It is not a secret that the Philippine’s one and only Prima Ballerina, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, will be retiring from performing at the end of the year. Her expertise and talent on stage will certainly be missed by the ballet industry and enthusiasts. However, she will make sure she will end her golden era with spectacular shows. One of them is “Carmen” in which she plays the title role.
Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, the country’s first Prima Ballerina.
Elizalde, Ballet Manila’s current artistic director, said that ‘Carmen’ is very dear to her heart not only because it is produced by her mother company but it is a tribute to the loving memory of Ballet Manila’s founding artistic director, Eric V. Cruz, who also choreographed the play.
She first performed the role back in 1995 under Cruz’s helm. Cruz was the artistic director of the company then and was the one who told Elizalde that she was ready to dance as Carmen, a role she had been wanting for so long.
“Carmen” is about a story of an ambitious and manipulative woman whose thirst for life and love ended in an unfortunate occasion and bitter heartbreak. The play is part of Prosper Mérimée’s classic novella and features the music of Georges Bizet and Rodion Shchedrin. The play was performed last Sept. 25 at Far Eastern University Auditorium and is a part of the university’s 2013-2014 cultural season.
The Prima Ballerina admitted that Carmen is one of her favorite roles. In an e-mail interview with Manila Standard, she said that the character is so interesting to portray. “I can be flexible in my performance, ” Elizalde said. She described Carmen as a survivor with a strong personality, feisty and determined but, at the same time, vulnerable and a victim of circumstances. Elizalde does not technically consider the style of the dance to be difficult. It is just physically and emotionally draining for her. She also said that it would be easier if there would be a very reliable and strong Don Jose, Carmen’s escort, playing the role.
Elizalde expressed that the show would not be a success without the equally talented artists of Ballet Manila who gave significant contributions and supported “Carmen” effectively. She felt very privileged working with them and she generously have praises for their excellent performance.
Rude De Dios, who played as Don Jose, is a principal dancer of Ballet Manila and has been a partner of the queen ballerina for seven years. Elizalde noted that De Dios is a passionate artist and an understanding partner. He is a consummate performer who can blend acting and dancing really well. “Because we are dancing together for a long time, we are very in sync with each other!” Elizalde said.
Another important role in the play that Elizalde talked about was innocent Micaela which was interpreted by Sofia Sangco Peralta, a soloist and a ten year veteran of Ballet Manila. “She is a very versatile performer who can switch from classical ballet to contemporary, folk and ballroom dancing at anytime,” Elizalde mentioned.
Lastly, Francis Cascano played the role of Escamillo. He is a senior soloist and an expert on playing villain roles. Elizalde stated, “He is a magnetic performer who sometimes gets pretty carried away when dancing. A very mature and reliable dancer.”
They may not be at par with international ballet artists yet but Ballet Manila’s talents are of world class. Elizalde believes that this is due to their rigorous trainings and traditions that the company bestowed upon them. It was indeed reflected in their brilliant performance in “Carmen” which the audience could testify.
To prepare for the play, all the dancers underwent Vaganova-based classes, a Russian training that makes a dancer technically capable and could boost stamina to be able to complete a performance. “With our performance calendar being extremely full, these dancers are very comfortable on stage performing as we do more than 200 times a year. “ Elizalde said.
Likewise, Elizalde pointed out that their inclination with classics make dancers undeniably strong and refined in the classical ballet style. However, they have diverse repertoire as well so they can switch from contemporary to modern style when needed.
The country’s prima ballerina also revealed that she is contented with all her achievement in her career - both for herself and for the country. She is the first foreign soloist to be invited to join the prestigious Kirov Ballet, presently known as Mariinsky Ballet. In 2008, she won the Pearl of the Orient Award and the Gawad Buhay Awards for the Performing Arts. She was conferred the Order of International Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2001. She was also chosen as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World in 1997 and the Ten Outstanding Young Filipinos in 1995.
Elizalde will be deeply missed but, above all, she will miss the thrill of performing and showing the world what she could do in the field of ballet.
“I will miss the stage most of all - rehearsing, preparing and then performing a role,” she explained.
Elizalde will be turning fifty next year and it is a wonder, even to her, that she still could get up on her toes and continue to dance. She plans to remain active in the ballet scene as an artistic director of Ballet Manila as well as its coach, teacher, choreographer, and manager. She also hopes to do cameo appearances every now and then if given a chance. She might not be seen on stage anymore but the legacy of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde lives on.