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This year Cape Town City Ballet is going in a new direction for its Christmas showcase, turning to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Tin Soldier for inspiration.
WHEN Robin van Wyk became artistic director of the Cape Town City Ballet (CTB) in 2008, he asked: “You want me to create a ballet on what budget?” with trepidation and incredulity.
Today the choreographer sees that very lack of money as a challenge to think creatively about things like costumes and props, relishing the chance to show just how inventive the dancers can be behind the scenes.
In an interview about their forthcoming production of The Tin Soldier at the UCT School of Dance where the dancers are rehearsing, Van Wyk led the way through an office festooned with colourful costumes in various states of completion.
Being able to draw on Artscape’s incredible costume collection has really helped. Though principal dancers have new costumes, they are upcycling other costumes for supporting dancers and the children. The junior ballet school is supplying the pillows (yes, little people dressed like pillows, watch the production, it will make sense), while members of the CTB male development programme become street kids who set the tin soldier adrift on a boat (which they are building, life-sized, from scratch).
For their Christmas showcase he looked to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier for inspiration: “It’s time for something new and exciting and The Tin Soldier lends itself to the festive season because he’s a present.”
Plus he’s “always loved the underdog story”.
One of the most important lessons he learnt from choreo-grapher Veronica Paeper is to choose one composer for a work to provide a cohesive theme for the soundscape. He settled on Russian composer Alexander Glazunov’s music specifically to be able to use the trumpet to represent the tin soldier character, and using the Artscape Opera House means being able to draw on the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, con- ducted by Allan Stephenson.
“This is my first ballet with a orchestra,” said Van Wyk with a slightly worried smile.
So as not to get confused with The Nutcracker, he changed the rats of the original story into cats and went with a cheerier ending rather than the story’s traditional conflagration.
The entire company of 30 dancers will get a chance to shine since he’s added characters like Harlequin, Columbine and Little Bo Beep and her little sheep. Right now, though, he is more concerned that they remember the roster for who is responsible for which children on what day – the 23 children from the junior ballet company in the production all have their adult dance leaders to look to, but he knows from experience exactly how easily they get sidetracked backstage.
Next year the Cape Town City Ballet turns 80 and plans are afoot for a collaboration with The Hamburg Ballet in September as well as performances throughout the year to celebrate their noted choreographers such as Paeper and David Poole.
The Maynardville season of The Firebird is already set for Sundays from January 19 to February 16 next year and the arguments about which Paeper production to mount to best showcase the celebrated choreographer are spirited, to say the least.
• The Tin Soldier is on at Artscape Opera House on December 11, 13, 14 and 23 at 7.30pm; December 13 at 11am; December 14 and 24 at 2pm; and December 15 at 3pm. All shows with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra except December 13 at 11am and December 24.