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Dancing into forever

Louise Lizan



ON and off-stage lovers Abigail Oliverio and Mark Sumaylo, and Pearl Dames and Sean Pelegrin. WRENN SANCHEZ

What started as their love for ballet led them to find significant others with whom to spend the rest of their lives.

Four ballet dancers — couples Abigail Oliverio and Mark Sumaylo, both principal dancers; and Jessica Pearl Dames, a soloist, and Sean Pelegrin, a company artist from Ballet Manila — shared the ins-and-outs of their relationships both with ballet and each other in an interview with the Daily Tribune’s editor Jojo Silvestre and lifestyle writer Louise Lizan for TribuneNOW’s Spotlight.

The two couples, who have been together for a few years, talked about the ups and downs and secrets behind their long-lasting bond while sharing endless stories about their love for dancing.

DT: What’s the difference between a principal dancer and a soloist?

Abigail Oliverio (AO): In a ballet company, a lot of the time we have ranks. In Ballet Manila, we have company artists who basically make up the corps de ballet or the group works of a production.

And then we have the soloists who get to stand out a little more and do solo roles. Then we have principal dancers who take on most of the lead roles in the ballet — the title roles of ballet.

DT: Mark and Abi are a couple, Sean and Pearl are a couple. What’s it like being ballet dancers who also happen to be attached to each other? Does your dancing bring you closer? Or does dance get in the way of your relationship?

AO: I think it helps our relationship. For us, I mean. We have very similar working ethics; I wouldn’t say the same personalities, but work ethics. So, it’s very easy to communicate when it comes to ideas, reactions.

Mark Sumaylo (MS): It’s a privilege also to dance with your partner on and off stage because we get to fix things easily. We can speak up — it’s easy to talk about dancing, the simple steps.

STORIES of blossoming relationships shared on “Spotlight.” WRENN SANCHEZ

AO: And kind of like an unfiltered conversation. We’re polite of course, but we can really say everything.

MS: And it’s not hard to fall in love with just the dance.

DT: Were there any instances when you argued about dance?

MS: It’s normal, but at the end of the day, we just fix it.

Sean Pelegrin (SP): For me, we’re already comfortable with each other.

Pearl Dames (PD): We’re able to be honest with each other. Tell it as it is. It’s part of being in a relationship.

DT: Does it have to do with dancing? Your arguments?

PD: Yes. We tell each other not to do this or that, but we don’t take it personally. We’re already comfortable with each other.

DT: Do the other members of the company know that you guys are in a relationship? What if there was someone who has a crush on your significant other?

SP: If there’s anyone who has a crush on her (Pearl), it’s okay with me. It’s just a crush.

MS: If that someone idolizes her as a dancer, it’s okay.

DT: Abigail, if you notice from the way she speaks, is from Singapore and part of her growing up years was spent in Australia. And you arrived in the Philippines when?

AO: Six years ago, in late 2013. Lisa (Macuja-Elizalde) offered me a contract.

DT: Where did she see you perform?

AI: In Hong Kong. So, I was competing in the Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong and Ballet Manila was there with their own delegates and from there she offered me the contract. I didn’t hesitate and jumped on board.

DT: What is it like having a Filipino boyfriend?

AO: I would say… well, I don’t want to generalize, but Mark is a very sensitive person. I’m not sure if I’m saying this because of him as a Filipino but he’s sweet, charming and sensitive.

DT: How are your significant others different from being your partner onstage and off it?

SP: We follow the rules when we’re on stage. We have dances where we play characters who are in conflict with each other. We have to be able to portray that, even during rehearsals. But off stage, we’re okay.

DT: So, after every rehearsal, you have to go back to your true selves?

SP: Yes. You’re a different person every time you dance. For example, whenever I dance, I am not Sean. I need to dance the role.

MS: For me during work hours, my respect for her (Abi) is that she’s not my girlfriend. She’s the principal dancer of Ballet Manila. I work with her, respect her as the same dancer in our company.

But after that, she’s my girlfriend.

AO: There’s a level of professionalism. Yeah, there are different roles. Some dances require you to be mad at each other, in love with each other. I think dancers are also actors and actresses, so we have to be expressive to portray different characters. But there’s just that little bit more fun I feel when you’re with your partner because you get to go on a deeper level of whatever the role requires. We get to know each other more intuitively.

DT: So outside of ballet, Sean and Pearl, what do you do to take a break from ballet?

SP: We usually go hiking or to the beach when we have long breaks. We usually go out on weekends. But if it’s just after work, we usually just take a rest.

DT: Where, what places?

SP: We go to the malls. If it’s out of town, we go to a beach or hiking in Zambales. There’s a beach there that’s our favorite. It’s safe where we hike.

MS: We rest first and then sometimes do photography. It started out as a hobby but we eventually liked taking pictures.

DT: How long have you been with Ballet Manila?

MS/AO: Six years.

MS: I was promoted last year to a principal dancer.

PD/SP: Five years.

DT: What are your points of commonality? What passion, character traits do you guys have the same?

MS: Abi and I love to eat. We love sweets also.

AO: Sometimes when we’re resting, we have a guitar at home, and he likes to pick up the guitar and sing — and he can’t sing but he’s a really good guitarist — but I think it’s really sweet because he sings with passion and he just enjoys what he does. So, how do you not (like it)?

SP: We’re both kalog (zany). We called each other names when we were still friends. It has stuck with us now even after seven years. We call each other “monggi.”

PD: We were still friends then when he said to me that he wants us to have names for each other. So, I told him to come up with one. He came up with “monggi.”

DT: How did you guys meet?

SP: We met each other at the NAMCYA (National Music Competitions for Young Artists) in 2011 but we have been competing with each other since 2010. We weren’t close yet.

We came from different schools — Sean is from STEPS dance studio and Pearl is from Makiling. Then she joined STEPS one summer and that’s when we started to dance together.

PD: I still haven’t met him when we joined that competition in 2011 but I know we’re both part of it. I remembered he danced to a modern piece which I liked. After that, I watched that piece again. I was shocked when I went to STEPS and saw him there. That’s when we started to talk to each other.

MS: Abi and I met in Ballet Manila.

AO: I came in towards the end of the year.

DT: Did you like him immediately?

AO: I couldn’t recognize him. The very first encounter I had with him, I was new and we had to do like a repertoire and the way we learn is through a video. I had to download the video on my phone and he had to learn one at the same time so I lent him my phone for him to learn his dance. And then I had to go home after a while and then I said, ‘I need to get my phone back,’ but I couldn’t remember the person who borrowed my phone. I couldn’t remember his face, his name. So, I had to go around asking all the boys, ‘Does anybody have my phone?’

MS: I intentionally borrowed it. I had a friend who had been with Ballet Manila far longer than I have been. He competed in the same with Abi in Hong Kong. He told me that there’s someone who is going to join Ballet Manila and he showed me the picture. I thought she’s okay. When I saw her in person, I thought she’s okay but then we had a dinner party. Everyone dressed up and that’s when I realized that she’s more than “okay.” So, I introduced myself. It all started from there.

DT: What got you to like him? Like the point where you thought ‘Okay fine, I already like him.’

AO: Mark and I were in the same friendship groups, so we’re always hanging out in a group and he was really nice to talk to and we talked up until the wee hours of the morning. So, it was just really the company.

DT: For Sean and Pearl, how did your relationship develop?

SP: Pearl has a twin sister whose boyfriend is a friend of mine. We went to the same dance school. After rehearsals, her sister and her boyfriend would go out and we would go with them. So, we would go out together, just the four of us.

DT: At what point did you realize that he/she’s the one for you?

SP: Before Ballet Manila, we grew close with each other. We slowly developed feelings for each other until we found ourselves with each other.

PD: At that time when we were going out, I was heartbroken. I found myself opening up to him. I felt comfortable talking to him about it — he made me feel better each time I opened up to him. It was the first time that I opened up to somebody and it felt nice and comforting. It was when I got to know him more and then I realized I was already falling for him.

DT: What do you not like in each other? Is there something about each other that gets into your nerves?

AO: I would say, it’s not actually something I don’t like about Mark, but he’s very hot-tempered. He’s very easily angered. But it’s not something that I’m bothered that I wish I could change it but it’s just that, over time, I accepted that he’s hot-tempered. And I’ve come to roughly know his trigger points, like sometimes when we go out, ‘Oh, that’s just going to make him mad.’ But I think the longer we’re together, I know something is going to happen and I know what to do about it.

SP: We’re both topakin (temperamental) and, because of it, we end up arguing with each other.

PD: What I don’t like with him is that he is always “high blood (hot-tempered).” He easily gets angry. It irritates me sometimes.

SP: It’s just that I don’t want worst case scenarios to happen. I don’t like it that when it happens, that’s when we argue.

DT: What’s the secret to having a long-lasting relationship?

SP: We immediately fix anything whenever we argue.

PD: We don’t want to end the day still quarelling. For us, if we can solve it, it’s better.

MS: For me po, it is honesty. We should be honest (with each other) and also, do little surprises. Little things that will make her happy. That’s why if you have an issue or a concern, you should tell each other.

DT: Do you have any resolution for your relationship?

AO: I don’t have like a resolution and think of something every year. But it’s a conscious growing effort where I know for him, he’s been a lot more patient with me compared to the very first year that we’ve been together, and I tell him that. But now, it’s not something like we say out loud, it’s just the relationship that keeps growing. I think it’s a continuously growing relationship, which is maybe, that’s what makes it a good one, too — that it keeps evolving and you grow together as people.

SP: Less quarrels. We always say that to each other but it’s a work in progress.

DT: Do you still learn something new about each other given your long relationship?

MS: Life is a never-ending process. I always tell her, ‘Life is unpredictable.’ Thus, I always remind her that I love her because sometimes when you’re busy, you forget telling her about how you feel.

DT: What are you rehearsing now? Tell us about your next performance.

AO: Right now, we’re rehearsing a double-bill, so that’s La Traviata and Carmina Burana. La Traviata is very suitable for Valentine’s Day because it’s love, glamor but at the same time heartbreak and sacrifice. Just like every relationship, you go through ups and downs and it’s a very heavy piece, choreographed by our artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde. And the other portion is Carmina Burana, which is choreographed by one of our ex-principal dancers, Rudy de Dios and that one is a little bit of a heavy operatic experience as well. We’ll be performing both pieces on 7 and 8 March in SM Aura Samsung Hall. Tickets are available at SM Tickets.


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