‘Snow White’ the second time around
When Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde worked on her first full-length ballet, Cinderella, in 2016, she had unknowingly started the ball rolling for her own Princess Trilogy as a choreographer.
Though she experienced jitters over her debut effort, she also embraced the challenge of telling the story in movement whole-heartedly. The choreography bug bit her – hard -- that before she knew it, she was already creating a second ballet even as she had yet to finish her first one. Thus did the equally enchanting fairy tale that is Snow White come to be in 2017.
“I labeled the initial notes for my libretto as ‘The Next One’ in my files!” recalls Lisa of that time when was still putting finishing touches on Cinderella. From there, she just kept going, moving towards a third installment in what had become a full-blown series, with her version of Sleeping Beauty making its premiere in December.
But before that happens, Lisa is excited to bring back Snow White in September to open Ballet Manila’s 24th season dubbed On Pointe as it actually paves the way for Sleeping Beauty. That’s because in her “princess universe,” Cinderella and Snow White know Princess Aurora and all three will be together in the grand finale to the trilogy.
“That’s the twist. I made them royal friends. So we had to factor in the continuity. We presented Cinderella again last season. Now, it’s Snow White who’s returning, so the public could see both princesses again – before they meet Princess Aurora,” she notes.
She is happy that her second fairy tale ballet is ushering in Ballet Manila’s next performance season. “I love the fact that we are opening our 24th season with Snow White because it captures the FUN everyone needs to have when watching and dancing ballet,” Lisa enthuses.
Music served as her inspiration for interpreting Snow White. “For me as a choreographer, the music always comes first. So the idea to create my own version of Snow White really came after I started listening to music and found a collection of suites by Massenet.”
Expectedly, Snow White is steeped in the ballet tradition that Lisa knows by heart and in which she was further honed in Russia as a student at the Leningrad Choreographic Institute and as a soloist with the Kirov Ballet. “It uses the classical steps and style because I believe in sticking to what you know. I know my classical ballets very well and I have a wealth of classical ballet steps in my dancer’s vocabulary.”
The first scene that she choreographed turned out to be the opening scene which Lisa called “The Queen’s Facial.” In it, the Evil Queen is seen being pampered and beautified by palace helpers, as she preens before the magic mirror – with her twin “reflection” (performed by another dancer) keeping in sync with all her movements.
“That scene once again propelled me through the rest of the story and the ballet. Coming on the heels of the success of Cinderella, I felt enormous pressure doing Snow White; but I was very inspired by my cast of dancers. All the dancers I worked with helped a lot. I love how sometimes they would make their own stories or comment or even do some moves during rehearsals that I would end up using.”
Like with Cinderella, Lisa wanted the Snow White audience to be entertained and to be caught up in the story unfolding on stage. Thus, she injected humor into the show, which was quite easy to do with the band of seven dwarfs around. There is also a thrill factor as Snow White flees to the forest and encounters an assortment of animals – the deer family, bunnies and birds – who become her friends. And of course, the fairy tale offers a touch of romance as the Prince rescues Snow White with a gentle kiss.
More than anything, what has motivated Lisa in creating her princess ballets is the happiness that it will bring to her prospective viewers, mainly children. “I always try to choreograph with the audience in mind. I always want to create a ballet that they would want to come back to again and again because of all the good feelings the performance evokes.”
Indeed, what Lisa hopes is that shows like Snow White will contribute to building ballet viewership. “When I am choreographing, I am normally just thinking about the two-year-old budding balletomanes in the audience that will be watching and hopefully asking their parents to bring them again to the ballet in the future. And then hopefully, when these kids grow up and have families of their own, they too will bring their kids to the ballet.”