Jessica Pearl Dames: Always striving to be a better ballerina
By Jv Ramos
All sorts of surprises have been thrown at Jessica Pearl Dames’ way ever since preparations for Deux, Ballet Manila’s season finale, started. On top of her list is being assigned a solo part in Martin Lawrance’s new choreography The Winding Road, and then being gifted with a pas de deux in the same ballet.
“Nag-start po lahat nito noong summer,” begins the company artist. “Nang unang pagkasabi pa lang ni Martin na may choreo siya [para sa Ballet Manila] na gumagamit ng [mga kanta ng] Beatles, gandang-ganda na agad ako. Gusto ko talaga kasi ang choreography ni Martin at ang kantang Come Together… Tapos, nang nakita ko ang mga ginagawang combinations ni Martin sa studio, mas nagandahan pa po ako. Ang nasa isip ko lang the whole time ay ang sarap talaga nito sayawin.” (This all started last summer. As soon as Martin revealed that his next choreography for Ballet Manila would use Beatles songs, I already fell in love with the idea. I really like the song Come Together… Then when I saw Martin coming up with all these combinations in the studio, I fell even more in love with his choreography. All I could think of the entire time was that this would be so much fun to dance. )
Though Pearl pictured herself dancing those combinations, she never expected that the She’s Leaving Home solo would go to her. “Sobrang nagulat at natuwa po ako nang nalaman ko na solo ko pala iyon!” (I was so shocked and got so excited when I found out that what Martin had been creating was to be my solo.)
And, just when this cheerful ballerina thought that she had already been given the opportunity of a lifetime, another stage blessing was presented to her: a pas de deux with none other than Sean Pelegrin, a fellow-company artist and her longtime boyfriend, who ended up replacing another dancer who would have been Pearl’s partner.
It was a pleasant surprise for the ballerina who had often been paired in performances with Sean when they were still both with Steps Studio. But as it had been quite some time that they’ve danced together, Pearls admits to feeling some apprehension too. “Natuwa ako siyempre, pero nanibago at nahirapan din ako,” she admits. (I was glad, but that didn’t stop me from feeling uneasy and struggling a bit.)
Pearl debunks the idea that just because two dancers are in a healthy relationship in real life, it automatically means performing a pas de deux would be easier. "Dahil kumportable kayo sa isa't-isa, madaling sabihin ang, 'Mali ka!' Siyempre minsan, nasasaktan ako... Pero, journey talaga ang partnering. Nang nasanay na ulit kami sa partnering, mas na-feel ko na ang role. Mas nailalabas ko ang mga emotions. Kasama na diyan ang kilig!" (Because you’re comfortable with each other, it’s easy to just say, ‘You’re wrong.’ At times, of course, I can’t help but get hurt... But partnering is really a journey. When we got used to partnering again, I enjoyed my role more. I am able to let out my emotions, including feeling the thrill!)
Asked what she loves about Martin Lawrance’s choreography, this dancer puts forward that the British artist injects fun not only in the final product but also in the process. “Ang choreo ni Martin ay hindi lang classical. May pagka-modern at freestyle ito, so ang sarap niya talaga sayawin sa stage… Tapos, masaya rin pong katrabaho si Martin sa studio. Kahit may mga naisip na siyang mga steps, kung may galaw kang ginawa na mas maganda o mas natural, ipinapasok niya po iyon sa choreography. Siya ‘yung type na nag-no-note ng natural movements ng dancer.” (Martin’s choreography isn’t only informed by classical ballet. It is modern and involves a little bit of freestyle, which makes it always fun to perform on stage. It’s also really fun to work with Martin in the studio. Even if he has these steps in mind, when he sees you do a movement that’s beautiful or looks more natural, he’ll include that in his choreography. He’s the type of artist who appreciates the dancer’s natural movements.)
As for Chopiniana, the classical highlight of Deux, whose origins can be traced back to the early 1900s, Pearl is just surprised about how many people still dismiss corps work as easy. “Kapag may narinig ako na nagsabi na madali lang maging part ng corps, gusto ko talagang sapakin ang taong iyon,” the ballerina jokes. (Whenever I hear someone claim that corps dancing is so easy, I really want to slap that person.)
The 23-year-old performing artist emphasizes, “Mahirap maging corps sa kahit anong ballet. Sa corps kasi ang strict. Isa lang sa inyo magkamali, damay na talaga ang lahat. At para maging sabay-sabay kayong lahat at maging magkakamukha, ilang oras kayo dapat mag-rehearse. Nakakailang ulit talaga kami para lang umayos ang sayaw.” (It doesn’t matter what ballet is being staged, it’s always difficult to be part of the corps. One has to really be strict when one is part of the corps. If one of you makes a mistake, you’ll all be reprimanded. And to be able to achieve that synchronization and that identical look, numerous rehearsals should be done. We really go through a lot of repetition just to make a ballet look beautiful.)
Pearl adds that since Ballet Manila has always been known to have an outstanding corps, every ballerina has to work hard to meet and retain that standard. “May pressure talaga, lalo sa amin ni Pia [Dames, a BM soloist who’s her twin sister]. Kami kasi ang laging nasa harap dahil sa height namin. Kami ang sinusunod so dapat alam na alam namin ang pag-enter, ang count, kung saan kami po-position sa stage... Mahirap mag-corps talaga, pero kung magawa mo ito nang tama, napakalaking fulfillment ito.” (There’s real pressure in being a corps member, especially when it comes to me and Pia. Because of our height, we’re usually placed in front. We’re the ones that the other ballerinas follow, so we should really know when to enter, the proper counting, and where to position ourselves on stage… Being part of the corps is really difficult, but when you’re able to execute it right, you really feel fulfilled.)
Considering the pressure and multiple hours of rehearsals involved when performing classics, does it follow that Pearl enjoys contemporary pieces more? “Hindi naman! Sa classical, na-e-enjoy ko 'yung paghanap ng technique para maging consistent ako, para gumaling pa ako as a dancer.” (Not really. What I enjoy about the classics is having to discover techniques so I can be more consistent, so I can become a better dancer.)
When it comes to dream roles, Pearls says her outlook has changed in the past few years. Before, her ultimate choice was Odette/ Odile in Swan Lake. “Pero ngayon, ang dami ko talagang gustong sayawin. At kahit anong ibigay nga sa akin ngayon, classical or contemporary, gustong-gusto kong sayawin.” (Now, there are just so many roles I want to dance. And whatever role is thrown at me, be it classical or contemporary, I really look forward to performing it.)
This Dames twin also notes that her years with Ballet Manila – which includes being sidelined from dancing for three months due to a major injury – have made her realize how much she truly loves her craft and how she can’t live without ballet. Smiling, she declares, “Everything I do, dapat talaga it should make me a better dancer. Kaya kahit day-off, I work out para sa strengthening ng muscles. At ngayon, conscious ako sa pagkain. Lahat talaga kailangan kong gawin para humaba pa ang pagsasayaw ko.” (Everything I do should be about making me a better dancer. So even if it’s my day-off, I make sure that I work out to strengthen my muscles. And now, I’m conscious of what I eat. Every little effort that could prolong my dancing years, I really do.)