Sofia Sangco-Peralta: Growing up with Ballet Manila and loving it
By Susan A. De Guzman
Sofia Sangco-Peralta doesn’t seem to have changed much from the fifteen-year-old girl who joined Ballet Manila as a scholar twenty years ago. But in that time, the pretty, petite and pixie-voiced soloist has actually done a whole lot of growing up – both as a dancer and as a person.
Sofie shares that being with BM yielded many highlights in her young life. Only a few months with the group, for instance, she was taken along on its multi-city tour in the United States in 1997. She was the youngest and the only scholar to join the delegation.
“It was my first time to ride a plane, first time to go abroad, first time to be part of a tour, first time to see snow when we were in Washington, DC – puro first!” she laughingly shares.
But perhaps most significant of all, it was in BM that she became a wife and mother. It’s where she met and married fellow dancer, Romeo Peralta, with whom she has been raising two sons, Liam Marshall and Ethan Chase. As eight-year-old Liam plays games on a mobile phone and two-and-a-half-year-old Liam falls asleep on her lap, a beaming Sofie – pregnant with a third boy (Stephen Mason, born last April 11) – recalls a life inadvertently immersed in dance during our interview.
Curiously, it was being sickly as a child that led Sofie to the field she would learn to love. “The doctor advised that I needed some form of exercise or physical activity. Kaya five years old pa lang ako, nag-ballet na ako sa SM Cubao (That’s why when I was five, I was already taking ballet in SM Cubao),” she relates.
Like her three older siblings, Sofie was enrolled by their mom in a variety of dance classes. Being active proved effective in keeping the little girl healthy. She found dancing fun, so much so that she would also eventually try out tap, jazz and flamenco.
Sofie would also take ballet classes under such teachers as Julie Borromeo, Sonia Domingo and Vella Damian. When Nicolas Pacaña, a Filipino danseur with the Atlanta Ballet was a guest teacher at Julie Borromeo’s school, he saw potential in Sofie that he recommended her to audition for the Philippine Ballet Theater. He also advised her to choose between tap or ballet as the training in one dance contradicted the other.
At age eleven, Sofie thus opted to focus on ballet because she enjoyed it more. Thinking practically too, she knew there would be more opportunities for her to perform ballet rather than tap. Indeed, school recitals allowed her to show what she had learned in her classes.
When she moved to Ballet Manila in 1997, her early appearances ranged from a walk-on part in a BM show in a hotel to being part of a group that danced at Rizal Park. But that was just the beginning. As she matured with the company and her skills developed, Sofie was entrusted other stage assignments. In the same way that she puts her heart in feature roles, Sofie is also known for delivering outstanding corps work along with the other BM girls.
“My body structure is not really suited to classical dance, but I’m fortunate to have been given soloist roles,” says Sofie, who counts Micaela in Carmen among her favorites. “Ang Carmen kasi hindi traditional classical ballet. It’s different because here you’re not smiling. Kakaiba ‘yung challenge.”
Another piece that’s close to her heart is Dulce, choreographed by Albert Dimarucut. “Sofie is a strong dancer which was evident in Dulce. That was her signature role!” enthuses her mentor Osias Barroso, BM co-artistic director.
Premiered by BM in 2008, Dulce combines ballet with ballroom dance which – by that time – Sofie had become an expert in. Ever adventurous, the ballerina had decided to take ballroom dance lessons in her spare time. She became so adept in the Latin dance repertory (which includes chacha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive) that she and her partner would even join – and win – in competitions in Hong Kong and Macau.
“We would place third or fourth, but in Taiwan in 2008, we won first!” Sofie remembers smilingly. She is glad to have had that experience in dance sport because it helped her to improve in ballet too. She developed more muscles and her characterization and, with the exposure in the international competition circuit, she became more confident as well. With the onset of motherhood, however, she had to stay closer to home and stick to ballet.
With Ballet Manila, Sofie has been able to explore another facet to dance – teaching it. Since her days as a scholar, Sofie had already been assisting in teaching classes conducted by BM pioneers. Eventually, she was also assigned to handle Baby Ballet and for many years now, has been teaching Level 2 classes consisting of students aged eight to ten.
As a teacher, Sofie passes on what she has learned from Osias Barroso and other BM pioneers for many years. Teaching is a natural progression for Sofie. As Barroso points out, “She exemplifies the assets of a BM-trained dancer.” Strength, stamina and grace resulting from the Vaganova training she has received from BM are indeed serving her well.
Sofie considers herself lucky to have also had the chance to undergo classes under Tatiana Udalenkova , BM artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s Russian mentor. “Terror si TA,” Sofie describes, using the Russian teacher’s nickname. “I took girls’ class and pointe class under her. She would really go down and correct your feet, if needed. Ang dami kong natutunan sa kanya.”
For Sofie, it is gratifying to see when her students learn from her. “You just need to have patience and you must enjoy what you’re doing.”
While she is attending to mommy duties for now, with a newborn baby boy added to the brood, Sofie will undoubtedly find her way back to the studio one day soon to concentrate on teaching. In the same way that she has thrived in ballet all these years, she hopes to contribute to molding a new generation of dancers who will embrace it too.