Abigail Oliveiro: Cinderella once more

Abigail Oliveiro: Cinderella once more

Cinderella was Abigail Oliveiro’s favorite Disney princess as a little girl, so it was a thrill for her to play the character in 2016 with soloist Mark Sumaylo as her prince. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

By Susan A. De Guzman

Stepping into Cinderella’s shoes – make that glass slippers – was a dream-come-true for ballerina Abigail Oliveiro. Dancing the coveted role in 2016, when Ballet Manila staged Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s full-length choreography, she was able to live out a childhood fantasy – of the downtrodden girl magically transformed into a princess by her fairy godmother, being whisked off to the ball on a pumpkin-turned-coach, meeting the dashing prince and dancing with him at the palace ball and ultimately getting her happy ending.

Being paired with her boyfriend, soloist Mark Sumaylo, as her Prince Charming further contributed to the thrill factor. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Abi is giddy with excitement now that is she playing Cinderella once more in the ballet’s return engagement, alternating in the role with fellow principal dancer Joan Emery Sia. “I do enjoy a good fairytale,” she enthuses. “It is not reality. But what’s important is that it always leaves behind a good message. And it makes you feel good. What's not to love?”

Ballet Manila principal dancer Abigail Oliveiro enjoys fairytales. “They leave a good message and make you feel good. What’s not to love?” she grins. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Growing up, Abi recalls that Cinderella was her huge favorite. “During the time of Gameboys, I had these Disney Princesses games and I would always play the Cinderella one over and over,” she reveals. “I think my first exposure to Cinderella was the Disney animation. “I absolutely loved the story! I loved that she had such an imagination and a positive attitude. The stepsisters were such a contrast to her – they were hilarious in their huge dresses with their bottoms bouncing behind them every time they walked. Her stepmother was mean! But she didn't compare to her cat!”

Abi is all praises for the character of Cinderella and can identify with her in many ways. “I love that she is a dreamer. She is hopeful and radiates positivity. I think I can definitely identify with those traits. Her imagination kept her happy, in a home where she is constantly pushed around. She sought out other ways to overcome the negativities in her life. I love her ‘can do’ attitude. There are many different ways to be a fighter and go for what you wish for and dream of, and I like the way she does it. Plus, she is really feminine which I adore.”

Since she is not an overly aggressive person, Abi can easily relate to Cinderella. But while she may be quite a patient person like the fairytale heroine is, the ballerina says she might draw the line about being too passive if she had to contend with a wicked stepfamily. “I don't think I will put up with them for too long,” she protests. “I would probably weigh up between what my parents/ dad (if it's the Disney classic) would want for me and what I would want/ be the best for myself and find a way out, which is probably what it would come to.”

One thing she is sure of, though. “It wouldn't take a prince to save me! I guess it's lovely if that were to happen, but I wouldn't rely on that,” she firmly insists. The ballerina pauses then says as an afterthought, “But if he came along, a partner in crime wouldn't be bad at all!”

Abi’s favorite part is in Act 1 when Cinderella has a solitary moment and finds joy even when her stepfamily has just mistreated her. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s Cinderella, as can be expected of a fairy tale, delivers on the confection factor in her ballet – a visual spectacle that also engages viewers with its elements of romance, humor and magic. Her co-artistic director, Osias Barroso, who had previously created Ballet Manila’s Pinocchio, helped lay the foundation for Cinderella in what would have been a collaborative work. But seeing how Lisa got so immersed in it, he graciously encouraged her to flesh it out and complete the choreography by herself.

“It’s a beautiful piece of art!” Abi confirms. “Ma'am Lis had this vision for Cinderella, all these ideas collected in her notebook. It was amazing watching it unfold at the time but looking back on it now, watching it as a whole – ‘Ma'am Lis, how did you do it?!’ There is very clearly beauty, comedy, magic and love. And she was so clear with her vision when choreographing and directing it.”

This ballet version is by no means a walk in the park, according to Abi. One of the trickiest parts is the ballroom scene where Cinderella and Prince Charming’s dance involves a long, flowing fabric being manipulated by a pair of courtiers – requiring them all to move in sync to create a seamless sequence. It is apparently also a test of endurance for the dancers who must sustain their energy throughout the scene.

“As beautiful and romantic as it is, is a toughie! Ma'am Lis is the choreographer, so of course you’ve got to have the element of classical ballet in there! It's a marathon of a ballroom scene and it just keeps building up right till the end,” Abi notes. “You don't stop dancing from the moment you set foot on that ballroom till you leave. But at the same time, you have to make it look light, romantic and frothy.”

It’s a swoon-worthy ending when real-life sweethearts Abi and Mark share a kiss at the end of Cinderella. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

Abi laughingly says they have a perfect phrase that aptly describes this kind of thing in her native Australia. “Back home, I would say it's a hard yakka! Meaning, it's hard work! But oh so much fun and that's why dancing with Mark makes it so much easier. One look and I feel it already.”

She points out, though, that while she loves dancing with Mark in this role, her favorite part is when Cinderella is all by herself in Act 1. In it, her stepfamily has just left her amid the mess they created, with clothes and stuff strewn about for her to clean up. “I am able to let my imagination run wild. If I was bored and wouldn't know what to do, or if a good song came on or I wanted play someone, playing make believe was what I did. And it doesn't require many things at all! Or anything for that matter. Just your mind and ‘play’, to make the best of the mess, to see the brighter side. I love it. It's very me. Since I was little.”

Without giving away too many details about the show, Abi wishes more people would watch the show for the total experience it offers. “This version of Cinderella is stunning,” she attests. “If you want a little spark of magic in your life, or you want to be swept away by beauty and romance, you should most definitely come see it. This show truly is for everyone no matter how old you are. It will leave you smiling. And if you've seen it before, you'll most certainly want to see it again! I know I do!” she beams, her mind most likely filled with thoughts of a fairy godmother, a pair of glass slippers, a grand ball, a handsome prince, an unforgettable dance and a happy ever-after.

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s choreography, says Abi, is challenging. She describes one of its highlights as “a marathon of a ballroom scene”. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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