Arts and Culture

Dance, discipline, and Pinocchio with Lisa Macuja-Elizalde & Osias Barroso

DLS Pineda - The Philippine Star

I was seated in front of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde at a café in Ortigas when I felt the urge to ask her, “Has anyone approached you for an autograph after your speech at Ateneo’s commencement exercises?”

She put her utensils down, sipped from her glass of water, and dabbed her lips with a napkin. “You know,” she said, “my Ateneo speech gave me a second career.” Our long table of press people, Osias Barroso and Tippy dos Santos, all broke into laughter. We were there for a less-than-formal press lunch — “a simple gathering,” they said in the invite — for the announcement of Ballet Manila’s Pinocchio.

“The next day,” she continued, “my family and I were in Boracay. Easter vacation no’n, eh. And I found out na ‘yun na — trending and trending and trending! And then, biglang may nagte-text na, ‘Can you be our commencement speaker?’ Sabi ko, ‘Teka muna, teka muna! Nasa Boracay ako!’’

“I just didn’t expect it all to happen because of that Ateneo speech,” she said. “I didn’t expect anything to happen at all!”





She explained that it was the first time she got an invitation to speak as a commencement speaker. And for that, she wanted to make it great. “As soon as I got the invitation, inumpisahan ko na. And hindi rin naman ako kasi tulad nung mga nauna na nilang in-invite na genuinely-genuinely-genuinely super-super busy, the kind of persons who’d say, ‘Okay, what am I doing today? Okay, give me my speech!’”

Lisa narrated that she met with a core group of soon-to-be graduates and asked them what they wanted to hear in the speech. “It’s when I met with them that I really got down to writing the speech. I really practiced on a podium with a microphone. Nag-rehearse talaga ako. Sineryoso ko siya talaga. Kinareer ko.” As a dancer of her caliber, it is impossible to take away the discipline ballet has taught her. She said it made her uneasy, sitting beside people in togas, while she sat onstage wearing a Filipiniana, “Hindi naman ako master’s degree holder or anything like that. My Lord — I’m a dancer!”

After that unforgettable speech, anyone, including the young and uninitiated, would be hard put not to know who the country’s prima ballerina is. Lisa’s speech was also testament to the elegance, and at the same time, the relevance of ballet. Its beauty lied in showing how her craft had become her life and how we, her audience, could do the same in ours.

It is in the same spirit that Ballet Manila sets out to stage Pinocchio at the Aliw Theater later this month and on the first weekend of December. Ballet Manila makes it a point to show ballet for children, perhaps to introduce and entice a new generation of ballerinos and ballerinas. Alvin Santos, one of School of Ballet Manila’s own scholars, will play Pinocchio. He is also the first male Filipino danseur to receive a Finalist certificate in the Asia Pacific International Ballet Competition in 2003.

Pinocchio promises to be a full-blown production which will feature dancers, acrobats, vibrant stage design, and singing by Tippy dos Santos. I asked Lisa if she had any apprehensions loading the show with non-ballet performances. She quipped, “No, magaling si Alvin.” Everyone in the table then shifted their gaze to Alvin. Caught in the middle of chewing his carbonara, he swallowed his food in one gulp and gave a wide, innocent smile — a natural Pinocchio.

Osias then recounts an incident when Alvin had been injured immediately after the second run of Pinocchio a decade ago. While tending to his knee, Alvin joined the company which was on a performance tour in Russia. Unable to move, he joined as the music master for their crew.

After one of their shows, Osias was waiting for Alvin to come out of the theater. When Osias felt that his student was taking too long, he went inside the deserted theater, and saw the boy, barely recovered from his injury, dancing alone onstage. The inconvenienced ballet director asked his student angrily, “Anong ginagawa mo?”

The boy replied, “Sir. Di ko na masasayaw ‘yun dito, eh.” It brought everyone to tears, said Osias, a true Pinocchio moment for Alvin.

“The Pinocchio ballet is very popular,” Osias said. “My take on the ballet is really more for children, but the lessons can still be for adults. I made it mine because the play is basically me — I’m a jolly person. I’m a happy person; I always find time to laugh about life’s problems.”

In today’s fast-paced life, both Lisa and Osias commented that the young today are no longer as adept at mastering the discipline ballet instills. “I think the younger generation is more into tricks,” said Lisa. “They are more into the dancing as an athletic form of expression, rather than the artistic form that it’s supposed to be. On YouTube, Instagram, you see five pirouettes, six pirouettes, eight pirouettes, 10 pirouettes. Nawawala ‘yung whole ‘dancer/artist.’ Ang nangyayari ay para kang ‘athlete/trickster/dancer,’ ‘yung ‘artist’ nagiging lesser of a priority. They ask, ‘What should I do to be able to turn?’ or ‘What should I do to be able to jump high?’ It’s to impress. They no longer think of the overall picture. They’re just focused on results.”

Perhaps, this is the subtext behind Ballet Manila’s staging of Pinocchio. Confronted by the world’s harsh realities — Stromboli, the fox, the cat, the whale, etc. — and deceived by immediate rewards, the naïve Pinocchio is led astray. Geppetto, his father and true mentor, journeys far and wide to bring his son back.

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Pinocchio shows on Nov. 27, 28, and Dec. 5 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. at Aliw Theater in Pasay City. Tickets are available at all Ticketworld outlets. Call 891-9999) or visit www.tickedworld.com.ph.












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