Carrying her crown: Henriette Garcia on life as a ballerina

Carrying her crown: Henriette Garcia on life as a ballerina

Henriette Garcia moved from Norway to the Philippines to pursue her ballerina dreams – and she is having the time of her life. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Jv Ramos

Like many ballerinas who began their journey with Baby Ballet classes, Henriette Dominique Garcia had no idea that her life would soon be studio and stage-focused. Such a future was a blur, especially since her mother enrolled her in ballet not primarily for the dancing itself, but for the benefits her daughter may gain from it.

“I was three years old when I started and it was nothing serious,” shares the Ballet Manila company artist. “My mom just put me in ballet because ang tigas ko raw gumalaw (my movements were so stiff as a child). Like if I’m in a party and there are kids dancing, parang ang clumsy ko raw (I moved so clumsily).”

With Ballet Manila, Henriette (center) gets to dance the classics that she loves so much such as Swan Lake. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

“No, my mom never took ballet,” clarifies our subject, who was born in Oslo, Norway to Filipino parents. “But she knew well that ballet could discipline your body, that it helped with the coordination.” Indeed, soon enough, Henriette’s movements became more fluid and elegant which not only pleased her mom but herself as well. She enjoyed the feeling ballet granted her, so she no longer saw it as a childhood pastime, but an actual art form to be learned.

Thus, from participating in come-and-go Baby Ballet sessions, she moved on to attending ballet classes once a week as soon as she turned eight; and at the age of 11, she entered the national ballet school in Norway.

“It (ballet) just became more and more serious,” she notes. “I did everything while growing up. I played soccer, tennis, handball and a little bit of golf. I picked ballet because there’s this happiness that I get from it. Like when the music turns on and I start moving, it just makes me really happy. I like the control and meditation of it.”

At 18, Henriette knew she wanted make a career out of the activity that made her happy. That was also the time she began looking for ballet companies she could be a part of.

Henriette (rightmost) gets a taste of contemporary ballet in Rebel, a full-length choreography by Martin Lawrance, where she danced as one of the “Blue Ladies”. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

She found Ballet Manila through a family friend, an arts lover and ballet fan who suggested that she audition for Ballet Manila. After introducing herself through email, which was accompanied by pictures and videos, our Norwegian-born and raised subject was invited to join a Ballet Manila summer workshop by the company founder and artistic director, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde herself.

“She said that she needed to see me audition in person. And since the trip from Norway to Manila is too much for just a one-day audition, she invited me to join the summer workshop. It was after that workshop that I was invited to join company,” Henriette relates.

Henriette makes everything about her journey from the Oslo Academy of the Arts to Ballet Manila sound so effortless. But she claims it was because she really prepared for it. “I had it in my head that I wanted to join the company. I was ready to move here. I really wanted to experience company life. And, I was like ‘this is it’ and didn’t know what I would do if I didn’t get in!”

Regarding her adjustment period, Henriette – having travelled to Manila a few times before to visit relatives – did not encounter big changes. “Hindi naman ako na-culture shock (There wasn’t so much culture shock for me). Maybe just a little. Like people here are so open and friendly. They’re smiling so much. And I would wonder why people are always staring,” she says, laughing at the memory. Little did she know that she has absorbed the ever-smiling and optimistic ways of Filipinos. Throughout our interview, Henriette had a smile on her face and never complained about any of the struggles in dancing.

As one of the princesses in Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s Cinderella in 2016. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

For instance, when the topic was about receiving criticism, she lets out a giggle and declares, “Just give it to me,” which is the very line she tells herself as soon as the curtains close and the dancers are gathered backstage to hear BM co-artistic director Osias Barroso’s  comments.

“I know that there’s always something I could improve on, so as much as possible, I just take it in,” she reasons. “It’s always a good thing that you’re corrected. I just see it as a compliment.”

And, when it comes to body pain and injuries, she admits that in ballet, there’s always a possibility for her to get hurt, but doesn’t like to dwell on that thought. “Before I came to BM, I had to deal with a lot (of injuries). I think it’s also because of the weather change. Back home, since it’s super cold, you really have to warm up,” she opens up. “Here, there are aches and pains here and there, but nothing so serious. I think that you just have to accept that it’s part of ballet.”

Henriette (seen here second from left in 2016’s The Swan, The Fairy and The Princess) says Ballet Manila has taught her to be more confident. Photo by Kurt Alvarez

Since joining the company in 2013, Henriette has been part of an interesting mix of performances. Among these are Kinabuhing Mandaragat (Female Lead), Muro Ami, Enchanted Garden (Lead Fairy), Ibong Adarna (Amazon) and her all-time favorite, Don Quixote (Kitri’s Friend). “The one I enjoyed the most is Kitri’s friend because it’s a soloist role, a bigger role than what I’ve done before,” she raves. “It was challenging, but it made me stronger mentally. I kept telling myself, ‘You can’t give up! You just have to go and go!’”

Asked whether she prefers dancing the classics over modern pieces, Henriette is quick to reply that she enjoys both equally. “Because kailangan eh (it’s needed)! The world of ballet is diversifying so you have to move on with it.”

To move on with change is exactly what she did with Ballet Manila. Back when she first joined the company, the ballerina admits that she found her first production, Tatlong Pang Kuwento ni Lola Basyang, very different from what she did in Norway. “Oo, ballet nga siya pero hindi siya gano’n ka-strict (Indeed, the production was a ballet, but it wasn’t that strict). It’s wasn’t like your usual classical ballet, so it felt different for me.”  

Embracing change wholeheartedly, Henriette soon felt comfortable and ready for whatever role was thrown her way. According to this enthusiastic soul, the company has taught her to be more confident and to pour her heart into each performance.

“What I learned from them (Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Shaz Barroso) is to always carry your crown. Carry the crown whatever part you dance, because you’re important no matter what.”

“There’s a happiness that I get from ballet,” Henriette shares. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

She continues, “Yes, I’ve heard such talks before, back in school in Norway, but it’s only here that I could really see it and apply it.”

Right now, one of things Henriette is prepping for is Martin Lawrance’s Aria, which will premiere in the company’s upcoming Ballet and Ballads production. “First of all, I love working with Martin,” expresses the ballerina. “He’s very open to changing things. Like if he sees you do something naturally with your partner, which he likes, he’ll use that. I’m really looking forward to it (dancing in Aria).”

Does Henriette ever feel lazy or unmotivated? Our subject claims that she does, but her low moments never last too long due to her fellow dancers. “I’m inspired by how hard everyone works,” she proclaims with so much positive energy. It is clear that Ballet Manila enhances her love for ballet.

What’s her advice for young aspiring ballerinas then? Again, without thinking twice, Henriette lets out a big smile and answers, “Just work hard and be true to yourself. And of course, carry your crown.”

Henriette dances anew in another Martin Lawrance work, Aria, which will premiere in Ballet & Ballads. Video by Giselle P. Kasilag

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