Story by Susan Lee
After living and working in three different countries, principal dancer Ommi Pipit-Suksun has finally found a home at Ballet San Jose.
Pipit-Suksun grew up in Thailand, where ballet was not very popular. “There’s no professional ballet company in the country,” Pipit-Suksun says. “And there weren’t even any dancers in my family.”
So how did she wind up choosing ballet?
“My mother was very tiny,” Pipit-Suksun laughs. “She wanted me to be taller. She thought ballet would help. I’m five foot six, so perhaps it did!”
After Pipit-Suksun finished ninth grade in Thailand (and a summer stint in Australia), she received a three-year scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in England. “I didn’t speak much English,” she admits. “For the first year, I think I just said, ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’”
In 2004, Pipit-Suksun once again moved to a new company and a new country—the San Francisco Ballet. She found this move even more challenging because she was hired as a soloist. “If you’re in the school,” she points out, “the teachers take care of you. In the company, you’re an adult. You have to take care of yourself.”
For the first year, Pipit-Suksun lived alone in a studio apartment. “I’d never been in a professional company before, and yet I was the youngest soloist. I hadn’t had the chance to bond with the other dancers yet.” Soon, however, she made friends, and over the next eight years, she danced in ballets including Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush, Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird, and Helgi Tomasson’s 7 for Eight.
In 2012, a series of injuries made Pipit-Suksun question whether she wanted to continue dancing at all. Luckily, she met a dancer who encouraged her to take class at Ballet San Jose.
She felt right at home.
“The moment I joined Ballet San Jose, I felt that people were for me, telling me to go for it. It’s a smaller company than the San Francisco Ballet, so it can be much more supportive.” She likes how easy it is to talk to the company’s management, such as Associate Artistic Director Raymond Rodriguez and Artistic Associate Karen Gabay. “José Carreño has been especially welcoming. He puts me so much at ease. You want to feel comfortable around your boss and your peers because you dance at your best capacity.”
With Ballet San Jose, Pipit-Suksun has also been able to expand her horizons into teaching: she’s now certified in the American Ballet Theatre curriculum. She even taught last season with the Ballet San Jose School.
And her favorite role with Ballet San Jose?
“I can’t choose just one!” she protests, reeling off the names of ballets including Clear and Glow-Stop. The most challenging for her so far have been Roland Petit’s Carmen and Karen Gabay’s The Nutcracker. “Carmen, as a person, isn’t really me, so the role meant a lot of acting! The Nutcracker takes a lot of stamina, because Karen merged Marie with the Sugarplum Fairy. I danced throughout the entire ballet. I really had to pace myself and be mentally tough.”
She’s obviously fitting in well. The San Jose Mercury News called Pipit-Suksun‘s performance in Carmen “liquid elegance.”