Three ballerinas on the joys of dancing Snow White
By Jv Ramos
For its 24th season-opener, Ballet Manila brings back an iconic female protagonist with skin as white as snow and whose kindness earns her the trust of forest animals and seven dwarfs. Like many princess stories, Snow White is guaranteed to bring joy to audiences, the same way it’s currently bringing joy to the three ballerinas taking on the title role.
When it was first staged in 2017, Joan Emery Sia was cast in the lead of this second installment to Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's “Princess Trilogy” (together with Cinderella and the forthcoming Sleeping Beauty). Two years and a promotion to principal dancer after, this ballerina is reprising her role as Snow White. "Back then, since I was assigned to Hong Kong to dance, I wasn't part of the creation process of the ballet that much. And since I had to dance the role immediately after I arrived, I wasn't in the headspace of the character," Joan admits.
"I, however, remember having so much fun performing Snow White, and I remember thinking that it would be great if I can be her again in the future. I'm really thankful that the opportunity came along. I’m very happy to be Snow White again."
Company artists Shaira Comeros and Akari Ida echo the same sentiment, especially since the production will be their first time to star in a full-length ballet. Shaira comments, "As a young girl, I, of course, always dreamed of being a princess. And, as I grew up here in ballet, I've always wanted to experience dancing a full-length piece, wherein I'm the lead. In Snow White, I'm able to experience both, so this is really a dream come true for me!"
"Like Shaira, I'm very excited for Snow White since it's also my first full-length. Aside from that, I feel that by playing her, I'm able to discover other aspects of myself," Akari says. The Japanese ballerina notes that while she's as curious as the fair-skinned lass, she has much to learn about being princess-like. "I'm still working on that part of my character."
Asked how they're readying themselves for the shows in September, Akari shares that she always reflects on what Snow White would do in different situations to really get into the mindset of the character.
"The steps are given to us in ballet, so other than practicing these given steps, I play with the character,” points out Shaira. “Iyan ang advice sa akin ni Kuya Romeo (principal danseur Romeo Peralta, who plays her Prince Charming) – na paglaruan ko ang role para mas maging comfortable ako with my character." (That’s what Kuya Romeo advised me to do – to play with the role so that would feel more comfortable with my character.)
By playing with the role, Shaira means experimenting with different facial expressions and exploring ways of interacting with her castmates, especially the danseurs portraying the dwarfs.
Joan, who's the most senior among the ballerinas, has a unique approach. "I live with a few cats at home, so to get the feel of Snow White, I imagine that my cats are the dwarfs. They’re not too different, after all. They’re very mischievous; they’re always up to something. They’re always messing up the house,” Joan laughs.
“I then think about how Snow White would handle them. I read from somewhere that Snow White is innocent and motherly. The motherly aspect I get to practice with my cats. I feel like incorporating Snow White in my everyday is the best way I can prepare,” she continues.
The three ballerinas are both nervous and excited as the opening of Snow White nears. But they assure that the charm of the fairy tale would be present, especially since they’re surrounded by peers who are very committed to their respective roles.
“The scenes I really enjoy doing are the ones with dwarfs and animals,” enthuses Akari. “It’s because the dancers who play the dwarfs and animals are so good with mime! They, therefore, make it so easy for me to be Snow White.”
“Yes, the table scene with the dwarfs may be mostly miming and improv work, but it’s my favorite,” says Shaira. “The energy of the dwarfs is so contagious. We’re all just having fun throughout the scene!”
Like the two 19-year-olds, Joan enjoys dancing Snow White’s first encounter with the dwarfs due to its playful nature. But she stresses while the production may be cute and entertaining, it relies heavily on their classical training as ballet dancers.
“The scene I find really interesting is when my character is cleaning up the house with a small broom,” the principal dancer points out. “There, Snow White dances with the bunnies and the birds. I like that part because there are steps in there [that you have to execute well], but at the same time make it look like you’re actually cleaning. There’s a lot of analysis and improv involved. Finding balance [between executing the steps and acting] is the part I enjoy the most.”
While they share similar sentiments about their casting and their favorite parts of the choreography, Joan, Shaira and Akari have differing views on Snow White-related questions.
If given the chance to confront the all-knowing mirror, Akari will immediately request for a glimpse of her future, while Shaira would pass on the opportunity. “What I love about life are the surprises, so I’d rather not ask the mirror anything,” Shaira explains.
Joan meanwhile muses, “I’m a very emotional person, so my question for the magic mirror would be: Does everyone I care about know that I care about them?”
The three ballerinas each pick a different dwarf as their alter ego. Joan likens herself to Bashful, since she’s always very nervous. “I’m probably the most nervous person. I find myself shaking even if I’m just at the backstage, putting on my make-up. Yes, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve danced a piece. I’m always nervous,” she confesses.
“I’m a little bit of Happy and a little bit of Bashful,” Shaira analyzes. “Happy because I’m generally a cheerful person. Bashful because I can be very shy. I remember that there were times when I would cry as a kid just because people would ask me for my name!”
“I’d have to say that I’m like Sleepy,” says Akari, laughing. “I love sleeping or my rest after a long day of ballet.”
When it comes to their happily ever after though, their ideal futures may differ, but it always involves ballet.
Hearing how strongly they feel about dancing and how they immerse themselves in the role, it seems like Snow White would not just be a delight to see, but to appreciate that the magic of fairy tale productions also has much to do with perseverance, team work and overcoming one’s weaknesses.