Principal dancer living her dream

Young ballerina Shannon Glover has accomplished a great feat. At the age of 26, she has been promoted to principal dancer by the South African Ballet Theatre (SABT) and this does not happen often. Being a principal dancer is something that can take years to achieve and some dancers don’t even get there.

She can be seen in SABT’s The Sleeping Beauty which opens at the State Theatre on Thursday. Based on the popular fairy tale and original choreo-graphy by Marius Petipa, it is set to Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score performed by the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

07 July 2010South African Ballet TheatrePhotograph: John Hogg

Glover made her debut as Princess Aurora at the Joburg run of the produc-tion in September and was promoted to principal dancer in front of a packed house. She remembers the experience vividly and it’s evident the reality of it still feels surreal to her.

“I was not set to play Aurora that night in September at the Joburg Theatre. I was playing a fairy role and a blue bird solo. Bernice Silvius was due to play Aurora as it was opening night. But then her partner got injured and I was told to take her place with partner Ian MacDonald. This was five minutes before the show was to start and the world froze for a few seconds. I’d left my hard shoes at home and it was a challenging moment backstage. I quickly changed costumes and went out there to do the best I could. It’s one of those evenings I will never forget. It’s an amazing feeling to be a principal dancer at my age. It feels surreal and it’s such a shock,” she says.

She adds that that experience taught her to have belief in herself because with ballet you can never get to a point where you’re good enough. There’s always something new to learn.

She has injured her Achilles tendon and will only be seen in the role of Aurora from the second week of the State Theatre run. But she can be seen doing other character-driven roles in The Sleeping Beauty. Other principals such as Bernice Silvius, Sanmarie Kreuzhuber and Lauryn Summerley can be seen tackling Aurora on different nights. They are joined by partners (playing the role of Prince Frolimund) from Mexico, Korea and Brazil because there’s a shortage of male ballet dancers in South Africa. Glover is partnered with Humberto Montero of Brazil.

Talking about her latest role and others she’s done, she says, “Princess Aurora is a role you want to do, but it’s one of the hardest classical roles to do. So you have to try to overcome that fear of how difficult it is and gain some confidence. And I learn so much from people like Bernice.

“I did my first principal role for SABT in 2007 in Romeo and Juliet with Ian MacDonald and he’s taught me so much. I enjoyed playing Carmen in Veronica Paeper’s Carmen-the-Ballet because it’s such a sexy ballet where you get in touch with your body and there’s a lot of acting. I also loved playing Kitri in Don Quixote. Some ballets work better with my personality and others are a challenge.”

Glover is a vibrant and down-to-earth gal and says she has always been a performer, loving the stage. She started dancing from the age of four doing ballet, tap, African to contemporary styles. She was at the National School of the Arts from 1999 to 2003 and represented South Africa at the International ballet Competition in Birmingham, UK.

She joined SABT as a graduate in 2004. Her versatile background has allowed her to venture into contemporary works such as Gregory Maqoma’s Neon Fight presented for this year’s Arts Alive festival. She’s also choreographed a piece called Amakonokono, a mixed bill with classical ballet in collaboration with the Drum Café. She loves the freedom of tapping into other dance styles while maintaining the grounding that ballet gives her.

Looking ahead she says, “I always want to explore and do everything. I have been lucky in that I have been able to do so. I love coming up with new things and I’m incorporating neo-classical style into the company. I want to show what I can give.”