Chasing the stage: Abby Bonifacio’s road to quick recovery

Chasing the stage: Abby Bonifacio’s road to quick recovery

Abby Bonifacio describes her return to the stage – four months after breaking her left leg during a ballet competition – as among the happiest moments in her life. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Jv Ramos

Sobrang masaya ako kapag tumatalon (I feel very happy when I do the jumps),” expresses Abby Bonifacio as she recalls the thrill of finally being able to do her favorite moves after going through a devastating injury in November 2016. The young ballerina had broken her left leg as she was participating in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Ballet Competition.

Right after performing in Ballet Pinoy, a triumphant Abby just had to take a selfie with her castmates. Photo courtesy of Abby Bonifacio

“Favorite ko kasi talaga ‘yung mga jumps sa ballet. Pero habang ginagawa ko iyon, kabado ang lahat. May naririnig akong… (The jumps are my favorite thing to do in ballet. But whenever I would do it, everyone was just petrified for me. I would hear…”) She would then shift into a high-pitched voice and would laugh while mimicking her fellow dancers and friends who were in the same class as her, “’Abbyyyyyy! Carefuuul!”

That’s Abby for you. Though she’s the one who went through surgery, she’s the least nervous person in the studio to see herself in the mirror do one jump after another. And what’s even more striking is this girl’s soft yet sincere and contagious giggle, which seems to be her default response to everything that comes her way: She laughs at the memory of falling onstage, at the sleepless nights she endured while juggling ballet and her final requirements for the semester, and how paranoid her parents and friends get whenever she performs. 

But don’t get this 19-year-old wrong. Abby’s happy-go-lucky disposition doesn’t mean that she can’t take things seriously. In fact, the reason she recovered so quickly is, she was dead serious about coming back to dancing. She points out that though pain existed and so much hard work and relearning had to be done, “nandoon kasi ‘yung gusto kong pumunta ulit onstage (there was my desire to get up again onstage).”

To attain this goal of hers, Abby wasted no time: As soon as last year’s holiday break was over, she immediately joined Ballet Manila’s first class for 2017. “Pero nag-ba-barre lang ako noon (But all I did in class then were the barre exercises); I didn’t do center,” she explains. “Kung may steps na di ko pa kayang gawin, di ko muna ginagawa (And if there were steps that I couldn’t accomplish, I wouldn’t force my body to do it).” Back then, Abby couldn’t bend her knee without feeling pain, so she couldn’t participate in Don Quixote or any of the company’s performances early in the year.

In Gerardo Francisco’s Ibong Adarna last August, Abby (front, center) dances as one of the Amazonas. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

In order to be part of the company action and inject more ballet into her life, what Abby did was teach at the BM School’s Fishermall branch, where she handled Levels 1 and 2. “Kapag walang teacher ‘yung Baby Ballet (If there weren’t any teacher available for Baby Ballet), I would go to them and teach,” she shares. “It was a good way to give back to the company and a good way to get back to the basics.”

While grateful for the teaching experience, Abby admits that being “ignored” in class and not being given any assignments tested her patience. “Na-miss ko ‘yung kinokorek ako sa klase,” notes our subject. “But there really is a time for everything. You just have to keep doing what you’re doing, and dadating rin ‘yung role and ‘yung chance mong bumalik (The role will come and your chance to come back onstage will come.)”

Abby (third from left) dances as one of the Jesterettes in Swan Lake last October. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

By doing one step at a time, one combination at a time and diligently going to class, Abby eventually realized that bending her knee no longer hurt; and soon, dancing on pointe was already possible. “Once I got back to ballet, I was like… push lang (just keep moving forward)!”

In March, BM principal dancer and resident choreographer Gerardo Francisco suggested that Abby join the company’s Ballet Pinoy presentation in Star City. Understandably, she had her doubts about returning on stage so soon, but jumped at the opportunity anyway. “Nu’ng sasayaw na ako, sabi ko sa sarili ko (when I was about to dance, I was telling myself,) ‘I hope I don’t fall,’” she quips. And, when all went according to plan, she celebrated by taking a selfie with her castmates. “Masaya ako na nakasali ako sa Ballet Pinoy! (I was happy to have been a part of Ballet Pinoy!)”

The Ballet Pinoy stint was just the first of her many stage appearances post-surgery. In June, she danced in Gerardo Francisco’s Ibong Adarna, which she labels as “very fun” to have been part of.  

“Idol ko kasi talaga si Sir Geri (Sir Geri is really my idol),” she gushes. “His choreo? Hay naku! (Oh gosh!) That was very inspiring!” But after being a fan girl for three seconds, Abby’s realistic side emerged. “Sa Ibong Adarna kasi, walang pointe shoes (Ibong Adarna didn’t require pointe shoes). It was doable for me rather than to do a classical ballet that was very technical.”

This Boomerang video clip taken by Abby after being part of the corps de ballet in Swan Lake says it all: "Feet are dead but heart is full." Video courtesy of Abby Bonifacio

The true test of her ability therefore came in the next production, Swan Lake. “Because that took place in October, I felt that I been through enough on pointe classes to be ready,” she explains. “Plus the core work of BM is very intense. That helped! Love na love ko ‘yung modern dance pero (I really love performing modern dances but) when you finish and accomplish a classical piece, it’s more satisfying.”

Seeing that she was ready for more stage time on pointe, Abby has been assigned to dance Sotto Voce for Ballet Manila’s Ballet & Ballads series next year. “It’s a difficult piece because we’re required to be on pointe for six minutes.” While explaining, not a drop of complaint can be sensed from Abby. She sounded more like an eager beaver, who will use the holiday break to recharge physically and mentally, so that she could perform the piece well. “’Yung stress sa school (The stress of school) – it’s been making me get my combinations wrong. I can’t wait to get it right!”

That said, it’s no wonder that Abby is excited to doing more for the company in 2018. “I’m looking forward to doing more shows, more performances and more classes,” she quickly enumerates. “(I look forward to) the busy-ness of ballet, really! I want to take on as much as I can while I still can.”

“I don’t want to dwell on the bad thing that happened; I don’t want to get stuck there,” Abby proclaims in a cheerful yet firm tone. “Marami pang kailangang gawin (There’s still much to be done).”

Abby was motivated to recover fast from her injury because she really just wanted to dance again. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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