Three world class muses—ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, pianist Cecile Licad and singer Lea Salonga—will be sharing the stage for the first time at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Produced by Ballet Manila (BM), “The Legends and the Classics” shows that these Filipinas at the apex of their respected fields are even getting better through the years.
Director Roxanne Lapus and musical director Gerard Salonga selected a repertoire that will consist of Original Pilipino Music (OPM), classics and Broadway and popular themes and some classical ballet numbers.
In an interview with the Inquirer, the artists talk about midlife and the lessons the performing arts have taught them.
Known for her extraordinary range of touch, hypersensitivity to dynamics and obsession with perfection, pianist Cecile Licad finds greater freedom at 50 (she turns 51 in May).
She admits there were rough waters in her life. The journey is never smooth, yet she manages to hurdle the challenges. (She destresses by puffing Marlboro Lights and eats red chili before a concert, hence, the sometimes temperamental performance.)
On a personal level, Licad enjoys solitude, the moments of reclaiming the self after being involved in a relationship. She was married, divorced, and “had people in my life.”
Today her life revolves around playing 25 concerts a year and practicing for them. She has discovered that being by herself has brought in very positive things, such as mental clarity and a more vivid imagination.
Licad spends her life with her son, Ottavio Licad-Meneses, 24, who appreciates her music and understands her artist’s idiosyncracies.
Licad says she’s constantly searching for ways to plumb the depths of a score.
“People think it’s all about playing the notes right,” she says. “A piece of music does not say anything. It’s just a bunch of the notes. But if you look at the score, there’s something between those notes that you have to conquer. Otherwise, the music doesn’t do anything, and it can’t relate to anybody.”
Licad is also more forgiving about committing mistakes in a live performance. A distortion or a kink can actually add more character, she explains.
“You can’t always aim for perfection in a live performance. Sometimes, things don’t happen according to the plan. You have to go deep into yourself—into the unknown—and be in a place where you’ve never been. If you are well-prepared, you can discover something that enriches you forever.”
The New York Times lauded Lea Salonga’s voice as “bright, metallically edged” and “a shiny all-purpose instrument that comfortably establishes its dominion over whatever musical setting it surrounds.”
At 41, she is building a reputation as an international concert artist. Her Lawrence Olivier and Tony trophies are no guarantees for jobs for performers with ethnic backgrounds. Still, Salonga has been fortunate to have a management team to get her bookings till 2013 and to generate interest in her talent.
She says performing in the Philippines can be humbling. “I can be at CCP or PICC with an audience of 3,000 and I know I have everybody’s attention. I don’t have to try very hard. I’ll be in a gig at a ballroom of a hotel or at SMX and I’ll sing with the same effort and no one will listen.”
Salonga recalls an event where she and her duet partner sang with so much effort but the audience was oblivious to them even after the performers said “Thank you.”
“My attitude is to change. In corporate gig or a private engagement, if I find out who is in the audience or I see familiar face, it would put me at ease. I know there would be at least two people who would be on my side.”
Salonga says the great thing about maturity is discovering depth in songs which she never found when she was 25. “There’s so much stuff that you can relate to because it happened in your life. When you’re younger and without experience, it is harder to picture. When you sing, it’s easier to pull stuff out of your memory track than from your imagination.”
When Salonga gets stuck in a song, she’ll get in touch with her mentors in London, New York and Los Angeles. “The teacher would say, ‘You have it in there. You just have to figure a way out to do this.’”
The concert reunites her with brother Gerard. “He arranges music based on where the individual sweet spots are. He makes any singer look good because he considers where the singers feel comfortable and where they can push without sounding forced. It’s important for a vocalist because you don’t want any anxiety.”
As she girds for retirement in 2014, Ballet Manila’s artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde manages to pull surprises. After her 47th birthday, she executed her signature bravura 32 fouettés (whipping turns) six weeks after surgery on her left foot in “Swan Lake.”
Then she produces a casting coup in “The Legends and the Classics.” She will again dazzle the audience with the 32 fouettés in “Paquita Grand Pas de Deux.”
She will also reveal her dramatic prowess in “Dying Swan,” a solo of a swan confronting death and its ugliness as rendered by the arms that evoke the beating of the wings. US-based cellist Wilfrido Pasamba will be flown in to accompany Licad to the music by Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Le Cygne” (The Swan).
“When I was younger, I was a very flashy dancer and I liked showing off. Now there is the whole package—the strong technique, life’s experience, and the confidence to let go and enjoy. After the performance, I go home to my kids. I don’t have to have the adulation or feel the negative comments from people saying, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this,’” she says, referring to her foray into contemporary dance in the latter part of her career.
Macuja-Elizalde is unfazed that she is not as buoyant in elevation or as flexible in leg extensions compared with younger members of her company. “I accept it and move on.”
In rehearsals, she asks the associate artistic director and ballet master Osias Barroso whether she moves like an old lady. On the contrary, she’s a bundle of steely muscles onstage and remains an artist in her element.
But it’s also her courage and iron will that have made her one of the country’s most influential women in the arts. With the patronage of her husband, tycoon Fred Elizalde, she is able to bring BM to a world-class standard; produce an award-winning radio talk show “Art2Art”; import the best talents (on her 48th birthday in October, she will perform “Don Quixote” with a guest artist from Bolshoi); and offer more surprises. “Between now and age 50, I’ll do what I can,” she says.
“The Legends and the Classics” will be held on March 17, 8 p.m., and March 18, 6 p.m., at CCP, presented by Ballet Manila and Manila Broadcasting Co., with the Lifestyle Network.
Tickets are available at TicketWorld outlets. See www.ticketworld.com.ph or call 8919999.