They may be seated on red plastic chairs but they aren’t let off easy. The 16 South African Mzansi Ballet dancers – who are used to being on pointes if they are women, and doing heavy duty lifting if they are men – are not divided into gender-specific princes and swans. For a change they are equal. They also have to be themselves.
And that’s pretty complicated, and demanding, because choreographer Belinda Nusser is relentlessly detailed about the execution of every move and gesture for her 10-minute The Deep and Lovely Quiet.
To the sonorous rhythms of The Balanescu Quartet, Kitty Phetla unwinds and undulates her elegant limbs in a solo placed in front of the chairs. Elegance radiates from a central core of stillness. Then waves of group movement, of carefully calibrated creativity, emanate from the group, which had been slumped forward.
To a maze of complex counts they confront gravity as they mobilise their seated spines and conjure with line, not in the classical sense, but as ordinary men and women.
“It’s great for them to be natural for the body to flow naturally,” explains the guest dance maker during a quick break. “I want ballet dancers to feel more normal, like being on the street. I have kept it technical,” Nusser smiles conspiratorially, adding, “but in my own organic style.”
The programme note poses the question: “Does the feeling of belonging to a group make it any less lonely? How far does loneliness go, and where can we find our peace – the deep and lovely quiet?” The latter phrase is also the title of the Bersarin Quartett’s recording (taken from their The Reconstruction of Fives), which is the closing movement and inspired the dance work.
This collaboration appears to be based not on compromise but on meeting each other half way. There’s not as much weight-pounding floorwork as Nusser is used to, but she makes the dancers grind down into their personal physical and emotional cores in other ways.
Up for the challenge to release their spines (and inhibitions) are the cast: Shannon Glover, Sanmarie Kreuzhuber, Angela Maree and Kitty Phetla, Linde Wessels joined by Michael Revie, Jonathan Rodrigues, Keke Chele, Carlos Santos and Ramiro Samon.
This may be the ballet studio, and while her home and employment may be in Malmo in the south of Sweden, Johannesburg is her home town and where her immediate family still live.
Some of Nusser’s formative training as a dancer took place over the road in Hoofd Street at the National School of the Arts (1990-1994) followed by three months at the John Cranko Ballet School in Stuttgart.
Her professional dancing career, which is still in full swing, began in South Africa with Adele Blank’s Free Flight Dance Company, Debbie Rakusin and David Matamela’s Vusa Dance Company and the State Theatre Dance Company where she blossomed as an intelligent virtuoso performer.
Stints with Redha Benteifour’s Compagnie de Redha in France and companies in Denmark, Sweden and Galili Dans in the Netherlands led her to Skanes Dansteater (where fellow Joburger Melody Putu is also based).
Before Nusser made a piece in Malmo in 2010 she had already put on her choreographic spurs for Esther Nasser’s Jozi Dance Company with Assignment: What? (2007) and Phase 5 Confronted (2008) for Mzansi Productions, both of which received Gauteng MEC Award nominations.
“I’m really impressed after eight days,” explains the harsh task master. “They’ve changed. They really dived into it.” That was very obvious.
* Celebration 5 also offers premieres by Columbia’s Alvaro Restrepo for his renowned El Colegio del Cuerpo company from Cartagena, plus a collaborative work between El Colegio and SA Mzansi Ballet and new works by SAMB’s Kitty Phetla and Shannon Glover.
• Performances are at the Joburg Theatre on September 20, 21 and 28 at 7.30pm. Book at Joburg Theatre, 0861 670 670 or joburgtheatre.com. This season then travels to the Joseph Stone Theatre in Cape Town on September 24 and 25.
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