Lisa Macuja marks silver anniversary with dance concert

Lisa Macuja marks silver anniversary with dance concert
By Walter Ang
September 28, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Via Ballet Manila Facebook
Lisa Macuja-Elizalde will hold a thanksgiving ballet concert on Oct. 2 at the Aliw Theater Hall to mark her 45th birthday and her silver anniversary as a dancer.

Laptop manufacturer Sony hosted a gala cocktail for her during the launch of its new Vaio collection in Peninsula Manila Hotel.

Sony Philippines lauded Macuja's "unmatched achievement of a valued and loyal customer who has touched audiences throughout the Philippines and in more than 85 cities in five continents around the world," and described her as "a cultural icon, a champion for Philippine art, and a visionary."

Macuja started taking ballet when she was nine years old at St. Theresa's College. After high school, she was accepted into the Vaganova Choreographic Institute (now the Academy of Russian Ballet) in Saint Petersburg as a scholar of the USSR Ministry of Culture. She graduated at the top of her class in 1984 and became the first non-Russian to be invited to join the Kirov Ballet. With Kirov, Lisa performed as principal ballerina in ballets like "The Nutcracker," "Giselle," and "Don Quixote" (that she performed with a ruptured thigh muscle and received a 20-minute curtain call).

She returned to Manila in 1986 and became the first artist-in-residence of the Cultural Center of the Philippines while dancing with Ballet Philippines. In 1988, she became a ballerina of Philippine Ballet Theater. In 1996, she founded her own dance company and school, Ballet Manila.

As a dancer, Macuja has performed close to 300 different roles. For BM, she juggles the roles of principal artist, artistic director, teacher, and company administrator. From an original complement of 12 dancers, BM now has more than 70 dancers.

Macuja has been a moving force in bringing ballet to the masses. BM's regular season productions are staged in the Star Theater and Aliw Theater, two venues that are conjoined to the Star City theme park. Patrons of the park get to watch her shows as part of their entrance fee.

As for the rest of the country, BM has performed outreach performance tours in more than 45 cities and towns. "Our motto is `have floor, will dance,'" Macuja says. "We've even danced on wooden softdrink crates while on tour!"

While steeped in the Vaganova method and committed to presenting the classics to Filipino audiences, BM also makes an effort to present works geared towards Pinoy audiences. It has staged "High School Musikahan," a take-off from the popular Disney musical and it recently staged "Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang," an original Filipino ballet production. Macuja choreographed "Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Maria," one of the stories featured in the production. "My first time to do so for the company," she says.

Tech savvy artist
"I have been using Vaio laptops since 2001, even before it was available in Manila, and I've had three so far. I am like a `techie-wannabe' because I am interested in learning but do not have the time," say Macuja. Nonetheless, she has incorporated her laptop (and her digicam and videocam) into almost every aspect of her life.

Aside from using it in her office to manage BM, she relies on her laptop to serve the needs of her own and her dancers' craft. She does basic music editing when needed and uses it to playback videos of rehearsals and performances for critiquing. In out-of-town venues, her laptop occasionally fills in for audio-video equipment.

For personal use, Macuja uses it to access the web to maintain her social networking accounts and website ( She has blogged about why "Don Quixote" is special to her and plans to add "more videos, interactive features, and links." She considers her laptop as the "study partner" that helped her complete a Management Degree (with honors) from the University of Phoenix online.

She's even nurtured the same love for technology with Missy and Mac, her children with industrialist and painter husband Fred Elizalde. Both children each have a laptop of their own and Macuja encourages their self-expression through their blogs (where they advocate for issues like the environment and endangered species).

More than dance
Macuja's dance career has resulted in numerous accolades such as a silver medal from the Asia-Pacific Ballet Competition, Tokyo; The Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World, USA; and the Order of International Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Her work in dance has always incorporated civic service. BM provides scholarships for deserving students. She also recently founded Project Ballet Futures with the Philippine Christian Foundation to provide ballet training, milk, vitamins, and stipends to indigent scholars.

She has served as Commissioner of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women and is currently Vice-Chairman of the Philippine UNESCO National Commission. She also serves as founding treasurer of the Artists Welfare Project.

Silver anniversary
The gala cocktail kicks off Macuja's series of performances for the 14th season of BM, featuring highlights from her career. "When I decided to become a professional ballerina at 14, I did not expect my career to bring me this far. I am very, very fortunate to still be dancing as a ballerina; very, very lucky that my body, my instrument, is still up to the physical stress and pounding that dancing demands from it," she says.

"Every chance I get to dance onstage in the same world-class quality that I demand from myself is a celebration for me and my art. I do not want to miss any chance to be able to celebrate my dancing with every performance. I love to dance and I hope that dancing will continue to be a part of my life at least for the next five years or so," she adds.

"Lisa@25" will be a multimedia live dance concert in three parts: a classical ballet medley, a pop medley, ending in "Prinsipe ng mga Ibon," the first story from "Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang." The Oct. 2 performance will be followed by an after-show party to celebrate Macuja's 45th birthday. "I always like dancing on my birthday. It makes the day extra special and gives me a chance to celebrate onstage," she says.

She will then give her farewell performance as Kitri in "Don Quixote." "I suppose being able to dance Kitri, with all those prerequisite high jumps and speedy turns, during a silver anniversary is a feat in itself," she says. "Knowing that it is my last shot at my dream role, a signature role that I have been fortunate enough to dance many, many times after that winter morning in Saint Petersburg will make these final three performances like no other."

Lisa@25 runs Oct. 2-4. Don Quixote runs Oct 9-11. Call 400-0292 or 525-5967.

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