“If my 21-year-old body could dance again,” Lisa Macuja-Elizalde says with a hearty laugh, “I would love to portray Violetta in La Traviata, a dream role that I didn’t get to dance.” Choreographer Rudy de Dios
Jun Mendoza
Lisa Macuja-Elizalde tackles the tragic tale of ‘La Traviata’ in Ballet Manila’s season-ender
OOH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2020 - 12:00am

It has already been four years since Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, the exceptionally gifted ballerina who dazzled the world, hung up her tutus and pointe shoes, but she still gets excited at the thought of portraying one of her dream roles onstage.

“There are ballets that I would love to dance again, like Romeo and Juliet,” shared Lisa. “I was able to dance five different versions of Juliet. If given a chance, I’d like to be Juliet in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a musical. It’s so pretty and beautiful.”

“And if my 21-year-old body could dance again,” she adds with a hearty laugh, “I would love to portray Violetta in La Traviata, a dream role that I didn’t get to dance.”

So what’s the prima ballerina and Ballet Manila’s artistic director got to do?

What else but to tackle the tragic tale La Traviata, not as a principal dancer but as a choreographer in Ballet Manila’s season-ender?

“While creating the choreography, I was tempted — at one point — to make the role of Violetta easy enough so that I could dance it,” Lisa admits.

Based on Giuseppe Verdi’s opera of the same title, La Traviata is the story of the courtesan Violetta and Alfredo, the man who falls for her and whom she loves in return. But while the passion between them is intense, Violetta is torn, as Alfredo can’t offer her the same material comforts she has been enjoying as the partner of Barone. She later chooses to remain with the latter, driving Alfredo to despair. Soon, Violetta becomes ill; she is reunited with Alfredo but it’s already too late and dies in his arms.

“La Traviata is my favorite opera,” says Lisa. “It’s so romantic and every aria is just so beautiful and moving. I was exposed to the beautiful music of Verdi as a teenager.”

Lisa recalls first seeing La Traviata on film (with Russian subtitles)  — starring Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas — while she was still living in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the 1980s.

“By that time, I was already comfortable reading, writing and speaking Russian. I was very, very moved by it and found myself still crying at the end,” she recalls.

Lisa feels that La Traviata is a perfect fit for a ballet. “The story lends itself to a ballet so beautifully.”

And I wasn’t surprised why Violetta remains her dream role.

“It’s dramatic and very emotional,” she explains. “And, you know, when you’re a ballerina, you’re like a chameleon. You get to change your entire persona onstage.”

La Traviata stars Nicole Barroso as Violetta, Mark Sumaylo as Alfredo, John Ralp Ballot as Giorgio Germont, and Joshua Enciso as Barone.

Ballet Manila closes 24th season with a twin bill                                           

Lisa’s latest choreography is paired with another new work in Ballet Manila’s 24th season-ender, titled Carmina Burana & La Traviata: A Double Bill, which goes onstage today, March 7, 6 p.m., and tomorrow, March 8, 3 p.m. at Samsung Hall, SM Aura, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

A cantata based on a series of 13th-century songs, Carmina Burana is the first full-length work of former Ballet Manila principal dancer Rudy De Dios.

A pretty challenging feat for Rudy, since Carmina Burana doesn’t follow a narrative and the music itself is plot-less.

“That’s what I told Rudy,” Lisa says. “Because if it’s going to be just one cantata after another and if it’s going to be abstract dancing, our audience will not be able to relate. And Rudy rose to the challenge.”

Leading the ensemble of Carmina Burana are Romeo Peralta as Solom, Gerardo Francisco as Spreo, Joan Sia as Agape, and John Ralp Balagot as Atheos.

Carmina Burana & La Traviata: A Double Bill was an offshoot of two collaborations that Ballet Manila had with the Klassikal Music Foundation upon the invitation of baritone Andrew Fernando.

In a concert at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, KMF presented excerpts from Carmina Burana with Rudy tasked to create a corresponding choreography.

Another KMF show that was mounted in Star Theater featured an excerpt from La Traviata, with Lisa providing the choreography for the numbers Libiamo and Zinferelle and the Matador’s Dance.

And so, the idea to put together a double bill expanding on those excerpts was born. The ballet production was originally envisioned to include a live orchestra and singing by KMF talents.

“Unfortunately, the fire that struck the Star City Complex damaged Ballet Manila’s home theaters, Star and Aliw. So the plan had to be drastically simplified,” says Lisa. “I couldn’t use the entire opera. We’re going to be dancing to a recording. Choosing exactly which arias to put into the ballet was very challenging. Sometimes I would go into rehearsals with a blank mind, not really knowing what to do.”

Slowly, Lisa found her groove and completed the piece way ahead of time.

“I even wanted to add more arias to La Traviata, but I couldn’t anymore due to time constraints since we’re mounting a twin bill.”

After the final rehearsals, Lisa was overwhelmed with emotions and cried buckets.

“Witnessing my vision come alive on stage is an amazing thing,” Lisa enthuses. “I just can’t wait for people to see what I’ve been pouring my heart into the past few months.”

So yes, Ballet Manila’s season-ender deserves a full house.

* * *?

For tickets, call SM Ticketnet at 8470-2222 or visit www.smtickets.com.

CHOREOGRAPHER RUDY DE DIOS LIZA MACUJA
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