Lisa Macuja-Elizalde has achieved a dream that is generally believed to be impossible for a classical ballerina in the Philippines – bringing ballet to the people and people to the ballet. Undoubtedly the most phenomenal ballerina the country has ever produced, the easiest way to sum up her unparalleled career is by totting up the numbers: 32 years of dancing the lead in almost 350 full-length ballets, performed in 90 cities that span five continents around the globe.
A true believer not only in the immense talent of the Filipino artist but also the underlying capacity of the local audience to embrace the classical arts, she returned home after four years in Russia, determined to be a Philippine-based international artist. Since then, she has endeavored to make ballet a spectacle that is accessible and enjoyable to her own countrymen.
Lisa began studying ballet at the age of eight under Felicitas Radaic at the St Theresa’s College School of Dance, where she advanced to become a member of the semi-professional Dance Theater Philippines. In 1982, she received a scholarship from the USSR Ministry of Culture to study at the formidable Vaganova Choreographic Institute (now the Academy of Russian Ballet) in Saint Petersburg under the tutelage of Tatiana Alexandrovna Udalenkova.
Having graduated at the top of her class in 1984, she became the first foreigner to be invited to join as soloist of the historic Kirov Ballet – a revered institution in Dance that has produced some of Russia’s most iconic ballerinas and danseurs over the last three centuries. Here, she debuted as principal ballerina in full-length productions of The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and Giselle at the Mariinsky Theater.
Returning to Manila in 1986, she was named the first artist-in-residence of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and performed as guest artist with Ballet Philippines until 1988, when she became principal of the Philippine Ballet Theatre.
As a Philippine-based ballerina, Lisa raised awareness for ballet by frequently appearing in media programs, doing commercial endorsement, as well as dancing in non-traditional venues all over the country. At the same time, as an international guest artist, she represented the country in numerous festivals and concerts in Asia, the United States, Europe, Australia and South America.
In 1995, she established her own company, Ballet Manila, which has since grown and flourished into the most sough-after and prolific professional Filipino ballet company now poised to enter its 22nd season.
Moving her creativity forward beyond dancing, Lisa unveiled her first full-length choreography, Cinderella, as Ballet Manila’s holiday production in 2016. Its resounding success gave way to a second children’s ballet, Snow White, scheduled for its world premiere in November 2017. Previous to these two productions, she has choreographed Ang Labindalawang Masasayang Prinsesa as part of the trilogy, Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang, as well as short pieces for the BM School.
Since 2016, she has been a Jury Member of the Asian Grand Prix international ballet competition in Hong Kong. She was also a Jury Member of the Korean National Ballet Competition in July 2017.
Lisa has received numerous citations attesting to her world-class achievements. The major ones include: the Philstage Gawad Buhay Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011; the Order of International Friendship (awarded by Russian President Vladimir Putin) in 2001; the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP U.S.A.) in 1997; The Outstanding Young Filipino (TOYF) in 1995; The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) in 1989; the special Prize for Artistry by the House of Diaghilev (Moscow) in 1992; Quezon City’s Outstanding Citizen Award in 1989; and Manila’s Patnubay ng Kalinangan at Sining in 1988. She is also the first Filipino ballerina to bring home a laureate prize – a silver medal -- from the Asia-Pacific Ballet Competition (Tokyo) in 1987.
Such is her contribution to the popularization of ballet in the Philippines that in 2012, she became the first classical artist to be awarded Entertainer of the Year by the Aliw Awards Foundation.