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Seventy-year-old CT City Ballet celebrates with youthful abandon

Roshan Sewpersad

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Cape Town City Ballet’s Celebration
Artscape Theatre Centre
Cape Town
1 to 15 May 2004

2004 marks the seventieth anniversary of South Africa’s premier ballet company, Cape Town City Ballet, under the helm of the still youthful Elizabeth Triegaardt. Celebration, an SA-USA-Swiss collaboration with Zürich Ballet, marks this momentous occasion in stunning style. Dr Adelaide Tambo was also installed as patron for life of the ballet company on the opening night.

Celebration presents a trio of outstanding works: Heinz Spoerli’s All shall be, George Balanchine’s Rubies, and Adele Blank’s Syzygy, commissioned for the event.

While these works were created in different decades and contexts, they all mark a shift away from Western ballet traditions and embrace a more Eastern, or “world”, aesthetic: dance not in the service of plot or ornamentation, but rather to explore the terrain of movement and comment on itself — to focus on the abstract that is common to all art. In this respect, Celebration can be seen as a coming of age for the ballet company — a leap, so to speak, into contemporary (South African) ballet.

All shall be, choreographed by the artistic director of Zürich Ballet, and set to JS Bach’s Suite in C major, a vital, masculine work, is one of the most exciting pieces I have seen performed at Artscape. A piece that abounds with energetic beauty, inspired by the music, showcases the dancers’ physical prowess and expression. The work, described as a “lively arabesque”, and constructed along central themes and motifs that recur and interplay, that dissolve and extrapolate, eventually ends in a whirling finale. Lighting and set were subtle and effective, allowing the focus to remain on the elegantly costumed dancers.

Ballet companies all over the world are staging Balanchine works this year, in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the luminary’s birth. Rubies forms part of Balanchine’s Jewels, the first full-length abstract ballet (New York City Ballet, 1967) inspired by a visit to the jewellers Van Cleeff and Arpels, and is set to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra.

The work hints at Balanchine’s earlier forays into film choreography and is a smouldering homage to the spontaneity of Balanchine’s America. Here we have jazzy hip movements, dizzying pirouettes on the heel, miming rowing a boat, playing with an imaginary skipping rope, and other exuberant activities.

Appearing as leading soloist for one night only, American dancer Myrna Kamara shone. Had the other dancers engaged with the history and inspirations for the work, they might have closed the performance gap between themselves and Ms Kamara and portrayed the essence of Rubies more truthfully.

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Syzygy, a multi-media South African ballet, featuring sets, lighting, music, singing, costume and dance, is inspired by rap and hip-hop music, and celebrates a decade of democracy in South Africa. This is a very creative work, and is excellent as a whole but weak in some parts. Also, it doesn’t fare well as a reflection of South African dance, as Adele Blank was commissioned, and comes across quite American with little hint of Africa, if at all. As an independent work of dance, Syzygy is innovative and exciting, firmly rooted in the hip-hop culture.

This is a truly deserved celebration for Cape Town City Ballet and one hopes to see more challenging works of this standard being added to their repertoire. This is a celebration that no dance lover should miss.

LitNet: 4 May 2004

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