Principal dancer Lisa Macuja -Elizalde fondly remembers back in 1995, when the company had only 12 dancers. "We did not have our own studio. We had a makeshift rehearsal area in my parents’ house in Quezon City, but it was not big enough. Every time we had to rehearse as a group, we had to move from one studio to another. There were days when our dancers would warm-up six at a time, kasi hindi
kasya, walang space. It had a mirror pero kalahati lang, we couldn't see our feet," Lisa happily shared.
Nurturing a dance company from the ground, entailed challenges of all types. But the burning passion for performance excellence was so strong, it kept the dance company intact through the decades.
In time Ballet Manila easily won critics' approval, with the remarkable rendition of classical pieces; a result of their rigid Vaganova training. It is a known fact that during her early years Principal Dancer Lisa
Macuja-Elizalde was a scholar at Vaganova Choreographic Institute in Leningrad. She graduated at the top of her class in and became the first foreign soloist to be invited to join the Kirov ballet. "What makes us different from other companies is our commitment to the highest standards of classical ballet based on our Russian Vaganova roots,' Lisa said. Apart from their rigorous training under Lisa's tutelage, Russian teachers are invited every year to closely work with the dancers.
The Ballet Manila School is also directly associated with the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. After years of hard work and dedication, the dance company reaped the fruits of its hard-earned labor. From a mere 12 member dance company, Ballet Manila now has over 50 professional dancers. No longer at the mercy of studio owners, Ballet Manila now has its own facility complete with three rehearsal studios and a music library. The company regularly holds its performances at the Aliw theater and Star Theater, which are both located within Star City at Pasay City.
For their 20th anniversary, "BM 2.0" highlights their triumphant 20 years with a significant repertoire tracing the company road to success. "I warded off the temptation to wax sentimental. I decided that a celebratory mood was in order. The anniversary show will joyfully celebrate the distinct qualities that helped define Ballet Manila over the last 20 years, " Lisa said. The show will open with "Paquita", a staple in the early performances of Ballet Manila. "It represents our Vaganova training. It was danced for many generations at the Academy of Russian Ballet. It’s traditional and powerful, something that shows off the technical efinement of our dancers," she explained.
The anniversary concert will also honor members of the BM family who have made waves in the international scene. "We welcome back our alumna, Christine Rocas, who has been enjoying a successful career at
Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. She will perform with her regular partner, Rory Hohenstein."
"BM 2.0" will also feature the company's global initiatives via artistic collaborations with international choreographers. The concert marks the world premier of "Bloom" by Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. "Through the years Ballet Manila has worked with various international artists. 'Bloom' is actually Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's first work for an Asian dance company."
As a fitting tribute to their mission, the company will do "Tara Let's" which showcases Filipino music and choreography. "This reaffirms our commitment to bring the ballet to the people and people to the ballet. It
was originally done by BM principal artist Gerardo Francisco for the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference."
Lastly, a dancer's undying commitment is highlighted in "Ecole" a piece about their daily grind from the warm-up exercises to their stage performance. "Ecole" was created by BM co-artistic director Osias Barroso and was first performed in 1999. It has become a “rite of passage” for two generations of BM dancers. According to Lisa, "Ecole" is doubly significant because it ushers in a new generation of local talent. "It will focus on the next generation of dancers. It will also show the future of Ballet Manila because it will feature
our top students and scholars from both the BM School and Project Ballet Futures," she said. Project Ballet Futures is a dance scholarship program established in 2008. It provides ballet education to public school students. Along with the ballet classes, the students are given full meals, vitamins and other nourishments
good for six days of the week, as well as ballet uniforms and shoes. The scholars will all perform in "BM 2.0".
Lisa Macuja-Elizalde continues her work as the company's Artistic Director and CEO. She is at the helm of all show productions and will continue to hone young artists at the Ballet Manila School. In 2011 she announced her retirement with a three-year "Swan Song Series" which featured her final performance of full-length ballet classics.
“BM 2.0” goes on stage on February 28, 7:30 p.m. and March 1, 3:00 p.m. at the Aliw Theater in Pasay City. Tickets are available at Ticketworld, www.ticketworld.com.ph, 891 9999.