Passing on a classical legacy

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TO Coppelia

Coppélia
COMPANY: Joburg Ballet
VENUE: The Mandela at Joburg Theatre
UNTIL: March 23
RATING: ***

In many ways a ballet company is only as good as its repertoire. How those ballets are preserved, reproduced and sustained is key.

Despite its many name changes and diminishing ranks Joburg Ballet still owns a considerable heritage of classical works with Coppélia among them.

The management and dancers of this largely city-funded company are therefore the torchbearers of a rich theatrical legacy. It takes a revival like this to highlight the remaining strengths of Joburg Ballet and some glaring weaknesses.

This 19th-century three-acter is not about theatrics but finely meshed storytelling told through Delibes’ music and the choreography inspired by St Leon, Petipa and Cecchetti as passed on by generations of South African dancers. Stitched into this narrative are complex mime and choreographic conventions and traditions which require careful coaching.

On opening night Act 1 was some- what mechanical as the cast, dancing to problematic sound quality (which improved by Act 3), struggled to kick this production into convincing life.

Thankfully, Jacob Mosehla’s endearingly forgetful Dr Coppelius has matured into a character gem setting just the right storytelling tone for the impeccable artistry of prima ballerina Burnise Silvius’ Swanhilda and Michael Revie’s assertive Franz.

Unfortunately, Swanhilda’s six Friends let the side down badly with a higgledy piggeldy ensemble in Act 1 which smacked of being under- rehearsed.

The Saturday matinee was a much livelier, more consistent, affair. Lighting up the stage from the word “go” was Shannon Glover who has blossomed into a ballerina exuding intelligence and poise. Glover’s Swanhilda paired with Ramiro Samón’s Franz is a joy to behold.

The airy elegance of this 20-year-old Cuban’s dancing perfectly complements Glover’s refined classicism. Samón recently won a gold medal at the fourth South African International Ballet Competition, in Cape Town. It is easy to see why. Luis de Castro’s Dr Coppelius, however, borders on caricature and relies far too much on his young energy for this pivotal role. Angela Revie danced a beautiful Dawn variation, but stumbled on the final step.

This production raises several concerns about Joburg Ballet. Chief among them the old bugbear about the relative absence of South African male dancers in favour of imports. And why were the audiences so small for the first two performances for what is the perfect family ballet?

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