Dance Review: Mzansi Ballet – The Abba Show, Or Plenty In Specific

June 4, 2022


Mzansi Ballet: The Abba Show / Directed by Dirk Badenhorst / Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg


In London at the moment, there is a show called Abba Voyage which, until you read the fine print, sounds like it might be a reunion of the famous band, which seems reasonable given that they recently released a new single after many years. What the concept actually involves, though, is digital avatars of the band members moving as recordings of their biggest hits play in the background – so Abba, but also not.

In the same though, this show being presented by Mzansi Ballet doesn’t guarantee much in the way of that art form in the traditional sense – the first classical pas de deux only occurs halfway through Act Two, for instance. There is plenty­ of Abba in this one, though, with a packed soundtrack featuring pleasing instrumentals, the recorded originals and, a few times, guest star Cathy Specific singing the songs in her deep voice.

Cathy – the alter ego of formidable performer Brendan Van Rhyn (in heels and a wig, he’s around 8 feet tall) – is, unsurprisingly, given her larger-than-life presence, the centrepiece of and chief scene-stealer in the show. Van Rhyn’s vast experience as a drag performer means that working a room filled with a mainstream dance audience requires hardly any effort – or seems to, such is his comfort and apparent enjoyment as he functions as MC, narrator and Fairy Godmother. The latter is appropriate because, probably uniquely, this Abba-scored piece, driven by a huge drag queen, also tells the story of Cinderella (because why not?).

This mish-mash of styles and ideas somehow coalesces into an enjoyable, smile-inducing whole, celebrating exuberance and joy rather than any of the individual art forms involved (other than drag, which many of the audience members may not have been exposed to before).

The choreography is uncharacteristically simple and subdued – Mzansi Ballet usually showcase athletic, often quite risky work, as in their successful The Queen Show – which is generally covered by the other storytelling elements, though it does leave the better dancers under-utilised in some areas. As a strategy, it may have to do with the cast in this particular performance being relatively inexperienced (development dancers and the company’s youth members form most of the ensemble), with stalwarts Michael and Angela Revie off duty and other eye-catching professionals like Alison Lee Sischy and Xola Willie currently not part of the company. Veronica Louw is as arresting as ever and former Joburg Ballet soloist Shana Dewey Loureiro, in her debut season for Mzansi, is graceful and convincing as Cinderella.

Ballet purists may not appreciate the vision here, but as family entertainment where there are punchlines for the adults and audience participation segments for the young and young at heart, the production delivers.