By BRUCE DENNILL
Joburg Ballet: Fire And Ice / Artistic Director: Iain Macdonald / Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg 6.5
The further development of Joburg Ballet as a company happy to expand their repertoire and experiment along the way continues apace with this half-and-half combination of classical ballet and original contemporary dance. The show is well named in terms of the mood and tone of its different facets, with Act One comprising the third act of Raymonda – essentially the multi-faceted celebration of a wedding – and Act Two being the epic, large-scale edginess of Whispers Of My Soul, a work by notable Paris-based choreographer Redha, who is premiering this work in Johannesburg.
Raymonda Act Three also received its Johannesburg debut, directed by Brazilian ballet producer Guivalde de Almeida and, though it has all the appeal of classical ballets better known to South African audiences, it is also obviously different in the nuances of the choreography. Many sequences include strong references to traditional Hungarian dances, with slick, quick footwork and flamboyant accents using arms and hands.
A combination of ensemble work (there are two Pax de Quatres and a Pas de Trois) and three very different variations (Nicole Ferreira-Dill, Ruan Galdino and Shannon Glover each take an entertaining, compelling solo, with the latter excelling in terms of her precision and expression). A mark of how enjoyable the suite is is that it feels lile the interval arrives far too soon.
The second act begins with a gasp-inducing reveal of Wilhelm Disbergen’s set design for Whispers Of My Soul, which makes use of the full depth and width of the massive Mandela stage, suggesting again that theatre-makers who don’t take advantage of those facilities are definitely missing a trick. A huge grandstand, dotted with dancers, forms the initial backdrop, with the some of the company moving forward to the open stage to play their role in the unfolding drama and new segments of the piece are announced by the rotation of the grandstand on the stage’s massive carousel.
The costumes are stark and sexy. Some of the women’s regalia features long trains which later prove to be challenges for their partners during lifts, while those without this added feature look like warriors, strutting Amazons with muscle tone to match. The men begin in what might be describes as “school uniforms by Gaultier” (yes, there’s a skirt involved), but later lose the top halves to show of their own chiselled physiques.
The vast expanse of stage plays against the dancers in that it is difficult to keep tabs on all of the movement, with couples and single dancers assuming positions that are sometimes 20 or more metres apart. The soundtrack is industrial and detached – the “ice” in the show’s overall title – so it’s also difficult to emotionally engage, though some mumbling in the middle about Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo is intriguing, if not in any way revealing.
Whispers Of My Soul, while visually arresting and technically challenging – it’s clear that the dancers are revelling in meeting the exacting demands of their guest choreographer – is difficult to figure out, and its running time asks too much of the younger members of the audience who may have accompanied their parents to watch princesses and princes.