Catch a rising star | Sunday Observer

Catch a rising star

9 June, 2019

Many little girls dream of becoming ballerinas, but the life of a ballerina is mentally and physically difficult than the graceful dancers let on. Onara De Silva, 18, a past pupil of Ladies College, started ballet lessons at the age of nine under Wendy Perera. According to Onara she didn’t consider pursuing dance as a career until she was 13. Her love for the performing arts stemmed from her mother, a drama teacher.

After many years of commitment, Onara completed her Advanced Foundation in Ballet at the Royal Academy of Dance last year. “This allowed me to teach a beginner’s ballet class which gives me experience. I love teaching small kids who have the enthusiasm for dancing,”Onara said. She has been accepted by San Francisco State University for a Bachelor of Arts in Dance which she hopes to start in August this year.

Onara enjoys ballet and contemporary dance methods. Her teachers - Hannelore Jayasundara and Umeshi Rajeendra mould and help her to push her limits to become a better dancer each day.

“While they focus a lot on my techniques, they also give me the freedom to improvise and find my unique way of moving,” Onara said.

Her rehearsal hours and schedule depends on various factors. Her usual frenetic rehearsal schedule starts with a warm up session and then moves to work on techniques. It goes on continuously for four hours, four days a week.

“I usually try to go to sleep early to get up early in the morning, do some physical therapy for my ankle and massage my calves. Then I have a shower, eat my breakfast and go to the studio for rehearsals. There, I do more warm-up and core exercises before moving on to do techniques. Sometimes, after a hectic process of training you feel like you have been hit by a train, however how hard the process was, I never felt like giving up because dancing is my passion and reason for living.”

“Dancing en pointe is a gradual training process and little by little I learnt how to bear the pain in order to improve my technique. Even after many years of training, it is still painful sometimes,” she said.

The process of learning choreography, she said "Completely depends on the complexity of the movements and the simpler the movement the faster the learning process. To choreograph just five minutes of a performance, it may take days or even weeks depending on the complexity of the movement.”

Onara got the opportunity to perform in the latest music video released by Sooriya records, a pioneer in the Sri Lankan music scene. “My teacher Umeshi Rajeendra reached out to me and gave me the opportunity to perform in this video,” she said.

Empty into Wind is a story about a rape victim and is a voice for all those sexually assaulted. Jenna Kohut, the vocalist, lyricist and musician of Empty into Wind tries to break the social taboo society has put on rape issues. Onara brings out the essence of the deepest meaning of the story through her brilliant performance.

“I hope it helps individuals and reassures them that they can reach out to someone to cope with their pain. I also hope that the song shows that sexual assault victims are not alone in their suffering. The response has been great so far. Many people have been moved by the music and it is making people more aware of the emotional turmoil that rape victims go through,” she said.

Onara believes that constant rehearsal and many years of hard work and training is crucial to become a prima ballerina.“Even top dancers like Misty Copeland train every day for several hours. In addition to the physical elements, dancers also need mental stamina. Mentally preparing oneself before long hours of rehearsing is important. I do try to eat healthy as much as possible and I stay hydrated and drink lots of water. Of course I still love my sweets.”

Onara said she constantly gets injured and has performed with her injuries. However, fear of injury is not a predominant factor in her mind. Therefore, she has learnt how to work around her injuries without letting it hinder her performance.

She loves watching dance movies and her all-time favourite is Centre Stage which follows a story of a ballerina who does not have the ‘ideal’ body type for ballet. Also she likes classical music and music by Tchaikovsky – his score of Nutracher and Swan Lake has stuck in her head the way we get pop music stuck in our heads, sometimes.

A lot of people see the glamour in ballet but don't know how bad the money usually is, not only here in Sri Lanka but around the world. Although tickets are quite expensive, ballet's budgets are equally high: the pointe shoes, the production, sets, costumes and theatre rent.

“I don't dance for money, I dance because it's my passion. I believe that the dance industry in Sri Lanka is growing slowly, and I do hope that dancing can be a full-time profession soon. Currently being a full-time dancer is not financially viable. Hopefully one day our country will take performing artists to a higher level of acceptance,”she said.

Onara’s biggest supporter in her career is her father who takes her for rehearsals and waits for long hours till she finishes. Her little sister is also a dancer and is her biggest fan. She loves reading from classics to the crimes and in her leisure time she enjoys baking with her mother and sister.

“I hope one day to be qualified as a dance therapist and help people (especially kids) with difficulties,” she said.