The Tshwane Dance Theatre founder is getting special treatment at the State Theatre Arena this week with Women in Dance – The Vicki Karras Tribute.
Once the word got out late last year Karras, 72, was ill and undergoing chemotherapy, messages poured in for the indefatigable educationist and dance activist. Among the calls and e-mails which arrived from former students and mentees were messages from Monwabisi Bangiwe and Patrick Mngema dancing in The Lion King in Brazil and Germany, respectively, and Songezo Mcilezeli from Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake in Paris.
The Pretoria-born daughter of Nicholas and Thalia Karras, who started her professional ballet career in London at 17, is being honoured by generations of South African dancers, choreographers and teachers. The brainchild of TDT artistic director Esther Nasser, this programme on Thursday (preview at 8pm), the invitation-only-gala performance on Friday and Saturday at 3pm, pays homage to a remarkable career and South African.
After years of dancing in London and Europe with her husband, fellow Pretorian Hendrik Davel, in companies such as London’s Festival Ballet; as a soloist in the Royal Ballet and on the West End, the Karrases returned home where their daughter Anitra (now a musical theatre professional) was born.
In 1982, Vicki Karras joined the Pretoria Technikon Ballet dance department as lecturer, headed it from 1998 and retired after 20 years from what was then Tshwane University of Technology.
Among Karras’ many accomplishments with the nationally acclaimed dance and musical theatre department were passing on the experience she got in the UK with the cream of 20th century artists, of the calibre of Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and Glen Tetley; running international ballet competitions; fast-tracking the musical theatre department and getting bursaries for students.
In 2003, she founded the Tshwane Dance Theatre with Mandla Mcunu as artistic director.
Both the dance department and the company became important choreographic breeding grounds for local dancer-choreographers, such as Boyzie Cekwana; technikon graduates Mamela Nyamza and Andile Sotiya (of Gugulethu); Sello Pesa; David Matamela and Timothy le Roux.
All the Tribute participants are working voluntarily. The line-up includes The Debbie Rakusin Dancers; Debra Gush’s dancers; two of Debbie Turner’s dancers from Cape Town and Kelsey Middleton’s Kmad.com; performers Thami Tshabalala and Phume Sikhakhane with Grown Woman. The choreographers are joined by fellow TUT graduates Xola Willie, Kingsley Beukes and Given Mkhize. TDT star dancer Mari-Louise Basson Angelier will perform an extract from her solo La mort d’une fleur (Proteas Dying).
Adding to the mix, and representing Karras’ full spectrum of achievements, are Joburg Ballet prima ballerina Burnise Silvius, dancing an Act 3 variation from Don Quixote, and Masilo’s Odette from her celebrated Swan Lake.