|NOW-Lisa soars high in Don Quixote in Swan Song Series 2012|
Vim Nadera: How would compare Russian dancers to us?
Lisa Macuja Elizalde: Russian dancers have a longer history and tradition of classical ballet and exposure to the arts that would have started when they were children. So they have this advantage of growing up in an environment that nurtures one to strive for excellence in this demanding art form. They grow up with more than 300 years of tradition. Even just walking around the city of St. Petersburg, you are already immersed in the arts. As dancers, they are not as emotional as Filipinos when it comes to performing. Filipino performers are very passionate and emotional onstage. They give their all like it was the last performance of their lives. With Russian artists, they are a bit more reserved and calculated with their technique and attack.
VN: What about with artists from, for instance, Lithuania, Latvia,Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand, among others?
LME: It is surprising that artists from all over the world share a lot in common – and you tend to understand each other no matter what language you speak. You understand the demands of the art form, the discipline, the need to keep in shape, to calm your nerves before a show… the need of positive support backstage. For example, last June we had the “World Stars of Ballet” and nine star dancers from all over the world all did class with Ballet Manila’s 50 dancers on the Aliw Theater stage. And we all had a great time! We understood each other, applauded each other’s achievements and had fun onstage dancing and expressing ourselves in the universal language of dance. It is a fantastic feeling that we all share in common. A love for dance and the joy we experience doing what we love onstage as a way of life.
VN: What made you decide to establish in 1995 your own ballet company?
LME: It was the right time to move on and establish my own company. My contract with my former ballet company was not renewed. I was at the crossroads. I was left with the choice of either leaving the country and continuing to dance abroad, or staying and establishing my own company and school. When 11 other dancers decided to join me led by Osias Barroso (my longtime dance partner), together with Eric V. Cruz, my former artistic director from the other company, I decided that to stay and that we would form Ballet Manila.
VN: What is Ballet Manila’s identity? What sets you apart from others?
LME: Ballet Manila’s mission statement is “to bring world-class classical ballet to the Filipino and foreign audiences by training Filipino dancers in the Russian Vaganova method and employing these highly skilled dancers in a professional atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration in order to achieve excellence of the artistic performance in both traditional and non-traditional venues.” What sets us apart from the others? Our training is Russian Vaganova, in the same strict tradition that it is taught at the Vaganova Choreographic School in Russia where I studied. We bring in teachers from Russia every year to do master classes and restage classical work. Our standards and goals in training in classical ballet are different. We are stricter about achieving a 180-degree turnout, for example. There’s also the number of performances we do in a year or in a season -- sometimes, we reach as many as 300 performances in a year. That’s a lot more compared to the other companies. We have two resident theaters – Star and Aliw Theaters. We have three ballet studios that are devoted to just Ballet Manila and our school. Our artists earn per performance. It’s a different payment scheme. The more you dance, the more you earn – so you always strive to become a better dancer so you get casted and used more by choreographers creating new works for the company. We are also the youngest professional ballet company in the country and are only on our 17th season.
VN: Do you consider your style a Filipinized Vaganova? Or is there a Macuja Method?
LME: I guess you could say I have a compressed form of Vaganova because the number of levels of Vaganova is eight – with one year of training in each level. I have five levels in my school. But since the kids don’t do training everyday like in the Vaganova School, I need to accelerate some programs and promote some students accordingly. We also do not have our examinations yet. We just have assessments by the teachers.