Why Cinderella is close to Joan Emery Sia’s heart
By Jv Ramos
When principal dancer Joan Emery Sia enters the room, everyone can tell that a bad cold is weighing her down that morning. But gracious as always, the first thing this artist does is apologize if she were to appear too unenergetic for the interview.
Joan being all groggy, however, doesn't happen, for as soon as the topic of Cinderella is brought up, her eyes twinkle and she smiles and laughs as she discusses her upcoming debut as the gentle maiden, who despite her step-family's efforts to keep her from the palace ball, ends up happily married to the prince.
"Yes, that's right, after Ballet Manila first staged it in 2016, I said that I wanted to dance Cinderella one day," confirms the principal dancer, who then played one of the guest princesses at the ball. "Because, who doesn't love fairy tales? They always warm the heart!"
Joan believes that Cinderella enchants everyone in the theater in a special way. She recalls that when Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's ballet premiered, the audiences – having been exposed to several film adaptations of the fairy tale – were really surprised by the magic that unfolded spectacularly on stage. "Kaunting transformation lang (Just a little transformation) and you hear all these gasps. As a dancer, hearing your audiences react that way makes you feel so good... I'm excited to experience that."
Since rehearsals for Cinderella started, Joan she's very much invested in her character already. "When I had my first run-through, feel na feel ko 'yung transformation scene. Pa-closed eyes, closed eyes pa ako as the music was going on," she expresses, sounding a bit embarrassed. "Yes, I really like the feeling of dancing Cinderella. Ang ganda ng pakiramdam sa heart!" (Dancing Cinderella leaves with you a good feeling inside.)
Joan has a strong attachment to Cinderella, having been introduced to the maiden with the glass slippers through the 1950 Disney animated film. "It was the one with the mice. I remember really liking it, and all the other Cinderella films that came after."
She even spills, "I even remember Cinderella to be my favorite princess among all Disney princesses since blue is her color, and that's my favorite color!"
Joan's fascination for the princess, however, doesn't end with the color blue. She offers a long, very personal, yet riveting analysis of the character: "I've always liked Cinderella because she reminds me of my kind-hearted mom. When I was younger, my mom would always tell us, 'If you have to choose between being kind or being right, you should just be kind.' That's been her advice to me ever since, and I think Cinderella stands for that.
The ballerina continues, "There's also this Bisaya saying, which translates to, it's better to be the oppressed than the oppressor. If you're the oppressed, you never hurt anyone and you find a way to rise above your situation. This saying reminds me of what my mom used to say [and it's exactly what Cinderella does in the story]... This is the reason Cinderella is close to my heart. She truly reminds me of my mother."
A deep thinker, Joan offers more insights about Cinderella, and this time, she dives into the ballet itself. "There's a big difference between Act I and Act II," she articulates. While Act II or the unexpected presence of Cinderella in the royal ball and her meeting the prince may be what everyone looks forward to, Joan argues that the previous act is equally as important.
"Apart from the transformation na feel na feel ko, another part that I look forward to dancing is that scene where she's alone in the room in Act I," she notes. "This happens after her stepmom and stepsisters have taken the gowns and ruined the whole room. There, you would find Cinderella dancing and playing while fixing the mess, and you could tell that she's happy. I like this scene because it tells you to find happiness even when you're alone and not depend on others. I think that's what is so special about Act I – Cinderella finds ways to be happy even if she has nothing."
For being able to produce two acts that really emphasize Cinderella's amiable and resilient nature without leaving out the fairy tale’s magical vibe, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde – according to Joan – is one "very clever choreographer".
And, what does this Cinderella think of her Prince Charming? Joan conveys that her partner in the ballet, principal danseur Rudy de Dios, has a transformative quality to him like the character he portrays.
In the fairy tale, the prince, well-mannered and just, frees Cinderella from her step-family’s horrible ways. In real life, Rudy, whom Joan describes as very prince-like helped free her from her inner demons.
The ballerina attests, "I remember the first time I partnered with Rudy for Swan Lake. I was so afraid because I felt na baka hindi siya makabira (he won’t be able to dance his best) because of me… After all, I'm not as strong as his previous partners. When I told him that, he just said, ‘No, it's going to be okay!’ And, all throughout Swan Lake, he was very reassuring, very kind and very inspiring. He kept telling me, 'You're already beautiful. All you have to do is believe in yourself.' I feel like he really brought out the best in me in Swan Lake. And, in Cinderella, I know he'll do the same."
Usually associated with classical ballet’s tragic characters, Joan is definitely revealing a whole new side to her. And, while it may be difficult for some to picture her in a role that has a happy ending, Joan’s genuine passion for dance, youthful joy and long-time personal affinity with the fairy tale will most likely bring about a heartwarming and memorable Cinderella.