Soloist Jasmine Pia Dames embraces the challenge of portraying Gulnara

Soloist Jasmine Pia Dames embraces the challenge of portraying Gulnara

Ballet Manila soloist Jasmine Pia Dames considers Le Corsaire a challenge as it requires the ballerina, in her role as Gulnara, to be jumping the minute she enters the stage. Video taken by Elpidio Magat Jr.

By Jv Ramos

Pitch a ballet that you would like Jasmine Pia Dames to star in, and chances are you'll get an “Ay! Ang ganda nga niyan” (Yes, that’s really a beautiful ballet) comment from her, partnered by a smile that tells you that this Ballet Manila soloist embraces your idea. At times, she’ll say “Ay! Mukhang ang hirap niyan!” (That looks difficult to dance!) but she’ll immediately follow that with, “Pero, kakayanin naman” (But, I know I’ll manage) – establishing that she’s ready to take on any challenge.

Such is exactly what happened when the ballerina found out that she’ll be Gulnara in Le Corsaire (alternating with soloist Nicole Barroso) in Ballet Manila’s second offering for its 23rd performance season. “Medyo kinabahan po ako (I was rather nervous at first),” admits Pia, referring to the time when she heard the big announcement. “Sa Act III may solo po ako kasi siya na sobrang classical. Hindi po kasi ako sobrang classical dancer na parang Giselle. Mas bravura po ang style ko.” (In Act III, I have a solo that’s strictly classical, which is difficult for me. I’m not much of a classical dancer like the one you’ll see in Giselle. My style is more bravura.)

Pia Dames was beset by injuries and illness in 2017, but she has since bounced back, ready to face the challenges ballet has to offer her. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Pia says the pirate ballet also demands its female leads to be completely warmed up as soon as they enter the stage. “Act I pa lang po, challenge na po. Kasi po, unang pasok pa lang, puro jumps na!” (Act I is already a challenge. You’re immediately doing jumps the minute you enter the stage!)

Though faced with these hurdles, Pia is nevertheless excited to go through her first production of Le Corsaire. “Opo, first time ko po sasayawin ang Le Corsaire. At di ko pa po rin ito napapanuod nang buo. Kahit nga sa YouTube, hindi pa po, kasi walang available na full length.” (Yes, this is my first time to dance Le Corsaire. Moreover, I have never seen the full ballet. Not even in YouTube, because there’s no available video of the full-length ballet.) So, to know more about Gulnara and her relation to the rest of the characters, she has been consulting with the other female dancers.

Medyo naguguluhan kami sa kuwento (We are confused about the plot),” comments Pia. Their confusion, of course, stems from how absurd the storylines are for the female characters. Medora, who is the love interest of the protagonist Conrad, gets kidnapped twice. Moreover, Gulnara, who’s Medora’s dear friend, appears only in the beginning and in the end. “Ang naiintindihan ko po ay best friend ako ni Medora, at sa Act I, nagmamakaawa po kami na hindi mabenta. Tapos na-separate po kami, and iyon, towards the end na kami nagkasama.” (All I understand is that I’m the best friend of Medora, and in Act I, we’re begging so that we don’t get sold. And then, we’re separated, and we are reunited only towards the end.)

Dancing as Kitri in the full-length Don Quixote in 2017 was a good fit for Pia as she is feisty in real life. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

Asked if she's anything like her character, the soloist jokes in a pleading tone, “Sir Shaz [BM co-artistic director Osias Barroso], please, pwede po ba ako mag-absent bukas? Or, pwede ko bang hindi tapusin ang klase? Hindi, hindi ako nagpapakaawa. Okay lang naman ako. Mas nakaka-depress nga kung hindi ako nakakasayaw.” (Sir Shaz, please, can I please take a day off tomorrow? Or can I please be dismissed early from class? No way! I’m not the type to beg. I’m good with the setup here. I actually get more depressed when I’m not able to dance.)

Pia emphasizes how relieved she is that she and her twin sister Pearl, a BM company artist, are not missing out on the busy-ness of the current season. “Last year kasi ang daming nangyari!” (Too many unfortunate things happened last year!) Just when she thought that the scare of not being able to do Kitri in Don Quixote due to a sprained ankle was the worst of it, she experienced pain in her shin again, and what came after that was dengue.

Wala kami sa Ibong Adarna at Swan Lake. Nakabawi lang talaga kami sa last [production] – ‘yung Ballet and Ballads. Na-depress po talaga ako noon.” (We weren’t able to take part in Ibong Adarna and Swan Lake. We were only able to make up for our absence in the last production of the season – in Ballet and Ballads. I got really depressed during that time.)

Pia reigns supreme in this excerpt from Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Bloom, restaged in BM 21 in 2016. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

To prevent the same situation from happening again, Pia, along with her twin, took strength and conditioning classes during season breaks. “Two hours, three times a week po iyon at sobrang effective naman. Nakakagulat nga na nakakatapos ako ng klase dito na walang sakit na nararamdaman.” (Those strength and conditioning sessions lasted for two hours, three times a week and they proved really effective. I find it very surprising that I’m able to finish class here without feeling any pain.)

Pinilit namin gawin iyon kasi nahiya na talaga ako kay Sir Shaz (We really forced ourselves to go through those classes because I got tired of telling Sir Shaz that something hurts),” adds Pia, who hated the fact that she needed to rest frequently in classes due to body pains. “Bukod doon, ayaw ko talagang sumusuko. ‘Yung ayaw ko na at ang sakit na, hanggang rant lang po. Kapag nandiyan na ulit ang stage or kahit studio lang, nakakalimutan ko na ang lahat. Sobrang masaya ako kapag sumasayaw.” (Aside from that, I really don’t like giving up. Every time I’d say that “I’m done,” I don’t really mean that. That’s just me ranting. When I’m on the stage or even just the studio, I forget that I’m having a difficult time. I’m really very happy when I dance.)

Aside from learning Le Corsaire, the soloist is also busy with rehearsing for their shows in Star City and for Ballet and Ballads. “Marami po kaming ginagawa ngayon (We are really attending to many performances now),” confirms Pia. “Minsan nga napapaghalo ko ang mga steps, lalo na noong una ko ginagawa ang variation ko sa Le Corsaire.” (There are times when I would mix-up the steps, especially when I first tried dancing my variation in Le Corsaire.) Rather than feeling stressed or pressured, however, she’s just glad that she’s dancing a whole lot more than in 2017.

The soloist is exuberant as one of the wicked stepsisters in Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s Cinderella (2016). Photo by Ocs Alvarez

Iba ang feeling ko kapag sumasayaw. Feeling ko talaga na hindi ko kayang mabuhay na hindi ako sumasayaw (The feeling is different when I dance. Also, I really feel that I can’t live without dancing),” she stresses, noting that it doesn’t matter what kind of dance she’s given, for as long as she’s doing what she loves best.

Opo, mahirap po talaga ang trabaho namin. Living with pain po talaga. Pero dahil masaya ako sa ginagawa ko, okay lang po ito sa akin. Ang dream ko na maging best dancer ang nag-encourage sa akin na mag-continue. Gusto ko pa po siya ma-achieve.” (Indeed, being a ballet dancer is difficult. It really entails living with pain. But because I’m happy with what I’m doing, I’m okay with facing pain. My dream to become the best dancer I can be is what encourages me to continue. I am determined to achieve that dream).”

By taking on the challenge of Gulnara, Pia believes that she’s taken a step forward in turning herself into a better ballerina.

Pia says she can’t live without dancing, so she’ll keep doing it to keep getting better as a ballerina. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

The characters of ‘Le Corsaire’: The faithful Ali

The characters of ‘Le Corsaire’: The faithful Ali

The characters of ‘Le Corsaire’: Medora, the damsel in distress

The characters of ‘Le Corsaire’: Medora, the damsel in distress