Danseur Sean Pelegrin takes a step forward

Danseur Sean Pelegrin takes a step forward

Sean Pelegrin says he is motivated by Osias Barroso’s reminder to Ballet Manila dancers to always “level up” in their performances. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

By Jv Ramos

Sean Pelegrin sheepishly admits that he didn’t show up to ballet class after ballet class during his younger years because he was interested to learn the dance form. Rather, he came so that he could be with friends and receive the allowance that was granted to the scholars of Steps Dance Studio.

"Dancer na po ako bago ako napunta sa ballet," the Ballet Manila company artist shares. "Kaya lang, hip-hop po ang sinasayaw ko noon, at di pa pormal ang pagkatuto namin ng hip-hop. Nanonood lang kami ng mga videos, tapos ginagaya namin." (I was already a dancer before I started in ballet. However, back then, I only danced hip-hop, and I didn't learn that the formal way. We only watched hip-hop videos and copied the moves).

Whether taking on the classics or contemporary dance, Sean (center, in Swan Lake) likes them all. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

So, how did he and his fellow street dancers end up in the aforementioned ballet school? Sean explains that his grandmother had a good friend, whose child teaches in Steps. At that time, they were scouting for boys whom they could train in ballet, so when Sean and his friends showed interest in dance, they were invited to audition.

"Ang sabi lang sa amin noong audition ay sayawin lang ang kaya naman. So, ayun, hip-hop ang ginawa namin. Pagkatapos naming sumayaw, sabi po na start na raw ng klase namin next week. Pumasok naman kami kasi nga sabi may allowance. Pero walang nagsabi sa amin na ballet pala ang papasukan namin," Sean relates. (What they told us during the auditions was to dance what we knew. So, we danced hip-hop. After dancing, they informed us that we were going to begin class the following week. We showed up the following week upon hearing that we would be given an allowance. But none of us knew that we would be getting into ballet).

Sean and his hip-hop buddies only found out that they were entering a new territory when they were given new uniforms by the studio. "Sobrang excited ko pa noon kasi nga binigyan kami ng bagong damit, so akala ko T-shirt. Tapos nang sinuot namin, di kami makalabas ng banyo. Tights and muscle shirt nga kasi. Para saan ito? Iyon ang sabi ko." (I was very excited back then, because we were given new clothes, so I immediately thought it was a T-shirt. But when we wore the uniform they gave, we couldn't leave the bathroom. We were in tights and a muscle shirt. What in the world is this for? That's how I reacted back then).

Sean (foreground) in Hazel Sabas-Gower’s Deconstructing Gershwin, a piece featured in American Stars of Ballet. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Giggling at how he began with zero knowledge about ballet, our subject notes that the uncomfortable moments did not end with the required clothing for class. "Tawa lang po kami nang tawa sa first ballet class namin. Sobrang bagal kasi! Nagtatawanan kami kasi nga ang hip-hop ay mabilis. Naaliw na lang kami sa pag-kaklase nang pinasok nila ang modern. Modern muna ang na-feel namin, tapos natutunan na rin namin gustuhin ang ballet." (We just kept laughing and laughing while we were taking our first ballet class. Everything was so slow! We couldn't stop laughing because hip-hop is fast. We only became interested when they started inserting modern dance into our classes. It was modern that got us hooked, and we gradually learned to like ballet).

The 25-year-old danseur notes that when he began falling in love with ballet, getting an allowance became the last thing in his mind. Moreover, he was no longer bothered by the tights and the fact that the number of boys in his class was lessening. "Pinagpatuloy ko lang ang ballet hanggang sa umabot ngayon. Actually, nakatulong din ang pagsali namin sa mga kompetisyon. (I kept continuing ballet until today. Actually, entering competitions really helped me take it seriously.)

As an attendant to Cinderella (Abigail Oliveiro) in Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s interpretation of the fairy tale. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

In 2009, he was supposed to participate in the 2009 National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA). He prepared so hard for it that when he missed the competition due an to asthma attack caused by fatigue, he cried. Sean was so disappointed but this was when he realized the important place of ballet in his life.

Thus, when he got better, he doubled his efforts which eventually paid off. In the 2011 NAMCYA competition, he was given the Manolo Rosado Award; in the 2012 Asian Grand Prix, he placed 8th; and in the 2015 World Ballet Competition, he was one of the finalists.

As for how he got into Ballet Manila, Sean just knew that it was next chapter of his ballet journey. "Ang Steps kasi ay school lang, hindi po ito professional company. Ballet Manila po ang pinili kong company noon, kasi nga hindi nagkakaiba ang training at ang mga klase nito sa Steps. Vaganova din po kasi ang itinuro sa amin." (Steps is only a school, it's not a professional ballet company. I picked Ballet Manila because the training here and the way they conduct classes is similar to Steps. What they taught us there was the Vaganova technique).

Sean, held aloft here by fellow dancers in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Bloom, describes the piece as very physically challenging. Photo by Kurt Alvarez

His audition for the company took place a week after his memorable WBC run, and he was just grateful that BM allowed him to continue his days of dancing. "Ang naisip ko kasi noon ay bilang lang ang mga araw ko ng pagsayaw," explains Sean when asked why he decided to put his college education on hold and turn to ballet. "Hindi ito parang pagluluto na kahit 60 ka na, pwede mo pang gawin. So ayun, nag-decide akong mag-ballet, pero nag-promise ako sa lola at mommy ko na itutuloy ko ang pag-aaral pagkatapos ng mga taon kong pagsasayaw." (What entered my mind back then was that my days of dancing were numbered. Dancing isn't like cooking, which you could still do even when you're 60. That's my main reason for pursuing professional ballet. But I promised my grandmother and mother that I'll continue my studies when my dance career is over.)

In the jazz-flavored Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, part of the Ballet & Ballads repertoire presented at Aliw Theater in February 2018. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Well aware that a danseur's career is short, Sean, since his first day in BM, has been pouring his heart to every class and role that's assigned to him. "Kabadong-kabado ako noong first day ko dito. Bagong tao ako kasi at ang mga taong nakakasama ko ay dati ko nang napanood sa entablado," he says, revealing the bit of fanboy in him. (I was terrified during my first day here. I was a new guy here and the people I would be working with I had already seen dancing on stage).  

He tried to overcome his apprehension by reminding himself that he was in a professional setting already. "Dito sa BM, hindi ka dapat mag-give-in sa kaba. Hindi ka rin pwedeng pa-petiks-petiks lang gaya ng dati." (In BM, you can't be ruled by your nervousness. You also can't take things for granted like I did before). He recalls that in the old days, he would still be gossiping with a co-dancer while performing onstage.

"Syempre, hindi ko na ginagawa iyan. Kailangang seryoso ka sa shows at pati rin sa mga klase dito. Dahil professional ka na, kahit baguhan pa man, dapat ibigay mo ang lahat. Respeto na rin iyan sa mga kasama mo. Hindi sila bababa sa level mo, kailangan na ikaw ang mag-adjust at i-try abutin ang level nila." (Of course, I no longer do that. You have to be serious about the shows and classes in BM. Because you're already a professional, even if you've recently joined the company, you have to give it your all. It's a way respecting those around you. The dancers here won't go down to your level; you have to be the one to try and match their level).

Up to now, Sean (third from left, in Martin Lawrance’s Rebel) says he still gets the jitters just before a performance but overcomes these through prayers. Photo by Ian Santos

Due to his hard work, Sean has not only been part of the company's local performances, he has also participated in BM’s international tours. He was part of the delegation sent to Korea, and recently, to Israel to perform Gerardo Francisco's Ibong Adarna as part of the famed Karmiel Dance Festival. "Nakakapagod po ang Israel," the danseur expresses. "Pero, ito ang pagod na worth it naman po. Nakakatuwa rin ang mga sigawan sa backstage." (The Israel tour was very tiring. But it's the kind of exhaustion that's worth it. I also found working the backstage quite amusing.)

He expounds that because the dancers had to double as the stage crew, they had their way of "shouting silently" during set changes. Despite involving a lot of work, the tour was still fun and memorable, especially since they capped off their performances with visits to Israel's sacred sites. "Dati, nababasa ko lang ang mga ito. Hindi ako makapaniwala na nandoon na pala kami." (Before, I would only read about these holy sites. It was unbelievable that we made it there). 

Sean was also assigned to do the video documentation of BM's Israel tour which is an area that he would consider pursuing for further studies in the future. "Parang gusto ko nang mag-shift to multimedia," says Sean, who, prior to joining Ballet Manila, was taking hotel and restaurant management in Lyceum. "Pero tignan natin. Bago pa lang ako sa video editing. Di ko pa masasabi kung magsasawa ako kaagad." (I feel like shifting to a multimedia course. But let's see. I'm still new to video editing. I can't tell yet if I will stick to it or get tired of it right away).

Sean (third from left) in another scene from the ballet classic Swan Lake. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

One thing that's for sure though is that he won't be walking away from ballet any time soon! Now on his third year with the company, Sean is busy prepping for Iconic, the season-opener which showcases 17 of the company's remarkable ballets by 14 choreographers.

Asked which BM signature piece is his favorite from the repertoire, he names Bloom by international choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. "Gusto ko ang Bloom dahil sa challenge nito! Naalala ko pa po noong una kong sinayaw ang Bloom. Nang patapos na ang sayaw, sumasakit na po ang katawan ko dahil sa cramps. Sana po hindi na ito mangyari ngayon." (I like Bloom because it's challenging. I still remember the first time I danced the piece. Towards the end of the performance, I could already feel my body hurting and cramping. Hopefully, this time around, that won't happen.)

The company artist, however, insists, "Pero lahat po talaga ng roles gusto ko. Hindi po ako mapili sa sayaw. Classical or contemporary, okay lang po sa akin. Ang gusto ko lang po talaga ay sumayaw nang sumayaw hanggang sa magsawa ba. Pero hindi ko pa talaga iyan naiisip." (But really, I like all the roles that I get. I'm not picky when it comes to dancing. Be it classical or contemporary, I'm okay with it. What I really want is to simply keep dancing until I get sick of it. But as of the moment, that’s the last thing on my mind).

Sean shares that he took Sir Shaz's [Ballet Manila co-artistic director Osias Barroso] words to heart. "Sabi niya sa amin na kami na ang next generation. Hindi ka pwedeng mag-level down. You can't go a step backward, dapat laging forward ka!" (What he told us is that we're the next generation of BM dancers. We cannot level down. You can't go a step backward, it always has to be a step forward).

With such a determined mindset, Sean expects to have more meaningful years and performances as one of BM's danseurs.

Despite initially being resistant to learn ballet, Sean Pelegrin has grown to love it and is determined to dance as long as he can. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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