Ballet Manila’s Dames twins: Dancing is double the fun

Ballet Manila’s Dames twins: Dancing is double the fun

Jasmin Pia Dames and Jessica Pearl Dames say they motivate and help each other, particularly in dancing, which is their shared love. Both profess: “Forever kaming magkasama.” Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Michele T. Logarta

Ballet dancers and identical twins Jasmine Pia Dames and Jessica Pearl Dames always do things together. They even talk at the same time, saying the same exact same words. It’s like listening to a chorus reciting a poem together. At other times, one will say something, and then the other echoes exactly the same thing. They also talk a mile a minute and begin and finish each other’s sentences.  

Both Ballet Manila dancers (Pia a soloist and Pearl a company artist), they are recent additions to the company roster, having joined in June 2015. They’re also a novelty at BM, being twins. It’s not often that BM has dancing twins. The company has had siblings as members, and more often than not brothers.

Uncharacteristically, Pia and Pearl did not start out together in ballet. 

Twinning moment: The Dames sisters in a photo shoot they did for a friend in Singapore. Photo by Arun Al

Pia, the younger of the two by only a minute, actually developed an interest in ballet first. As a second grader, she remembers watching BM founder and artistic director Lisa Macuja on TV. At the time, Pia didn’t know who it was dancing on TV but watching this dancer made such a big impression on her, most especially the pointe shoes she wore. It was just amazing, says Pia. After that, she got herself enrolled in a ballet class held at her school in Biñan, Laguna. Pearl, according to Pia, was not interested.

But, Pearl has a more interesting story to tell. Pia, says Pearl, was so obsessed with getting herself a pair of ballet shoes. “Sinabi niya may nagtuturo ng ballet sa school, pero wala naman. Gusto niya lang talaga mag-ballet. Nakikita ko siya du’n sa kuwarto kung anu-anong ginagawa. (She said someone was teaching ballet in school, but there really wasn’t. I would see her in the room doing this and that).”

It was only a year later that the school really began to offer ballet classes, Pearl recalls.

Hiphop was more Pearl’s cup of tea. But she relented to her sister’s persistent plea that she take up ballet so that they would be doing the same thing. “Para parehas kami,” Pearl says. “Ang saya-saya pala ng ballet.” (She wanted me to take ballet so we would do the same thing. I found out that ballet was so much fun.)

It was Pia who got interested in ballet first, but she soon convinced Pearl to go into it too. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

The twins became more serious about ballet when they enrolled at Rhythm Works Dance School in Calamba where they attended ballet class for five years. 

After graduating from elementary school, they both landed scholarships at the Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling. There, they majored in Dance.

In Makiling, the twins learned to be independent. “Kami-kami lang kasi ang nanduon,” Pia says. “Nanduon kami sa bundok, walang internet, walang mall. Parang sobrang isolated kami from the real world.” (We were the only ones there. We lived on a mountain top.  There was no internet; no shopping mall. We seemed so isolated from the real world.)

“Ang saya-saya pala ng ballet,” Pearl enthuses. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Pearl adds: “Natuto kami maglaba, gumising ng maaga (We learned to do laundry and to wake up early).”

After graduating from PHSA, the twins were both accepted to UP Diliman where they, of course, majored in Dance. The dance program there was a bit different as its focus was on contemporary dance.

They became scholars of Steps Dance Studio while studying in UP Diliman. There was a lot of shuttling back and forth, from Quezon City where they lived in a dormitory near UP to Makati where they attended dance classes at Steps.

Sobrang nakakapagod. We had no more time to study. We kept taking leaves so we could join competitions. We couldn’t balance. In the end, pinapili kami ng mom namin kasi hindi rin namin kaya financially. So pinili namin ‘yung love naming gawin. Sumayaw na lang talaga kami,” says Pia.   (It was exhausting. We had no time to study. We kept taking leaves from school so that we could join ballet competitions. We couldn’t balance. In the end, our mom asked us to choose between school and dance because we couldn’t afford it financially. We chose what we loved to do. We chose to dance.)

Pia is paired with Rudolph Capongcol in Francis Jaena’s Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka, for the Dance MNL festival’s Winners’ Circle show. Photo by Konrad Ong

At Steps, the twins say, they matured and really gave their dance career at lot of thought. It was with Steps too that they gained competition experience, participating in the Asian Grand Prix in 2013 and 2014 in Hong Kong and in the World Ballet Competition in 2015 in Florida, USA. 

Pia won 1st place, Pas De Deux Division, in the 2013 AGP, 2nd Place Senior Division in the 2014 AGP and 3rd Place in the WBC 2015. For the WBC, she danced for the solo division the roles of Esmeralda and Harlequinade and Pas de deux from Don Quixote

Pearl (third from left) joins fellow Ballet Manila dancers in Sayaw Pinoy, another number in Ballet & Ballads. Photo by Ernest Mandap

Marami kami talagang sinayaw. May contemporary pieces pa du’n sa solo division. Nakakapagod ‘yung preparation kasi pressured na pressured kami.  Everyday training, umiiyak na kami. Sa amin, sobrang challenging ang WBC kasi ‘yung mga kalaban ang gagaling lahat. Three months lang ang preparation namin,” the twins recount. (We did a lot of dance pieces. We had contemporary pieces also for the solo division. It was very tiring. We were very pressured. We had daily training. We would cry. The WBC was very challenging because our competitors were all so good. We had only three months to prepare for it.)

Meanwhile, Pearl won 6th place in the 2013 AGP and 4th place in the 2014 AGP. She was a finalist in the Solo and Pas Deux Divisions of the WBC in 2015.

For WBC, Pearl did pieces that included the Grand Pas Classique, Dulcinea and Sleeping Beauty and modern pieces. 

The twins show their winning forms in another photo shoot in Singapore. Photo by Irving Neil Kuok

Iba-iba ang roles. Nababaliw na ako. Happy pa rin ang experience ko. Sa Steps, lahat ng tao parang family. Supportive. May nagmo-motivate sa iyo,” Pearl says.  (It was very taxing because we had to learn different roles. I was going crazy. But my experience was still a happy one. The people at Steps are like family. They were very supportive and always motivated us.)

When the twins returned to Manila after the WBC competition, Steps Dance Studio director Sofia Elizalde had a heart-to-heart talk with them. 

Pearl recounts that emotional conversation: “Kelangan na raw naming mag-company kasi school lang ang Steps (She told us that we needed to join a dance company. It was time for us to move on to the next chapter of our lives).”

Pia adds: “Kelangan na naming mag-grow as dancers (She said we needed to grow as dancers).”

The twins chose to stick together and join BM. It was a choice shaped by the fact that their long-time teacher at Steps, Jeffrey Espejo, was a former BM dancer.  “He said magugustuhan namin sa BM,” Pearl says. 

During one of their Ballet & Ballads stops: Rissa May Camaclang, Jasmine Pia Dames, Abigail Oliveiro, Dawna Reign Mangahas, Jessa Balote, Jessica Pearl Dames, Ina Villanueva and (foreground) Joan Emery Sia. Photo from Joan Sia’s FB page

It’s been a year now that the twins have been with BM and true enough, they like being with the company so much.

They say though that it has also been a real challenge as they have had to adhere to the BM’s rigorous Vaganova method. “Nanibago kami. There were steps we never encountered before and we asked ourselves if we were really ballet dancers because we didn’t know these steps existed. But sobrang enjoy kahit mahirap.

For BM, Pia performed the female lead in Kinabuhing Mandaragat. She and Pearl also danced in Muro Ami and Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. They both did Mercutio’s Gypsy in Romeo and Juliet, Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio and were among the Wilis and danced the waltz in Giselle

They’ve also been doing Ernest Mandap’s Lune in the company’s ongoing Ballet & Ballads series. “Lune is like a mirror,” Pia says. “Parehong suot namin, kambal na kambal kami dito. Dalawa lang kami sa Lune. Parehas na parehas ang ginagawa namin.” (We wear the same thing. We’re exactly alike, like twins.  It’s just the two of us in Lune.  We do exactly the same thing.)

In Ernest Mandap’s Lune, they dance as two women who try to outdo each other but end up doing exactly the same thing. Lune is part of Ballet Manila’s ongoing Ballet & Ballads series. Photo by Stan de la Cruz

Lune is about two women who try to outdo each other but end up doing exactly the same thing.

There’s a lot about Lune that they see in themselves. Except for the competitiveness. 

Hindi kami nagkokompetensya. Nagtutulungan kami. We motivate each other. Hindi po kami nag-aaway. Magkasama lagi kami. Talagang hindi po kami napapaghiwalay.  Forever kaming magkasama (We never compete with each other. We help each other. We motivate each other. We don’t fight. We are always together. We are inseparable. We are together forever),” Pia says.

“Forever kaming magkasama,” Pearl echoes.

So far, the twins’ path has not diverged and they’ve been together all their lives.  They’ve been fortunate to be given the same opportunities at the same time. They say that they’ll be ready to part ways when the time comes, but it will probably never be for long.

Right now, at age 21, they’re not thinking of that yet. 

They’re busy with rehearsals for BM’s October presentation of The Swan, The Fairy and The Princess where they will be part of the Four Little Swans. Pia is also doing Jewel while Pearl is doing Blue Bird and Rose Waltz

The Four Little Swans has been giving them a lot of grief, they say. “Paa lang po ang gumagalaw. Sobrang bilis. Two minutes na sayaw. Puro footwork. Challenging. Ang tigas ng calf muscles namin pagkatapos (It’s a two-minute dance, all footwork. We have a Russian teacher, Miss Natasha. She is very strict and sees all the small details. We keep doing the same thing over and over again. As a result, our calf muscles get so hard and stiff!)”

And together, as if on cue, the twins let out a peal of laughter.

Two of a kind: Pearl and Pia in one of BM's rehearsal studios. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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