Lisa Macuja Elizalde is one of the most recognized and revered ballerinas in the world. Who doesn’t know her? She is the sole Prima Filipina ballerina and that makes her unsurprisingly admired and idolized. It was a privilege to be invited to conduct an interview with her and much more, that she agreed to be interviewed by PSST. I was overjoyed when I was given the chance to meet her in person especially because it is part of my bucket list. Getting to know her, I was astonished to learn that she stayed humble and modest despite her achievements.

In this PsstPh Part of the Story Series, Lisa Macuja Elizalde talks to us about her ballet career and her experience in the industry.

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Full Name and Alias: Lisa Macuja Elizalde / Lisa Macuja

Website/Blog: www.balletmanila.com.ph / www.lisamacuja.com

Twitter: @lisamacuja
Instagram : @lisamacuja
Location: Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Age: 51
Education: St. Theresa’s College QC, Russian Ballet Academy, St. Petersburg Russia and University of Phoenix Online

Occupation: Artistic Director and CEO of Ballet Manila

Guiding Principle : No pain, no gain.
Genre of Ballet : Classical

Tell me about yourself that people don’t know:

My life is an open book and there is really not much about myself that other people don’t know.

What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
Right now, I am in a place where I am feeling more and more comfortable – semi-retired from dancing but still very active in teaching and directing in my own ballet company.

How long have you been dancing and when did you start?

I started at the age of 8 years old. Have been dancing professionally for 32 seasons. 2 years semi-professionally in Dance Theater Philippines; 2 seasons in the Kirov Ballet; 2 seasons as CCP Artist in Residence; 7 seasons in Philippine Ballet Theater and 21 seasons with Ballet Manila

Did you go to school to ballet?

I went to St. Theresa’s College in QC and graduated from high school in 1982.  Then I went to the Russian Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg for 2 years and graduated in 1984.

What do people not know about the world of ballet?

Most people see the results of hours of hard work in rehearsals, classes and training in what we call the performance. I think most people don’t really know what goes into the creation process of a professional dancer and a professional performance in the world of ballet.

How different was the ballet industry back then?

Definitely, the opportunity to travel, take classes, be exposed to rehearsals and performances of different companies, artists and teachers / choreographers was more limited back then. In today’s world of globalization, the ballet industry has become much more available and open to all.

How long did it take you to become a Professional Ballerina?

Around 8 years in school.

What is the hardest thing about ballet?

A constant struggle with your body (which is your instrument for your art)

Who was your favorite pas de deux partner?

Osias Barroso

What are your favorite shows to see/be in?

Kitri in Don Quixote; Giselle in Giselle; Juliet in Romeo and Juliet

Would you do anything differently? If so, what?

I would put more of a premium on my performances. I would have learned to say NO sometimes to performances that I really didn’t have to do or accept.

Do you have any tips/advice for aspiring ballerinas?

Decide as early as possible on a professional career and commit to the training and hard work necessary to become a ballerina. No pain, no gain. Hard work trumps talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Seek the best teacher / school / company for you that is a best fit.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

Being injured. There is nothing as difficult as coming back from an injury. Probably in the same line I would say coming back twice from childbirth was also difficult.

Aside from that, what are the other highlights in your ballet career?

Ballet Manila and the 21 years of existence is really the highlight of my dance career. Ballet Manila will continue to be my legacy.

Is there a certain way you and the other dancers have to/want to look?

Yes, there is the body ideal and the look ideal for a classical ballerina that we all strive to achieve. But no one is perfect. All dancers will have something negative to say about their body. It is natural for dancers to be very critical.

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I know you manage a ballet production called Ballet Manila, can you share with us about Ballet Manila and how it started?

We started in 1995 with 12 members and Eric V. Cruz as our artistic director. There were 4 boys and 8 girls. We didn’t have our own studio, theater, season. So basically, we were a touring company. We were all taking on several roles in the company – from co-artistic director, to choreographer to teacher to rehearsal mistress to production and music direction, marketing and even procuring and setting up equipment was all done by the dancers. It was a very hard working and close knit family.

When I married Fred J. Elizalde things changed very rapidly. We had our own studios to rehearse in and ultimately have worked ourselves from 12 dancers to more than 75. We also now have two theaters that we regularly perform in – Aliw Theater and Star Theater.

Lisa Macuja Elizalde in the scene of Rebel

Lisa Macuja Elizalde in the scene of Rebel

What are the some milestone of the Ballet Manila?

I think the milestones of Ballet Manila is the fact that we are the only ballet company that can put up a production of the classical ballets in its full length form with just our dancers from the company and school. Other ballet companies like BP and PBT need to outsource their corps de ballet – while Ballet Manila has a solid corps de ballet. We also have one-of-a-kind performances like Tatlong Kuwento Ni Lola Basyang, Tatlo Pang Kuwento Ni Lola Basyang, Alamat: Si Sibol at Si Gunaw and other Filipino ballets. Our signature performances such as Circus D’Ballet and Ballet & Ballads are also milestones. We are the most prolific ballet company – averaging up to 200 performances a year.

Right now i heard you established a school? Can you share to us about that? And where is the location on that school?

We have two schools. Our Pasay City branch in Donada St. that has been our school for 20 years next year. And our Fishermall branch on the 4th floor that opened last August 2016.

How has ballet changed your life?

Ballet has clearly become my life. My ballet career has exposed me to traveling and performing all over my country and abroad. My ballet has become an art form that has nurtured me as a person and as a dancer/artist. Ballet has opened doors for me to help other people, to teach and choreograph and direct. Ballet is also now my legacy.

I know you been working with some of the famous and influencial people in the country but may I ask whom do you wish/dream to work with and Why?

A dream project of mine would still be to collaborate with Gary V. With his music and as a performer. I would also love to have a Ballet & Ballads with Josh Groban. And present a Swan Lake here with Ballet Manila dancing with a star like Polina Semyonova or Svetlana Zakharova. I would also love to have some ballets by choreographers such as Alexei Ratmanksy or Christopher Wheeldon. One can dream…

Any upcoming shows of Ms. Lisa Macuja and the Ballet Manila?

The Swan, The Fairy and The Princess on Oct. 14-16 in Aliw Theater.

How do you see the Ballet industry 10 years from now?

Hopefully, thriving and surviving. With more support from our government and audiences.

How do you see yourself 20 or 30 yrs from now?

I will be very old – if still alive – but I do intend to teach and direct until I cannot anymore.

What’s the best advice would you give to those who might want to join the ballet industry?

Decide. Commit. Practice. Perspire. Treat every class like a rehearsal; every rehearsal like a performance; every performance like a celebration of your art.