Pieter Toerien has a wonderful eye for excellent theatre, and his commissioning of a ballet by Marc Goldberg was theatrically sound. Pity the audiences didn’t make the stretch from yet another Swan Lake to this gorgeous, dark Noel Coward story, The Vortex, told so beautifully in dance by the Cape Town City Ballet Company at the Montecasino Theatre.
Noel Coward (1899-1973) was an English playwright, song composer, director and multi-talented performer, known for his wit and style. The Vortex is one of Coward’s early plays, and his first great commercial success. Set in the 1920’s, but still relevant nearly a century later, Coward wrote the role of Nicky, a character with a cocaine habit, for himself. Florence, Nicky’s socialite mother, entertains herself with a series of young lovers, one of whom is Tom, a school friend of Nicky’s. To add to the plot Nicky introduces his fiancée, Bunty, whom Florence instantly resents.
The ballet work, a story without words, is not set in period costume with colours and feathers, but rather in sombre black and white. This suits the work perfectly. It is about debauchery and, in the final pas de deux between mother and son, a moralistic rejection thereof.
The Vortex opens with one of Coward’s popular songs I went to a marvellous party. I was immediately entranced. Marc Goldberg’s choreography captures the emotional dependency between mother and son, as well as Florence’s complete self-absorption with her diminishing youth and beauty. Nicky drug habit is underplayed and people without a programme may well have missed that (although what they would have made of the scene I have no idea).
The whole thing was riveting and thought provoking. It really is both excellent dance and excellent theatre. I wasn’t always sure who was dancing what role (despite the fact that I did have a programme), but gave up on that one and just relaxed into the story and the beautiful choreography.
Not all the music was by Noel Coward, although Poor Little Rich Girl was also used. A pas de trois between Florence, her husband David and Nicky is accompanied by a minimalist electronic work by Murcof, a Mexican contemporary electronic composer. It evoked a powerful reaction from me as I watched the portrayal of this dysfunctional family. Murcof’s work together with Noel Coward’s songs formed the entire score for the ballet.
I loved the pas de deux where Nicky begs his mother to mend her ways while she similarly confronts his drug habit. It was magnificent dance filled with emotional tension and it left me contemplated that even within families we are more likely to see what the Bible terms the “splinter in the eye of others while missing the plank in our own eyes”.
The cast is listed as Thomas Thorne, Laura Bosenberg, Kim Vieira, Daniel Szybkowski, Bradley van Heerden, Xola Putye, Jesse Milligan, Sarah-Lee Chapman, Thomas Dubronyl, Elizabeth Nienaber, Ivan Boonzaaier, Claire Spector and Caitlin Smith. I only counted eight dancers at the performance I attended.
I was entranced from start to finish.
Catch this work at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre until 23 August 2015. It really is worth it. (And the small audiences mean it is easy to get a drink at the bar).