"Especially remarkable is Lisa Macuja, who is exceptionally gifted. She is striking. She is like a spark, a spark full of life. She is graceful and virtuosic in her technique. She excites the audience. This is a great art; and it is her art and her natural talent."
–Konstantin Mikhailovich Sergeyev premier danseur (1930–61), artistic director and chief choreographer (1951–55; 1960–70), Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballet.
"Lisa is hailed as the 'ballerina of the people. No Filipina ballerina has yet surpassed the recognition and pride Lisa Macuja-Elizalde has brought to the Philippines. She is the embodiment of talent, creativity and imagination, technical proficiency of the highest order, grace, and humanity that makes her worthy of the title of National Artist,"
–Miriam Defensor-Santiago, July 2012.
Lisa was born at Lourdes Hospital in the City of Manila, Philippines. She is the daughter of Cesar Macuja and Susan Pacheco. Lisa is the second among four siblings. Her elder brother, Julio II (Joly) was born in 1963. She had a younger brother who was a teenage actor and musical artist named Jerome who was born in 1967, but died in a car accident on September 30, 1984, just three days before her 20th birthday, during her first season at the Kirov Ballet. She is the sister of Gia Macuja Atchison, an actress and musical artist, who was born in 1971, and who is married to musician Robert Atchison. A Catholic, Lisa attended St. Theresa's College in Quezon City, Philippines, where she was a consistent honor student in grade school until she graduated salutatorian in her high school class.
At age 8, she started her first ballet class with Felicitas Layag-Radaic as her mentor, who kept a vigilant eye on her early years as a ballerina, and saw her through five Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) syllabus examinations in the ten years while she was under her school. At age 11, she danced onstage for the first time in a ballet recital called Twinkle Toes in Tinsel Land that was shown on February 29, 1976 at the Meralco Theater, Pasig City, Philippines. She was an apprentice and young soloist of Dance Theater Philippines (DTP). She received her advanced certificate from the Royal Academy of Dancing, and earned a scholarship to the Vaganova Choreographic Institute in Leningrad. She danced with the renowned Kirov Ballet between 1984 and 1986. She returned to Manila in 1986 and became the first artist-in-residence of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) while dancing with Ballet Philippines. In 1988, she became a ballerina of the Philippine Ballet Theater (PBT) and had since remained Philippine-based, performing as principal ballerina in major local productions and as international guest artist in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand. In 1995, she established her very own ballet company, Ballet Manila, envisioned as a ballet company by the dancers, of the dancers and for the dancers, dance training and education rank among the foremost priorities of the group under the watchful eyes of Macuja-Elizalde and ballet master Osias Barroso, who have drilled the company in the highly-rigorous Russian (Vaganova) method of classical ballet.
During the first 10 years of Ballet Manila’s touring, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde has led the company on four performance tours of 16 cities in Russia, four performance tours of 15 cities in the United States, and in arts festivals such as the Aberdeen Youth Festival in Scotland, and the Folk Arts Festival in South Korea, the Asia Arts Festival in Beijing, China, the Angkor-Gyeongju World Culture Expo in Angkor-Wat, Cambodia and the Philippine Fiesta in Japan. She also led her company in outreach performance tours of more than 45 cities and towns throughout the Philippines.
In 1982, Lisa was a scholar of the USSR Ministry of Culture when she entered the Vaganova Choreographic Institute, currently known as the Academy of Russian Ballet at Saint Petersburg, Russia. Lisa trained under former Kirov ballerina Tatiana Alexandrovna Udalenkova who taught her the Russian Vaganova technique. At the Leningrad Choreographic School, Lisa was coached by Natalia M. Dudinskaya, then, under the artistic director Konstantin Sergeyev. She graduated at the top of her class in 1984, as she became the first foreign soloist to be invited to join the Kirov ballet. At the Kirov, Lisa was taught by Galina P. Kekisheva, under artistic director, Oleg Vinogradov. It was at the historical Maryinsky Theater that Lisa first premiered as principal ballerina in The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and Giselle.
In 1984, on a television interview during the 245th graduation program of the Leningrad Choreographic School at St. Petersburg, Russia, Konstantin Sergeyev spoke this words in Russian language (translated to English) about Lisa Macuja: "Especially remarkable is Lisa Macuja, who is exceptionally gifted. She is striking. She is like a spark, a spark full of life. She is graceful and virtuosic in her technique. She excites the audience. This is a great art; and it is her art and her natural talent."
She received an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies in 2004, and her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management (with honors) in 2007, from the University of Phoenix, U.S., which is an online correspondence school
On July 2012, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, in a resolution filed on Monday, urged President Benigno Aquino III to confer on prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde the title of National Artist for Dance.
Santiago said she filed Senate Resolution 808, after watching "World Stars of Ballet," which starred Macuja-Elizalde.
Macuja was the first foreign soloist in the prestigious Kirov Ballet, also known as the Imperial Russian Ballet.
"Lisa is hailed as the 'ballerina of the people.' No Filipina ballerina has yet surpassed the recognition and pride Lisa Macuja-Elizalde has brought to the Philippines. She is the embodiment of talent, creativity and imagination, technical proficiency of the highest order, grace, and humanity that makes her worthy of the title of National Artist," Santiago said.
Awards and recognitions
· Special Prize for Artistry by the House of Diaghilev in Moscow (1992)
· International Diaghilev Ballet Competition in Moscow, Russia, 5th Place (1992)
· USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, Semi-Finalist (Senior Division) (1990)
· Quezon City's Outstanding Citizen Award (1989)
· Manila's Patnubay ng Kalinangan at Sining (1988)
· Asia-Pacific Ballet Competition in Tokyo, Silver Medal (1987)
· Pearl of the Orient Award (2008)
· The Order of International Friendship awarded by Russian President Vladimir Putin (2001)
· Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP U.S.A, 1997)
· Ten Outstanding Young Filipinos (TOYF, 1995)
· The Outstanding Women in Nation's Service (TOWNS, 1989)
· Outstanding female lead performance in a dance production (Gawad Buhay Awards for the Performing Arts, 2008)