For prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, dancing as Masha or the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” is like receiving a Christmas present each time.
“From my debut at the age of 19 in the Marinsky Theater in the student performances given by the Russian Ballet Academy to the time, almost 30 years later, when I shared the role with my daughter Missy as the young Masha, ‘The Nutcracker’ is always a big, happy time of celebration,” she says.
“You just get caught up in the story as its many enchanting scenes unfold onstage,” Lisa says of the popular Christmas ballet. “The music of Tchaikovsky alone is enough to transport you to a world of dancing dolls, giant rats and magical transformations—from Nutcracker to Prince, and from an awkward child who doesn’t fit in on Christmas Eve to a glamorous Sugar Plum Fairy.”
For the final year of her Swan Song Series, in which she is saying goodbye to her favorite full-length classics, Lisa just had to put “The Nutcracker” on the list. Appropriately enough, in this season of giving, she is donating ticket proceeds to typhoon relief efforts.
She is dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy on Nov. 29, Dec. 1 and 7 at Aliw Theater, Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, Pasay City.
Masha is actually Lisa’s most performed role in its excerpt form. Her father Cesar Macuja’s records say the total is 234 times for dancing the adagio from Act 2 alone, while she has danced the full-length ballet 37 times.
“There are countless versions of ‘The Nutcracker’ choreography, but the first version I learned in Leningrad—that of Vassily Vainonen, under the tutelage of Tatiana Udalenkova—is still the closest to my heart. The fiendishly difficult hopping variation was the dance that got me the silver medal in the Asian Pacific International Ballet Competition in Tokyo in 1987. The big adagio from Act 2 is always a wonderful opening to Ballet Manila’s ‘Ballet & Ballads’ concerts while the small adagio from Act 1 remains one of my most favorite adagios to perform,” Lisa enumerates.
Her forthcoming “Nutcracker” performances, with music by Peter Tchaikovsky and choreography by Vassily Vainonen, is being restaged by Osias Barroso Jr., Eileen Lopez and Jonathan Janolo. The Manila Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Alexander Vikulov, is featured in select shows.
Lisa’s final “Nutcracker” shows are made more memorable as it reunites her with her daughter Missy Elizalde as the young Masha. They first performed together in Ballet Manila’s production of the Christmas ballet in 2010.
Jessa Balote, a scholar of Ballet Manila’s Project Ballet Futures, will dance as Masha in the Dec. 8 fundraiser for the Philippine Christian Foundation, which runs the school in Tondo where Balote is an honors student. Proceeds from this last performance will be used to establish an arts-and-dance center in Smokey Mountain.
Ballet Manila senior soloist Dawna Mangahas alternates with Lisa as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“The Nutcracker ”cast also includes Rudy de Dios and Junmark Sumaylo, alternating as the Nutcracker Prince; Alfren Salgado, Romeo Peralta, Glenn Ragel, Elpidio Magat and Manny Febra as Cavaliers; Marcus Tolentino as Drosselmeyer; Alvin Santos and Anselmo Dictado, alternating as Fritz; Gerardo Francisco and Roduardo Ma, alternating as the Harlequin Doll; Mylene Aggabao-Salgado as Columbine; and Sergio Capa as the Moor.
Rites of passage
For ballet dancers, performing in “The Nutcracker” is akin to a rite of passage.
Lisa says, “Ask any senior member of Ballet Manila and he or she would have taken on several different roles in the ballet through the years: from the children dancing under the Christmas tree, to a Rat or a Toy Soldier, to even as far as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince principal roles themselves! It is a ballet that one can easily associate with growing up!”
Definitely, this year’s “The Nutcracker” will hold special meaning to the prima ballerina as she says goodbye to a beloved role. She is confident the ballet’s story will resonate with today’s audiences as it has for many generations.
“The generous spirit of the girl who falls in love with the ugliest toy under the Christmas tree inspires us all to celebrate the season with good cheer, warm hearts and simple joys!” she says.
Swan Song Series Year 3 has BPI Credit Cards and Multimedia Exponents (MME) as major sponsors, with special thanks to Island Rose.
Ballet Manila’s 18th performance season is co-presented by Manila Broadcasting Company and Aliw Theater; with major sponsors MME, ACS Manufacturing Company (Pride and Shield soap) and First United Travel, and minor sponsor Seair; and special thanks to Island Rose, Ralph’s Wines and Spirits and Star City.
Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s Swan Song Series performances are on Nov. 29, Dec. 1 and 7. Call Ticketworld at 8919999; visit ticketworld.com.ph.
Ballet Manila’s Subscribers’ Night is on Nov. 30. For the full schedule of “The Nutcracker,” call Ballet Manila at 5255967 or 4000292; visit www. balletmanila.com.ph and www.lisamacuja.com.