Dirk Badenhorst, CEO of Joburg Ballet, is one of those people who was born to be a diplomat. He certainly has put Joburg Ballet on the international map, started an International Ballet Competition which takes place in Cape Town, and has brought an amazing amount of dancers out from Cuba to supplement our dwindling number of dancers. He has sent Joburg Ballet all over the world, to Russia, to China and soon to Spain. His latest achievement has been bringing an international cast to Johannesburg for the most recent production of Swan Lake. 2015 is the Year of China in South Africa and the Liaoning Ballet of China has sent 21 dancers to Johannesburg to celebrate 21 years of democracy. This has been supported by South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture and China’s Ministry of Culture.
The ballet itself featured three prima ballerinas on opening night. Act 2 was performed by Yu Chuanya partnered by Ma Ming. Act 3 was performed by Viengsay Valdes from Cuba partnered by Brooklyn Mack from the USA. Acts 1 and 3 went to the hosts with Michael Revie performing the role of Prince Siegfried in Act 1 and Burnise Silvius and Jonathan Rodrigues performing Act 4.
It was fascinating to see three different couples in the same ballet. Afterwards opinions were divided as to which of the three one would want to see dance the whole ballet if one could only watch one of the pairs. Some of the audience loved the fragility of Yu Chuanya, while I thought Viengsay Valdes was the hautiest, most dismissive of any Black Swan I have ever seen and would love to have seen her softer side. Naturally there were many people rooting for our own wonderful Burnise Silvius … a magnificent dancer with home crowd advantage.
I am not going to dwell much on the other dancers, although they were magnificent. No role was too small to deserve perfection, and it showed. The choreography for the Spanish Dance was by Chase Bosch and he performed it on opening night together with Natasha O’Brien and Linde Wessels. The girls had new glitzy costumes. The showy and demanding role of the Jester was danced by Javier Monier and he was wonderful in it. Jessica Overton and Randol Figueredo danced the Neopolitan Dance, while the Two Swans were Nicole Ferreira-Dill and Kitty Phetla.
The sets for this production of Swan Lake are new. designed by Andrew Botha. He has created magnificent sets and they do Joburg Ballet credit. Simon King did the lighting, such gentle, soft and eerie lighting, that I wanted, at times to applaud it, but refrained. People would have thought I was mad if I had clapped seemingly without provocation.
There wasn’t a person in the audience who didn’t have a good time. Despite the fact that there were lots of courtesy tickets issued for the Embassy of China and the Department of Arts and Culture no one left at either of the intervals (a common happening with people who are ‘obliged’ to attend). That says it all, really. People were enjoying themselves.
Now for my only gripe. I would still love to see sufficient sponsorship for the ballet to be able to be performed with a full and live orchestra. As entrancing as ballet is to recorded music, there is an extra energy and verve when Tchaikovsky’s marvelous score is played by a live orchestra. We live in hopes of such funding being available soon.
Well done to Dirk Badenhorst and his team, particularly the creative team who make such magic that one is transported through time, space and earth into the world of Swan Lake and one emerges from that bemused and enchanted.
Swan Lake can be seen until 3 May 2015 at Joburg Theatre and from 7 to 9 May 2015 at the Sand du Plessis Theatre in Bloemfontein. The website is http://www.joburgballet.com.