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AT 29, SA ballerina Kitty Phetla is at the top of her game, while at almost 92 no one expects prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso to still be working.
Yet Cuban Alonso will choreograph the finale for the National Ballet of Cuba’s (NBC) SA performance, and Phetla for one is incredibly excited about the news.
Alonso is the legendary founder of the NBC who continues to be involved with the company, and the plan is for her to accompany the dancers to SA.
It’s not as if Phetla’s been letting the dust settle under her feet, though – she has just come off several months of touring Russia in a gala performance with a performance of the Dying Swan sequence from Swan Lake, and returns home to work on several productions over the next few months.
But first her dance card will be filled up working with the Cubans.
NBC arrives in SA with 60 dancers and support staff at the end of next month, making them one of the largest ballet companies to visit the country.
They will showcase the best of Cuban ballet, titled La Magia de la Danza (The Magic of the Dance), which brings together in a single performance the jewels of the company’s repertoire.
These include highlights from Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Coppélia and Don Quixote well as works from the Cuban repertoire and the new ballet finale.
Phetla agrees with Mzansi Productions director Dirk Badenhorst about the importance of establishing ballet ties with other countries. Badenhorst calls this tour the culmination of a process several years in the making: “Cuba is unequalled as a model for ballet in our own country, embracing as it does the entire Cuban population regardless of race and class, and attracting aspiring dancers as well as audiences from all communities across Cuba,” he explained.
Phetla says that would-be dancers who access Mzansi Productions development platforms and programmes can certainly be inspired by watching the Cubans dance, but it is ultimately up to individuals to make that leap to becoming a professional ballet dancer.
“It’s a demanding discipline,” she stresses.
In addition to dancing in the finale of the Cuban’s performance, Phetla will also perform Mercedes from Don Quixote.
She’s used to seeing the Cuban dancers come to SA to do workshops and performances over the past four years because individual dancers and teachers from NBC have appeared and worked under the auspices of Mzansi Productions.
Phetla, along with local dancers freelancer Michael Revie and Burnise Silvius of SA Ballet Theatre, will join the Cubans on stage after a short rehearsal period of three days to figure it all out, but since she danced in the Cuban version of Don Q last year, “it won’t be too bad”.
Phetla welcomed the impending merger of Mzansi Productions (of which she is a founder member) with SA Ballet Theatre: “It was bound to happen. It’s a great business move and a great artistic move because it enlarges the company and artistically it changes the repertoire, so we’re not just contemporary or just classical anymore.”
The new company’s name should be announced later this week and their first official performance in Joburg will be of Le Corsaire, from Thursday to July 24.
In addition to dancing with the Cubans and in Le Corsaire, Phetla will soon start work on a triple bill for September which will include The Nutcracker, Carmina Burana and an as yet unnamed new piece.
She choreographed Carmina Burana in 2010 and for this next season she’ll be able to use the different levels of the Joburg theatre to create a more theatrical feel to the production.
“It’s something quite special because it’s the first time I will be able to tell a story with dance. I’ve done lots of abstract choreography up to now,” said Phetla.
She returns to Russia in two months’ time, but for now she’s just glad to be able to spend time at her mother’s home in Alexandra for some home-cooked food in front of the heater.
While she’s been well received by Russian audiences, she says there’s not much difference between working here and working elsewhere: “Ballet is ballet is ballet.
“You put in the necessary hours and we all follow the same protocol.
“The only difference is the studios and the theatre sizes.”
• The National Ballet of Cuba’s SA tour opens in Joburg at the Teatro at Montecasino on August 30. The company will perform at the Artscape Opera House from September 13 to 16 and at the Sand du Plessis Theatre, Bloemfontein, on September 23 and 24.