Lisa Macuja-Elizalde: An interview with a living legend
by Jel Tordesillas
Lisa Macuja-Elizalde is undoubtedly one of my idols. I used to live, eat, and breathe ballet when I was growing up. It is one of the highlights of my childhood and teen years. Back then, hearing of someone who was handpicked to join the iconic Kirov Ballet was mind blowing, inspiring, and just plain amazing. Lisa was similar to a mythical creature that I couldn’t believe existed.
Some other features in her cap include: Silver Medalist, Asia-Pacific Ballet Competition, Tokyo (1987); Special Prize for Artistry by the House of Diaghilev in Moscow (1992); Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (1997); and The Order of International Friendship awarded by President Vadimir Putin (2001).
In this interview, I learned that Lisa was far from being mythical. While still possessing all of the accolades and characteristics that made me idolize her, she turned out to be a very grounded and very well—human. Like all of us, she has experienced pain, fear, and hurdles. But being Lisa, she went though all of these with grace and beauty. She is more than a prima ballerina, she is a living legend who will continue to inspire all types of people to share beauty to the whole world, whatever form it may take.
Who inspires you and why? Share below in the comments.
Jel: Is being a dancer inborn or earned?
Lisa: You are born with talent and physical attributes-–-the rest of a dancer’s success depends on training and commitment, discipline, and hard work.
Jel: What do you consider as your biggest accomplishment as a dancer?
I am proud of the fact that I have had an international career while being based in Manila.
Jel: You frequently mention your injury as a young girl to be the signal that you were meant to take classical ballet. Isn’t that ironic (because other people would have been discouraged instead)? What if the injury didn’t happen. Do you think that you would have still pursued ballet?
Lisa: Even before the injury happened I was already dead set on becoming a ballerina—which is why I sought after the best possible medical diagnosis and cure. I think that, if my mind was not made up, I would have accepted the first diagnosis, just lived with the injury, and stopped dancing. I have always been a fighter, and the injury was something to fight against.
Jel: What goes through inside your head before your dance performance?
Lisa: Several things really—mainly, the question “Am I ready to go onstage and dance?” and if the answer if, “No”, then I take steps to correct the situation. Sometimes, I get distracted by a text message; a thought about something I have to do after the show; something that happens to another dancer backstage; or a technical matter. Sometimes, I take time to review the choreography and always take time to warm-up. If needed, I try some things out with my partner for extra assurance.
Jel: Can you describe three most unforgettable moments that you had in ballet? In life?
Lisa: I would say, the first time I danced Masha in The Nutcracker at the Marinsky Theater. The first time I danced Kitri in Don Quixote—and got a 20-minute standing ovation afterwards (also an the Marinsky Theater). And the first time I danced my first full-length Swan Lake in Havana, Cuba.
In Life, three unforgettable moments would be: when Fred proposed marriage and I accepted; when my daughter Missy was born; and when my son Manuel was born.
Jel: Was there ever a time that you wanted to quit ballet? What made you stick with it?
Lisa: Yes, there was a time when I got very, very depressed that I didn’t even want to dance anymore. It was a very dark period in my life when someone I loved got very sick. I took a leave-of-absence from work. Then I found acceptance, healing, and peace. Then, I just bounced back to work and learned from the experience.
Jel: A lot of Filipinos, like myself, regard you as one of their idols. In your case, who are the three people you look up to the most (Filipino setting, doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the world of ballet).
I look up to my mom, Susan Macuja and my dad, Cesar Macuja. I really admire them because of the way they brought me up and instilled values in me; the way they sacrificed so much to support me; and basically the way they live their lives and have taken care—and continue to take care—of their family and friends. They have sincerely given me examples of unconditional love.