October 5, 2014
Lisa Macuja, the eternal prima ballerina of Ballet Manila (and the whole country), is celebrating two important life milestones with this classical ballet concert called "Gold." She turned 50 years old last October 3, and it is her 30th year in the profession of the most difficult dance form. I do not really watch ballet, or dance in general, for that matter. However, when an invitation to attend this one-night only special, I knew this rare event should not be missed. She did call this show the last time she would headline a full classical concert.
Unfortunately, we got caught in intense traffic jams within the City of Manila last night, and reached the Aliw Theater almost one hour into the show already. When we got into our seats, we saw the Philippine Madrigal Singers performing "D' Coconut Nut" in a most delightfully fun style, with the soloist doing funky dance moves. This was followed by their version of the ubiquitous hit by Pharell Williams, "Happy." I never thought the Madz performed current pop music and they got the audience clapping along! The last song in their set is a diva-driven "Queen of the Night" by Whitney Houston, headlined by three sopranos in their lineup. During the intermission that followed, I found out from the souvenir program that we had only caught three out of eight songs the Madz sang that night.
The programme also told me that we had missed the entire opening suite starring the celebrant Ms. Lisa Macuja. It was her performance as Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet", with music by Peter Tchaikovsky and choreography by Sergey Vilukov. Ms. Macuja had chosen this ballet to be included because of this was the version from the first year of Ballet Manila, 20 years ago. She calls Juliet a favorite role of hers, so too bad we did not get to see her dance that part.
When the curtains went up after the break and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra (under the baton of Gerard Salonga) began to play, twelve pairs of young men and women in white came out to dance a waltz to music incorporating some familiar tunes from the "Sleeping Beauty" Disney film. This was the opening number of Divertissement from "The Sleeping Beauty," with music also by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Marius Petipa. This was re-staged tonight by Natalia Raldugina (guest Ballet Mistress for Ballet Manila from Russia) and Osias Barroso, Jr. (Ballet Manila's Co-Artistic Director and Ballet Master).
Of course, 50-year old Ms. Lisa Macuja danced the role of Princess Aurora during her 16th birthday party. Anyhow, her delicate facial features, winning smile and sprightly dancing totally belied that age discrepancy. As she danced with four male partners, playing princes who wanted to win her favor, she nailed those difficult on pointe spinning moves over and over. The audience would erupt in applause spontaneously.
We see a hooded monster called the Caraboose give the Princess a bouquet of flowers which unfortunately had a hidden needle which pricked her. A Lilac Fairy (Dawna Mangahas) puts the entire court to sleep and covered the palace with thorns.
Guest dancer Mikhail Martynyuk, Principal Dancer of the Kremlim Ballet Theater, came out to loud applause from the audience, dancing the role of Prince Desire. His athletic dance moves with spinning jumps and serial high leaps really make him stand out from the other male dancers onstage. The pas de deux of Macuja and Martynyuk after the Prince kissed and woke Aurora up was simply exhilarating to watch.
A wedding banquet ensues. At this part, a parade of fairy tale characters took to the stage and danced their spot numbers, like Little Red Riding Hood (Nicole Barroso) and Wolf (John De Dios), a couple of Cats (Missy Elizalde and Jamil Montibon), a couple of Bluebirds (Mylene Aggabao-Salgado and Elpidio Magat) and more fairies.
During the curtain call, Ms. Macuja came out on stage in a glittery golden long gown. She was visibly overwhelmed with emotion at the warm response of the audience. She did not get to speak, but the smile and tears on her face said it all. The orchestra played the Birthday Song and everybody sang along to greet the celebrant. Fountains of fireworks downstage provided a festive end to the event.
No matter how many other much younger dancers there are on the stage, it is impossible to cast any shadow on the brilliance of Ms. Lisa Macuja as a performer. Even a lay person like me with very little knowledge about ballet cannot deny the graceful combination of artistry and athleticism that she possesses, plus that X-factor that makes her stand out among the crowd. Even at 50, she is ageless in action! Even though she had been announcing her retirement since last year with her Swan Song series of shows, I do not see her career ending anytime soon.