It was getting close to nine in the evening as I made my way happily along the N2 towards Stellenbosch. I had a large cup (half full now) of black coffee and my cheesiest collection of disco hits playing in my car. As I turned off the highway I felt a sense of tense excitement.
PHOTOGRAPHY: JOSHUA STEIN
WORDS: JOSHUA STEIN
The sun was setting, illuminating the mountains in the distance in a yellow sheath of light and I was high on caffeine and anticipation. In not too long I would be at the Oude Libertas theatre, just outside Stellies, where The Cape Town City Ballet was getting ready to start dress rehearsals for Romeo & Juliet. The only contact I had had with the company so far was a few emails and a brief phone call with its then CEO, Elizabeth Triegaardt. That interaction had been curt and yielded little in the form of an impression.
There is a long straight road lined with street lamps adorned with banners that leads towards town where you turn off to get the theatre. It was here that it dawned on me that I had gotten the times mixed up and was in fact an hour late. The tentative excitement that had kept me in high spirits on the roughly hour drive out of Cape Town fell away and was replaced with a caffeine fuelled panic. This resulted in speeding and a recital of every variation of ‘oh fuck’ that I could think of.
With apologies readied I arrived .The venue was a modestly sized open air amphitheatre shaped like a wide wedge with firm stone seats wrapped about the radius of the curved stage. It was as classically styled as a theatre in Stellenbosch could be. When full, the stage was wrapped in gazing eyes, perhaps even trapped. I kept sheepishly to the side and had a look at the wide open venue. The seating was almost entirely empty with the exception of an older women sitting in the middle of the audience area watching the stage with focused intent. I presumed this woman to be Elizabeth.
The only light falling on her came from what of the stage lighting was reflected back onto her face so I wasn’t sure until I got closer. Several rows above here sat Robin Van Wyk, the artistic director of the company and choreographer for this production. From his high vantage he saw all and gave comments on the production and the dancers through a microphone…
Swan Lake Op. 20, is a ballet composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875–76. Despite its initial failure, it is now one of the most popular of all ballets. The scenario, initially in two acts, was fashioned from Russian and German folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger (Václav Reisinger). The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on 4 March 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Although it is presented in many different versions, most ballet companies base their stagings both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, first staged for the Imperial Ballet on 15 January 1895, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. For this revival, Tchaikovsky’s score was revised by the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre’s chief conductor and composer Riccardo Drigo.
The Firebird is a ballet and orchestral concert work by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It was written for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company; the original choreography was by Michel Fokine, with a scenario by Alexandre Benois and Fokine based on the Russian fairy tales of the Firebird and the blessing and curse it possesses for its owner. When first performed at the Opéra de Paris on 25 June 1910, the work was an instant success with both audience and critics.
Daphnis et Chloé is a ballet in one act with three parts (scenes) by Maurice Ravel described as a “symphonie chorégraphique” (choreographic symphony). The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from a romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from around the 2nd century AD. Scott Goddard published a contemporary commentary that discussed the changes to the story that Fokine made to prepare a workable ballet scenario. The story concerns the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé.
Spartacus is a ballet by Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978). The work follows the exploits of Spartacus, the leader of the slave uprising against the Romans known as the Third Servile War, although the ballet’s storyline takes considerable liberties with the historical record. Khachaturian composed Spartacus in 1954, and was awarded a Lenin Prize for the composition that same year. It was first staged, with choreography by Leonid Yakobson, in Leningrad 1956, but only with qualified success since Yakobson abandoned conventional pointe in his choreography. The ballet received its first staging at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow in 1958, choreographed by Igor Moiseyev; however it was the 1968 production, choreographed by Yury Grigorovich, which achieved the greatest acclaim for the ballet. It remains one of Khachaturian’s best known works and is prominent within the repertoires of the Bolshoi Theatre and other ballet companies in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Giselle is a romantic ballet in two acts. It was first performed by the Ballet du Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris, France on 28 June 1841, with Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi as Giselle. The ballet was an unqualified triumph. Giselle became hugely popular and was staged at once across Europe, Russia, and the United States. The traditional choreography that has been passed down to the present day derives primarily from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa during the late 19th and early 20th centuries for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg.
“Giselle” is a masterwork in the classical ballet performance canon. The ghost-filled ballet tells the tragic, romantic story of a beautiful young peasant girl who falls for the flirtations of the deceitful and disguised nobleman Albrecht. When the ruse is revealed, the fragile Giselle dies of heartbreak, and Albrecht must face the otherworldly consequences of his careless seduction. One of the world’s most-often performed classical ballets, it is also one of its most challenging to dance.