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COMPANY: South African Mzansi Ballet
GUEST ARTISTS: Michaela DePrince, Brooklyn Mack and Aaron Smyth
VENUE: The Mandela at the Joburg Theatre
UNTIL: March 24
There are not many things left to inflame a grizzled ballet critic’s heart, but witnessing the birth of a remarkable ballerina will certainly fit the bill.
On Saturday afternoon from Kitri’s first sizzling, perfectly stretched, grand jeté (the first of many), Michaela DePrince, 18, made this daunting principal role her own. Part vixen, this innkeeper’s loving daughter tells her tale via a lexicon of virtuoso set pieces and fine comic timing. DePrince owes a lot for her triumphant role debut to Australian Aaron Smyth’s simpatico partnering and his matured, dashing Basilio.
DePrince’s impeccably coached interpretation gathers momentum in The Dream sequence, imbued with exquisitely detailed dancing, and peaks in The Wedding grand pas de deux with an avalanche of fouettés. The standing ovation which greeted these dancers, and the Sierra Leone-born American in particular, was richly deserved.
This production’s premiere, in its current incarnation, on Friday night was a far less happy affair. Frankly, it looked under-rehearsed and badly staged. The jerky recorded score, which still sounds downright tinny in the last act, and the slippery floor, didn’t help.
The company’s Sanmarie Kreuzhuber’s Kitri exuded long- limbed elegance, but she was not quite ready to deliver an accomplished performance. Her partnership with Broolyn Mack was not as secure as it could be. The Washington Ballet guest artist, however, impressed with his individualistic authority and silken control. By Act 3 we were in the presence of a star in the truest sense of the word. This was virtuosity unplugged as this danseur flirted with perfection.
To be fair, the South African Mzansi Ballet is still experiencing the teething pains of finding its feet as a merged entity working within stringent financial restrictions. Quality, not quantity, is one of the strengths of this staging, which has far more narrative and choreographic clout than the Mzansi Productions original staged at The Lyric. Andrew Botha’s sets translate well at The Mandela.
There’s still time to savour the brilliance of seasoned storyteller Manuel Noram’s dithery dreamer Don Quixote, Keke Cele’s fabulously foppish Gamache, Claudia Monja’s Mercedes, Javier Monier’s sublime Street Boy, Burnise Silvius and Shannon Glover and the dazzling imported principals.