Manila Ballet Soars As Aliw Theater Rises From The Ashes

The newly reconstructed Aliw Theatre. Totel V. of Jesus

MANILA — “Ngayon Damante Comfort Rooms!” A highly respected music and dance writer said during the soft opening of the newly rebuilt Aliw Theater in the renovated Elizalde complex in the city of Pasay.

There are eight in total, ABS-CBN News learned from one of the ushers, and they’re split evenly for men and women in the theater. It’s a relief, in a way, for regular movie-goers with bladder issues who still struggle to find the nearest comfort rooms – crucial little details that other performance venues in the metro area of Manila take for granted.

We witness the return of Ballet Manila to live performances and the reopening of the Aliw Theater on August 10, when the dance company performed excerpts from “La Traviata”, “Cinderella” and “Romeo and Juliet” by Martin Lawrence.

“It’s great to be back with a real live performance. There’s nothing like living after two years of video, filmmaking, teaching ballet online,” Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, founding CEO and creative director of Ballet Manila, told the audience comprised of journalists covering the arts as well as actors and agitators in the theater and performing arts industries.

“The Manila Ballet comes back leaner, meaner and ready to adapt,” Macuja-Elizalde said, as a victory motto.

The dance company, like everyone else, has been forced to migrate online for its lessons and performances since quarantines and pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020, roughly two and a half years ago.

But before that, a fire engulfed the Star City amusement park that spread to the theater on October 2, 2019.

“We decided when the fire happened that we were going to rebuild and improve. But it was decided that rebuilding an exact copy of the Aliw Theater was out of the question. [Rest assured] we were going to improve, make things better for artists and audiences,” Macuja-Elizalde said.

“Before, we had a capacity of 2,300 people. We were bringing busloads of kids to watch the ballet and then doing whatever you could in the park (Star City Amusement) after the show. We brought families to the show and rode at will at the park. It was a sweet and difficult affair. It was something that helped us in our vision and our mission to bring ballet to people and bring people to ballet,” she recalls.

“I really didn’t think we were going to change anything drastically and make our theater smaller. So now we are at 1,275 seats. If we put down this orchestra pit (pointing to the front of the stage), we lose about 200 seats,” she added.

Again, she recalled, when enrollment classes at the Lisa Macuja School of Ballet (LMSB) migrated online, enrollment increased. Besides students from the Philippines, both in Metro Manila and in the provinces, there were enrollees from Bahrain, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Portugal, United States United States and Australia.

“We moved our classes online and then developed a whole new way of running the school. With online recitals, exams, an expanded curriculum and new classes such as the ‘Dance With Me’ toddler classes ” and the ballet class for the new young seniors, among others – and we continue to grow!” said Macuja-Elizalde.

When Star City finally reopened earlier this year, renovations continued for the theater.

The complex now has three separate facilities that can accommodate different types of events.

Besides the Aliw Theater for concerts, ballets, plays and other performances, there is the 500 meter area called The Custom Space for rehearsals, intimate shows, recitals, exhibitions and social events.

The third is the Elizalde room for business meetings, training events and small conferences. It is an area of ​​370 square meters which includes a spacious hall and two meeting rooms.

“So we are opening up the resort to be more inclusive. This is a hard working complex where versatility is open to anyone who wants to maximize the facilities. If you need to have conferences and presentations afterwards, everything is possible in this complex, it’s not just a theater anymore. There is a warm-up studio upstairs,” Macuja-Elizalde continued as he explained the new equipment.

At the scaled-down Aliw, the theater has a powerful LED screen that can reduce set construction costs and provide more possibilities for interactive theater. The idea is that dance or theater companies from outside do not bring additional material.

“The lights are so great we can’t see you,” joked Mitch Valdes, one of the launch hosts. With what looked like lantern spotlights trained on her, Macuja-Elizalde and co-host Reb Atadero couldn’t see from the scene who was talking in the audience.

Along with the top-of-the-line lights and audio equipment, there are brand new seats and carpets. What’s wonderful is on stage, there’s the 36′ x 15′ LED screen in the main hall.

“The LED screen will be a great help in setting up our old repertoire at a lower production cost without compromising on quality,” added Macuja-Elizalde.

Another highlight of the renovation is the Aliw Theatre’s new smoke and fresh air extraction system. “It’s basically like a built-in air purifier. We were rebuilding during the shutdowns and that allowed us to put in features that will make the theater safer given the pandemic conditions.

The theater lobby also underwent extensive renovations. In addition to the eight previously mentioned comfort rooms, there is an elevator and special seats for the disabled (PWD).

As for Ballet Manila, Macuja-Elizalde remains optimistic and realistic at the same time.

“I lost my co-director, Osias Barroso. He fell very ill and he is unable to work in the company. We have to adapt, I’m not going to lie. It’s more difficult now because that we have lost 50 to 60 strong and capable dancers.

“We can’t do a ‘Swan Lake’ or ‘Giselle’ or ‘Romeo and Juliet’. We are doing ‘Don Quijote’ and combining our efforts with the Lisa Macuja Ballet School, with the school’s most advanced students and children,” Macuja-Elizalde said.

“There are a lot of changes, challenges that we face, but what I feel is that the phoenix is ​​rising. We are leaner and meaner and better and ready to adapt to any kind of change. If we survive the last three years since the October 2019 fire, the best is yet to come.”

To officially mark Ballet Manila’s return, a special live performance titled “Rise!” will take place at the Aliw Theatre. There will be two shows only, at 8 p.m. on October 7 and 5 p.m. on October 9.

As confirmed on BM’s official website, a double program will be presented with “La Traviata” with baritone Andrew Fernando and “Ballet & Ballads”.

There will be a full orchestra with Maestro Gerard Salonga as musical director and conductor. It has been announced that there will also be guest pop singers. Macuja-Elizalde told ABS-CBN News via Facebook Messenger that they are still finalizing the lineup.

“Meeting with Gerard (Salonga) next week,” she said on Friday afternoon.

“Rise” will be followed by “Holiday Cheer Series” for families and children. He will stage the original choreography of “Cinderella” by Macuja-Elizalde on December 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30. All shows at 4 p.m.

In 2023, Ballet Manila will return by staging its 25th season of performances. It is remembered that it was stopped due to the pandemic closures in 2020.

Entitled “Of Hope and Homecoming”, it will begin with “Romeo and Juliet” by Martin Lawrance on February 18 and 19.

Its mid-season will feature “Don Quixote” with guest artists from the San Francisco Ballet on May 27-28. The season will end with “Ibong Adarna” by Gerardo Francisco on August 19 and 20.

Indeed, like the phoenix, the Manila Ballet, despite the challenges of the time, is about to take off and the Aliw Theater has literally risen from its ashes.

Macuja-Elizalde said: “They say seeing is believing. We can do it and we have done it. Yes, we will soar. We all need each other to make this happen, not just Aliw [and BM] but all of the creative industries. We are here for you and do this together.

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