Joburg Ballet Theatre’s collaboration with Vuyani Dance Theatre and Moving Into Dance Mophatong is an (almost) new departure for the ballet company. It is also a brave attempt at making contemporary ballet, and making relevant dance theatre for urban African audiences. Whether South African dance audiences, notoriously difficult to please, will support the venture one still has to see. Certainly what is on stage is worthy of being supported.
Big City, Big Dreams is set partially in the ballet studio at the Joburg Theatre, which has the most marvellous vista of the city of Johannesburg. It could be set in any big city anywhere in the world.
The story is that of a ballerina, Zara, (danced on opening night by Claudia Monja of Joburg Ballet) who falls in love with a businessman, Muzi (danced by Phumlane Mndabele of the Vuyani Dance Theatre). The other main characters, all from Joburg Ballet were Ivan Domiciano as Franco the ballet master, Revil Yon as Rudi, Zara’s dance partner, Megan Gerber as Caron, Zara’s rival and Kitty Phetla as the CEO.
The creative team for Big City, Big Dreams is headed by Fiona Ramsay as director. Ramsay is a general theatre practitioner, with a variety of acting and directing experiences, as well as voice coaching and academic lecturing in theatre matters. She brings a wealth of wisdom to this incredibly complex project.
The set and lighting is by Wilhelm Disbergen. While it is mostly minimal and technical in its application, the set is dominated by a huge mirror at the back of the stage. This is in keeping with the mirrors in ballet studios, as well as the mirrored windows of many corporate buildings, together with the mirrored interiors of bars and dance clubs. Any metaphorical mirroring thoughts belonged to the audience alone. It is both interesting and clever, and I certainly hope to see the set used, perhaps differently, in the future.
While the production made use of some contemporary pop music, Nik Sakellarides pulled the soundscape together, composing additional music where necessary. I particularly loved the sounds of the Johannesburg summer thunderstorm.
Costumes by Noluthando Lobes Moropa were efficient and attractive.
There were three choreographers, Shannon Glover from Joburg Ballet, Lulu Mlangeni from Vuyani Dance Theatre and Sunnyboy Motau from Moving Into Dance Mophatong. This was perhaps the single most obvious weakness of the collaboration. Instead of one integrated whole, the audience was presented with an array of different dance styles and moods. This was particularly obvious in the second half where one felt that one was being offered a mishmash of unrelated vignettes, the sole purpose of which were to show off the choreographic and dance skills of three companies, rather than to complement the story of two lovers crossed and then triumphant in their love. I would strongly recommend that this policy of using three individual choreographers be reviewed before commissioning another collaboration. There needs to be one choreographer, with input from others as to what sort of things are possible.
The production featuring dancers from three companies is large and that means it becomes expensive to tour, and at 90 minutes it is a full length contemporary ballet production, so it is likely that Big City, Big Dreams won’t have legs, which is a great pity, because it feels so relevant and the opening night audiences enjoyed it so much. It has a very African feel about it, and I am sure that big cities throughout the African continent would like to see this work.
Big City, Big Dreams is on at The Mandela stage at Joburg Theatre, Rissik Street, Braamfontein, until 6 August 2017.