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Joburg Ballet celebrates 21 years with ‘Evolve’

Ballet dancers playing an intense, rhythmic game of chess that also resembles life, a refreshing Afro-fusion performance that tells the story of the journey back home, and an exploration of the afterlife – that, and more, that’s what the new season of Joburg Ballet, Evolving will entail.

Joburg Ballet is 21 years old this year, 21 years that certainly had its challenges, but also many successes.

The founding members, now known as the Brave Six, were responsible for the start of what we now know as Joburg Ballet. Although ballet has a long history in the city of Johannesburg, the beginnings of the Joburg Ballet go back to the founding of the South African Ballet Theater (SABT) in 2001. This followed the closure of the State Theater Pretoria and its performing companies including The Staatstheater Ballet (formerly known as PACT Ballet).

Legae Joburg Ballet
Legae, Joburg Ballet. Image: Included

The Brave Six (Dirk Badenhorst, Kimbrian Bergh, Karen Beukes, Fiona Budd, Iain MacDonald and Angela Malan) started a company together and started presenting performances. They had the determination and a supportive board, but no funding.

21 years later, the company is known as Joburg Ballet in recognition of the grant awarded to them by the City of Johannesburg since 2013. According to Joburg Ballet CEO Esther Nasser, “The fact that Joburg Ballet is still around today is a testament to the dedication of the many performers, directors and fundraisers who ensure that the ballet art survives.” She believes that Joburg Ballet will flourish as a true South African ballet company with its own identity that the global village wants to engage with.

In images: Joburg Ballet is back and it’s still beautiful

Evolve, the new season of Joburg Ballet

The ballet company is kicking its 21 . offst anniversary celebrations with a brand new season called Evolve, which was supposed to be presented in 2021 but was postponed due to Covid-19. This dance celebration, with its unique costumes so true to the brand and to South Africa, will present eight performances at the Joburg Theater from March 25 to April 3.

The works include choreographies by some of the company’s own dancers, mixing the new and the classical with four ballets, three of which are world premieres, as well as a glittering showpiece from the classical repertoire.

souls afterlife
Afterlife: Souls, Joburg Ballet. Image: Included

The works include:

  • The afterlife: souls, an introspective piece by principal dancer, Shannon Glover (who recently gave birth to a girl named Ava). In this slow-moving, soulful ballet, she explores the concept of death as the great equalizer.
  • The game, choreographed by the talented Mario Gaglione, was inspired by the parallels between the game of chess and the game of life. The black and white costumes are breathtaking, with crowns 3D printed for the king and queen. The dance itself is impressively fast and intense, beautifully portraying the unspoken truths of the game we call life.
  • Legae is an evocative piece by Tumelo Lekana, who says his mother’s struggle with the Coronavirus and his journey as he returned home to care for her inspired the choreography. It’s a beautiful fusion of classical and modern ballet, with an African flair fueled by Shweshwe printed leotards, traditional blankets and beads.
  • The classic of the program, the Grand Pas of paquita, is ballet at its best. Choreographed in the 19e century by Marius Petipa, creator of legendary ballet classics like The Sleeping Beauty, paquita is produced for Joburg Ballet by the company’s soloist, Ivan Domiciano.
Paquita, Joburg Ballet. Image: Included

Iain MacDonald, the company’s artistic director, says: “Joburg Ballet has given South African dancers a career destination and has training and dance education facilities for communities in our city. We have built a company that has welcomed new choreographic voices and will continue to do so as we dance into our third decade. We have preserved the great principles and traditions of classical ballet while exploring new traditions and dance styles that shape theater dance in our time.”

Annzie Hancock, the honorary patron of the Joburg Ballet, says: “Things have changed, dancers have left to pursue their careers abroad and in other fields. Those who have continued to dance are well received abroad; the reputation of their education advances them.” She says it took her a while to enjoy the more contemporary works, “but I have now accepted that you have to move forward to survive and what impresses me is the talent within the company that we see now. Dancers are challenged to choreograph their own pieces which are very good and exciting to watch.”

The game evolves
Joburg Ballet’s The Game, Evolve. Image: Included

The proud South African ballet company may have evolved with the times, but they also know where their roots lie. And are bums on chairs that ensure his survival.

Bookings for Evolve are now open, with tickets available from R200 per person (or even R100 per person on Wednesday 30 March).

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