Le Corsaire - worth waiting forTammy Ballantyne
Tammy Ballantyne: The gala fundraising evening of Le Corsaire at the Joburg Theatre was an historic night.
It was a time for firsts on all counts – the first time the full-length ballet of Le Corsaire has been performed in South Africa; the first ballet season of the merged South African Mzansi Ballet - SAMB (formerly South African Ballet Theatre and Mzansi Productions); the first time visiting ballerina, 17 year-old Michaela DePrince from the USA, has ever performed in a full length ballet and it occurred on SA soil.
It was indeed a WOW moment. Dirk Badenhorst and Iain MacDonald, CEO and artistic director respectively of SAMB, were visibly moved and highly emotional as they spoke from the stage. Affirmations and thank yous flowed throughout the evening while invited guests and VIPs dug deep and pledged financial support for the next three years. Corporates such as Mango Airlines. TWF Travel, Altron, Vox Telecom, MAC and Air Products made their pledges public while patrons of the SAMB, Tito Mboweni (Anglogold Ashanti) and Mary Slack committed further monetary support.
Badenhorst articulately made a case for ballet in South Africa to be acknowledged as an integral part of arts education for all South Africans: “It is first world and we should be proud of that; it should be representative of all people in South Africa. Our training programmes reach approximately 500 children every year, there is so much learning and productivity. In Cuba, ballet is a pride and joy, we should follow that example.”
He also used DePrince’s extraordinary story of a Sierra Leone war orphan who realises her dream to become a ballerina as an example of how South African children who have known hardship and trauma can also be encouraged to pursue their passion and make dreams a reality.
The ballet itself, loosely based on Byron’s poem, The Corsair, traces its beginnings to a production in Paris in 1856. The story is easy to follow with pirates, a love story, sword fights and deceit and although the main characters could be seen as one-dimensional, it’s the sparkling choreography, wonderful music, swashbuckling pirates, gorgeous slave-girls and colourful costumes that enchant and delight the audience.
SAMB’s version is produced by Angela Malan after Marius Petipa with additional choreography by MacDonald and Malan. On opening night, Conrad, the pirate, was performed with panache and vigour by Michael Revie (who announced his retirement last year!), who continues to bring a high standard of ballet to our stages. Humberto Montero, as Birbanto, is suitably dashing and suave while one of our adoptee favourites, Cuban Luis de Castro, is a marvellous Ali, Conrad’s slave.
Medora, danced by a light, serene and beautiful Burnise Silvius, is matched by the precocious, confident DePrince as Gulnare. Although young, she embodies near-perfect line and balance and glides effortlessly, lands soundlessly and seems weightless in her grand allegro sequences.
Andile Ndlovu (courtesy of the Washington Ballet) as Lankedem the slave trader, is precise and bold but seemed a little off-balance in some of the lifts during the pas de deux with DePrince. Keke Chele’s rendition of the Pasha is swaggering and funny and the three odalisques in Act 1 are delightful – statuesque Anya Carstens, a controlled Kitty Phetla and Nicole Ferreira.
Act 2 is a delight on the eye as Andrew Botha’s divine design really comes to the fore. The pas de trois with Revie, Silvius and de Castro was riveting and the pasha’s dream with a garden full of flowers and children is a real highlight. The children are drawn from various outreach programmes and studios and fill the stage with colour and movement; the tutus are fabulous and the performances lively and assured.
There is much to be excited about but it will also be, at times, a difficult journey to completely merge these companies. The strengths are evident as seen on stage by the quality of the performances. The cross-pollination with the Cubans, both dancers and teachers, has borne fruit and really upped the ante. The vision is there; implementation will require patience, care and respect.
Take the children to the ballet this week.
Le Corsaire is on at The Mandela at The Joburg Theatre until Sunday July 29. There are various castings.
Staged by Iain MacDonald, Angela Malan, Lauren Dixon-Seagar and Chloé Grové.
Music by Adolphe Adam, Léo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, Ludwig Minkus, Cesare Pugni and others.
Décor by Andrew Botha.
Lighting by Stan Knight.
Michaela DePrince also features in First Position, a full-length documentary film, which follows the lives of young dancers as they participate in Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest ballet competition. It will be screened at The Joburg Theatre this Wednesday at 19:30.
Joburg Theatre Complex, Loveday Street Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa