By BRUCE DENNILL
Joburg Ballet: Ballets For Winter / Artistic direction by Iain MacDonald / Roodepoort Theatre, Roodepoort
Joburg Ballet’s new strategy – more productions with shorter runs – is working on a number of levels. Different programmes mean more variety for ballet fans who otherwise only get a couple of opportunities a year to see a production in Johannesburg, and then only one of a small number of classical ballets that they’ve likely seen before, with the same cast and choreography. Now, with Joburg Ballet mounting three major productions in 2016 (Giselle earlier in the year, Romeo & Juliet in July and Cinderella in the months to come) at their home base in Braamfontein, and then taking this attenuated programme of favourites and new work to Roodepoort, the likelihood of established audiences getting to a greater number of shows and new audiences dipping a toe into the art form are increased.
In Roodepoort, a number of dancers new to or on the fringes of Joburg Ballet made their mark in the first two items on the programme – a staging of Les Sylphides and a version of Grand Pas Classique danced under a single chandelier. In the former, a number of excellent new youngsters comprised an excellent corps, allowing the leads, particularly Michael Revie and Kirstel Jensen, to shine, while in the latter, the experienced Jonathan Rodrigues was paired with newly appointed Brazilian soloist Monike Cristina. Rodrigues gave a fluid, controlled performance, but Cristina was often off balance in the opening (and arguably easier) portion of the piece, only finding her rhythm, impressively, in the latter part of the female variation.
The best part of the production, though – and all the more because it is a new, original piece of choreography – is choreographer Kelsey Middleton’s She Stumbled And Fell, a string of short episodes collectively exploring aspects of Alzheimer’s Disease. That the subject is personal for Middleton – her mother is seriously afflicted by the condition – is strikingly obvious, and an understanding of her passion for her craft and compassion for Alzheimer’s sufferers is clearly developed thanks to a recorded voice-over that connects the different segments.
Choreography has been created for a cast of just women in one spot, just men in another and a combined cast in another, allowing for a range of different movements and moods. Stark lighting, red elastics that join dancers to each other, costumes that allow for a lot of muscle to be revealed and styling that sees the female dancers’ hair loose and dramatically adding to their movements all combine to create an edginess that demands attention, That focus is rewarded by some moments, scored by varied music (from Chopin to Michael Bolton and Itzhak Perlman to the all-out vitality of Ryan Star and his appropriately named song Losing Your Memory) of exquisite sadness – as two dancers carry a third who seems to be struggling; or a dancer peering into the darkness in the wings can’t be distracted from her focus on … nothing.
Shannon Glover and Juan Carlos Osma excel in terms of both the acting and dancing aspects of the piece, with Shana Dewey once again underlining her versatility and Laurance James showing increased bulk and control as he continues to expand his portfolio. She Stumbled And Fell is a wonderful addition to Joburg Ballet’s repertoire and a moving experience for any audience member who has a loved one in any state of distress.