|Young LIsa Macuja training under Tatiana Udalenkova|
Vim Nadera: Why should a prima ballerina end up as a broadcast journalist? Or is it part of your plan to popularize art? Or your art?
Lisa Macuja Elizalde: It was definitely not my intention to become a broadcast journalist. Up to now, it isn’t. I think I am first a foremost a ballerina and intend to dance for as long as I can. Everything else I do, such as write, host Art 2 Art, endorse, choreograph, coach, teach etc… comes secondary to dancing.
VN: As Ballerina ng Bayan, why and how do you bring ballet closer to the so-called “masang Filipino”?
LM: I was dubbed “Ballerina ng Bayan” when Art 2 Art started. I have always been tagged as “Ballerina for the People,” “Ballerina of the People,” and “Ballerina of the Masses” when I started to perform all over the place – on television, in basketball courts, in the street and basically in non-traditional venues for ballet because that move was exposing ballet to new audiences. The key really is exposure. I simply try to dance as much as possible, in as many venues as possible, to as big an audience as possible. Once I started doing this, I became known for my outreach of bringing “ballet to the people and people to the ballet”. I have also helped reach a mass-based audience by conceptualizing shows and ballets that the mass audience can relate to. Such as Ballet & Ballads where we work with a singer and dance to OPM music. Circus D’Ballet where you have ballet dancers performing with circus acrobats and fire-eaters. I also go all over the place, especially to schools with our lecture demonstrations where I speak first on how to appreciate classical ballet and then do an actual performance. I have also done collaborations that create a more mass-based appeal for ballet such as our Tatlong Kuwento Ni Lola Basyang trilogy, Alamat: Si Sibol at Si Gunaw which is our ecological/environmental ballet, and other concert pieces that deal with Filipino themes, traditions, music that attract the audience because they understand them. One thing that definitely has developed the audience for ballet are our free shows every weekend in Star City. Then, there’s a 30-minute show called Maynila Ni Juan. Ballet Manila averages 300 performances a year. That’s a lot of exposure.
VN: Are you a born dancer? Who discovered you? Who nurtured you?
LME: I was born with a very flexible body. I got this from my Mom. My mom took up ballet when she was a child until the ballet ban in the 1950’s made her stop ballet. So, I could say my Mom brought me to ballet class as a kid and I tried to copy her. I was nurtured by several Filipino teachers such as Felicitas Radaic of the St. Theresa’s School of Dance, Basilio Esteban Villaruz, William Morgan, Irene Sabas. However, you could say that the one person I consider my mentor is my Russian teacher Tatiana Udalenkova under whose tutelage I graduated with honors from the Russian Ballet Academy in 1984. In the Kirov Ballet, I was under the ballet coaches Galina Kekisheva and Gabriella Komleyeva. Now, I am nurtured by many friends and colleagues – mainly my co-artistic director and dance partner of 16 years Osias Barroso. I also love working with different choreographers. The learning and the growing never really stops.
VN: What are your requirements for a Lisa Macuja wanna-be? How can someone from the urban or rural areas from become like you? How do you help them? Do you offer, say, a Macuja-Elizalde Scholarship?
LME: Requirements would be a facility for classical ballet. Flexibility, musicality, coordination, nice body proportions – in other words, you have to be born with a certain amount of talent. Then, you need the really good training in classical ballet which takes up around 4 to 6 years of daily practice. I have a scholarship program in my Ballet Manila School called Project Ballet Futures. I have always made it a practice to train scholars in ballet dancing – but not all my scholars end up as professional dancers. You have to stick to it. There’s a lot of sacrifice, pain and hard work involved in training to become a ballet dancer. Not everyone who takes up ballet at the start, no matter how physically endowed they may be, succeed.