Dance Review: La Traviata – Paepered With Excellence, Or Post-Pestilence Precision

July 7, 2022


Joburg Ballet: La Traviata – The Ballet / Choreographed by Veronica Paeper / The Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg


La Traviata – the ballet version of the original Verdi opera – features, as one of the less well-known major ballets (if the best-known options are the likes of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker), one of the art form’s more compelling plots. A beautiful courtesan, Camille, catches the eye of a young nobleman, Armand, and the pair fall in love, crossing a number of social boundaries as they do, which leads to great sacrifices being made. There are any number of memorable stories of star-crossed lovers, of course, but this one remains memorable thanks to the lyrical nature of the ballet of which it forms the backbone, and in this case particularly so because of Cape Town choreographer Veronica Paeper’s exciting interpretation of the piece.

Paeper’s choreography is often quite busy – interesting, challenging movements all, but a lot of them, and sometimes difficult to execute. This makes it especially exciting to watch when it’s performed with precision and passion, and on the opening night of this Joburg Ballet production, that is exactly what the company achieved.

A bit of context helps to underline how impressive an achievement this was. After severely curtailed activities during the pandemic and having to dance in masks and play to 50% capacity houses when they were able to put on productions, the company had to deal with load-shedding while moving into the theatre for La Traviata, resulting in severely disrupted rehearsals. Then, to add insult to injury, the start of the show was delayed by over an hour on opening night when a load-shedding schedule proved woefully inaccurate. This required the dancers to keep warm for all of that added time, as well as having to deal with the psychological stress of the situation. And in addition to that, all the dancers in lead roles, other than Shannon Glover, are making their debuts in those roles.

Given all of these challenges, a touch of rustiness could’ve been excused, but an inspired collective effort confirmed how hard the company had worked throughout the pandemic, and perhaps how inspired they were by the chance to invest their talents in a full-length ballet again.

Glover, returning to the stage after the birth of her first child, is superb as Camille, adding the trademark intensity of her acting to grace in her character’s grief and technical excellence in both her solos and pas de deux. As Armand, Revil Yon is the equal of his partner, emoting brilliantly but also giving a powerful physical performance that belies his lean physique.

In terms of truly celebrating Paeper’s choreography, the corps really step up (and sideways, and backwards and forwards) in hitting all their marks together as a whole and in terms of the pairs and trios who separate occasionally different routines. Watching such successful syncopation is not only satisfying for audiences who know anything about ballet, but downright thrilling for anyone exploring the scene and becoming aware of what is involved in the art form in terms of athleticism and skill.

A triumphant return.