Jessa Pereira knows talent when she sees it, and the founder Ilha Ballet Academy has a couple of budding stars in her midst.
Fourteen-year-old Mayako Setta and 16-year-old Sarah Collins are full-time students of hers, and Pereira says both of them have got what it takes to shape dancing careers.
“They are definitely [special],” said Pereira. “For their age, where they are at already in technique level and artistic qualities, they definitely have a future in dancing.”
The girls are preparing for important summer camps in 2020.
Setta will be attending the National Ballet of Canada this year, for the second straight summer.
Collins is heading to Boston Ballet.
“Both of these programs run international auditions, both in person and by video, and they select the top dancers from around the world for these summer camps,” explained Pereira. “There will be probably 30 to 40 students in each class. Probably hundreds, or thousands, would have applied.”
Setta said she didn’t get serious about her dancing until she moved to the Comox Valley four years ago.
“We were moving around the country, from province to province, when I was younger, and so I did not dance for a couple of years, and I never did more than an hour a week until I came here,” she said. “I did try other styles, but something about the artistry of ballet, and the music… I find it really calming.”
“Mayako lives and breathes ballet,” said Pereira. “She studies it at home, instead of watching all those reality TV shows. She is flexible, strong-ankled, with beautiful artistic qualities coming through already, at such a young age. She is totally on schedule to have a very successful career.”
“I want to end up dancing in Europe,” said Setta. “I have done auditioned for summer intensive programs in Europe – the English National Ballet, the John Cranko School in Germany, as well as the Académie Princess Grace, in Monaco. Those are kind of my big schools I would like to end up at.”
Collins said she has been dancing for five years and she said it was always a ballet focus.
“Ballet was the first class I ever took; I never started in jazz, or tap, or anything,” she said. “I fell in love with it right away. It’s got so much history, and the music speaks to me so much more; it’s a lot less mainstream.”
She’s looking forward to learning new techniques in Boston.
“It’s Balanchine style so it’s different from what I study here, so I will learn a different way of moving. And it also has a post-secondary program, which is where I want to go in the future. I graduate next year, so post-secondary is my next goal.”
Collins credits Pereira for her success to date.
“My goals and dreams are all because of her; she has inspired me so much. I don’t think I would really be pursuing ballet if it wasn’t for her. She really introduced me to the world of ballet and really is the reason I am doing what I am doing.”
Pereira said Collins has not cut any corners when it comes to training.
“Sara works really hard,” said Pereira. “She cross-trains with gym, swimming, yoga. She’s got the flexibility and tons of artistic quality. She’s really enjoyable to watch, and has the work ethic that will carry her through, because she is definitely dedicated.”
Both girls are homeschooled. They spend their days at the ballet studio, and do the majority of their academics in the evenings.
“We do all of our courses online,” said Collins. “We both went to Isfeld but when we decided we wanted to pursue dance more seriously we switched to homeschooling to allow for more dance time.”
The physicality of ballet is something many people do not appreciate.
“It’s extremely physical,” said Pereira. “It’s not just the cardio, but also the physical aspects, the physical strength needed. Point shoes add the extra element of difficulty and need for strength training.”
So is it a sport, or an art form?
“That’s a really hard question, and a source of a lot of controversy. It’s definitely a sport, I believe. But it definitely has the artistic side of it as well. But it is very physical.”
The girls have a few ongoing fundraising initiatives to help with the costs of attending their respective camps this summer.
“Every week we can, we will be doing a bottle drive,” said Collins. “We also have chocolate sales, and we have a Facebook page called ‘Mayako and Sarah’s Fundraising for their Future.’ It’s a whole page where we will do updates on everything.”
Anyone who wants to donate to the bottle drives can contact them on their Facebook page and they will pick up the bottles. There is also an account at the Courtenay Bottle Depot for anyone who would rather just drop off the bottled themselves.
Both girls also have crowdfunding pages.