The Joburg Ballet Theatre has been beset by administrative problems these last few months and before the curtain opened the audience was thanked for their ongoing support. If one didn’t know, it wasn’t said, but CEO Dirk Badenhorst has been suspended pending disciplinary proceedings. A press release has also confirmed that about R900 000 was transferred by Badenhorst into his personal account. This has left most of the fans of Joburg Ballet more than a little disturbed. Dirk Badenhorst has done great things for ballet in South Africa.
The production was yet another Don Quixote. Joburg Ballet seem to only ever produce the same things again and again (I could go on). Swan Lake, Giselle, The Nutcracker and now Don Quixote. Occasionally we get Cinderella or The Sleeping Beauty. On rare occasions we are given Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet or Carmen. We are told in no uncertain terms that this is because audiences don’t pay to see anything else. The recent Cape Town City Ballet production of The Vortex which played to almost empty houses is proof of that. I am not certain how to respond to this. Somewhere along the line I suspect it is because South African audiences have been fed this limited diet for so long that that is all they will consume now. Hardly the exclusive fault of the Joburg Ballet, but a problem which they have inherited.
The cast list showed Claudia Monja to be dancing the lead role of Kitri. Claudia Monja is one of the Cuban dancers. She is not, in my opinion, one of the better dancers of the company. She does have her fans, but that is because she is brings to the stage a vivacious personality and boundless enthusiasm. Her joie de vivre is contagious but it is not sufficient to make one forget that one could be watching Burnise Silvius, Shannon Glover or Angela Revie in the role. The role of Kitri’s favoured suitor, the impecunious Basilio, a barber, was portrayed by Juan Carlos Osma. He impressed favourably.
The other important pairing was that of Mercedes, a street dancer (Nicole Ferreira Dill) and Espada, a toreador (Aaron Smyth). Aaron Smyth is a young dancer from Australia. It is probably no secret to regular readers of mine, that I am a great admirer of Nicole Ferreira Dill. These two dancers pleased me greatly both individually and in the limited partnership work which the roles provide. Nicole Ferreira Dill danced the role of the Queen of the Dryads and gave it grace, elegance and poise in keeping with the demands of the role.
On opening night Don Quixote was played by Nigel Hannah, with John Tsunke as Sancho Panza. It was wonderful to see Nigel Hannah on stage again. I’ve always had a very soft spot for him.
Gamache, the wealthy but undesired suitor (Keke Chele) is always good for laughs and Javier Monier, in the role of Creado, a street boy was every bit as wonderful as he was last time.
The role of Armour, a cupid, was danced by Dayana Acuna, while Kitri’s friends were Shannon Glover and Shana Dewey.
The music is by Ludwig Minkus (1826-1917) but sadly was a recording which was belted out too loudly. The decor is by Andrew Botha, the lighting by Simon King.
Artistic Director Iain MacDonald and the Board of Joburg Ballet are finding things tough at the moment, and while I empathise with their woes, another production of Don Quixote may not have been the way to lift the spirits of a shocked and saddened ballet world.
Don Quixote is interspersed with performances of Celebration 7, showpieces from classical ballet and contemporary ballet choreographed usually by the members of Joburg Ballet. I am looking forward to that.