February 14, 2004 (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes - Ballet Manila may just be on its ninth year as one of the countryís most respected classical ballet companies, but its prime movers, artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and ballet master/premiere danseur Osias Barroso, have been dancing together for 16 years now. In fact, when they step on the stage of Star Theater at Star City later this month for BMís production of Don Quixote, its first full-length presentation for its 2004 season, Macuja-Elizalde and Barroso might just be saying goodbye to the roles of Kitri and Basilio, respectively.

Both dancers are just being pragmatic. In a field where athleticism, speed and virtuosity are at a premium, along with looks and dramatic talent, dancing these demanding roles in this comic ballet could mean agonizing aches and pains the day after every performance, or worse, even an injury during one.

"Although Don Quixote is already part of our bodies, and we can dance Don Quixote tomorrow at short notice, the next day, patay ka!" Macuja-Elizalde declares with a laugh.

If thereís anyone who knows more about the perils of dancing, it is she. She turns 40 this year and she still dances the heroines in the classical ballet repertoire. Last year she starred in BMís productions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, as well as Eric Cruzís version of Carmen; the previous year she starred in Giselle. She attributes her longevity to the Vaganova technique she learned when she studied in Russia in the early í80s and is now teaching avidly at her dance company.

"Osias and I are still dancing at our level at this stage in our careers because of the Vaganova method," she declares. "The Vaganova is known as the technique that conserves, preserves and lengthens the careers of dancers. Among my generation, I am the only one who still dances at the standard expected of me."

Barroso agrees that he only learned to dance well three or four years after he officially started his formal partnership with Macuja-Elizalde in 1988.

"I was already dancing for six years when I first met Lisa," the danseur says. "I had to retrain with her during that time and it took me around three or four years. I only realized this when the critics noticed it and declared that I had metamorphosed as a dancer."

When they first partnered each other in 1988 in a production by Philippine Ballet Theater of Chopiniana, it was all an accident. A leading male danseur who was supposed to dance with Macuja-Elizalde suddenly had to leave for abroad, while his alternate, another up-and-coming dancer, was tardy at rehearsals. Barroso was given the role instead.

"I remember the first time we had to practice," the ballerina recalls. "May sore eyes siya. So, each time we had to rehearse, he would hand me a bottle of rubbing alcohol to rub myself with. He also couldnít manage to lift me during an overlift."

They sealed their partnership in 1995 when Macuja-Elizalde founded Ballet Manila. For a year, they traveled around the Philippines spreading the gospel of classical ballet around the country. They performed in venues, which were simply unsuitable for dance performances, and did all the clerical and production work themselves. The move further sealed her title as ballerina of the masses, an epithet she earned from endorsements and commercials she did following her triumphant homecoming from her studies in Russia in 1986.

An ambitious project to bring to the Philippines 30 dancers from the Krasnoyarsk Ballet in Siberia proved to be the deciding factor in Ballet Manilaís then fledgling career.

"When we started, the whole dance community gave us two years to survive," she admits. "In 1996, we had this big project of importing 30 Russian dancers to celebrate my 10th year as a Philippine-based ballerina."

The project proved to be a success, with the company making money from the venture and receiving corporate support for the effort.

"And this happened even before I met Fred," she says, referring to her husband radio mogul Fred Elizalde. "It was evidence that Ballet Manila could make it on its own."

Her marriage to Elizalde proved to be a deciding point for the dance company. With her husband as her patron, Ballet Manila finally found a home for its productions, first at Star Theater and later the Aliw Theater, at the Star City complex at the CCP complex. With Star City as a magnet for families and the barkada, a trip to the theme park often meant a few hours at a Ballet Manila production.

Through these years, Macuja-Elizalde and Barroso have grown from their partnership.

"I think a steady partnership really makes you grow as an artist, because you build confidence," she says. "You anticipate each otherís move, you have rapport, timing and trust, just like in any relationship. With time, itís just the two of you dancing, and at each performance, it just gets better and better."

Although they plan to continue dancing for as long as they can, they have faced the reality that they will have to retire.

Barroso has already declared his intention of hanging his shoes next year when he turns 40, but his partner has convinced him to delay it at least until the companyís 10th anniversary next year.

"I want him to retire on my 20th year," Macuja-Elizalde says.

"If I wait until our 20th year, baka mag-bow na lang kami when we go on stage," he says. "I want to stay dancing with her for as long as she can, unless if she finds a very good dancer for a partner again."

As BM ballet master, he is already grooming a number of strong male dancers in the company to eventually take over his partnering duties.

However, Macuja-Elizalde isnít sure if sheíll last as long as many of balletís dance legends.

"If I donít get pregnant again, I give myself a maximum of five years to dance to my standards," she admits. "But if I get pregnant again, itís goodbye partnership, goodbye career again."

True, but the two are confident that when the time finally comes to say goodbye to ballet, they will have trained Ballet Manilaís dancers to take up where they will leaving from.

* * *

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Osias Barroso celebrate the 16th anniversary of their dance partnership with the full-length production of Don Quixote at Star Theater, with performances from Feb. 20 to 22 and 27 to 29. Also dancing the demanding roles of Kitri and Basilio are Sandra Lynn Huang, Marian Faustino, Jerome Espejo and Gerardo Francisco. For ticket inquiries, call Joyce at 400-0292, 404-3086 or 525-5967.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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