is what I truly love to do,” she points out with a glint of certainty in her dark gray eyes. “But ayaw ko na maulit ‘yung ganung feeling. ‘Yung lumayo pa just to realize that this is what I really want.”
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 on October 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. and on October 16 at 3 p.m. 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.