SEVEN years ago, one of the most popular and respected partnerships to emerge from Cape Town City Ballet disappeared from the stage when Tracy Li and Daniel Rajna (pictured) announced their early retirement, to universal dismay among the ballet-loving public of Cape Town.
Since then one or two invitations to stage a comeback have been made by CTCB’s chief executive, Elizabeth Triegaardt, but could not be taken up due to Rajna’s professional and academic commitments.
Now, as luck would have it, the completion of his studies towards a BTech degree has coincided with the CTCB’s 80th anniversary, so his response to the suggestion that the partnership should once again grace the boards has been prompt and enthusiastic. “Yes, yes, let’s do it… but let’s keep it low key.”
Li, clearly delighted, suggested they make their second debut at Tutus and Tea, the company’s fund-raiser ahead of its next production, Ballet Beautiful. She herself used this occasion a year ago when she began to reappear in CTCB ballets – she danced an excerpt from Camille, in which she was to feature as the lead.
Rajna makes no bones about how terrifying this can be after such a long hiatus, and Li agrees: “Your eyes glaze, your mind goes empty, and you lose your sense of where you are.” Nobody seeing their flawless execution of the new work choreographed by Robin Van Wyk (Fragile Balance) would suspect these hidden stresses, and the apparent ease of their performance is explained by unremitting preparation.
They point out that it takes roughly 12 hours a week in the studio to present five minutes on the stage, and fortunately they never stopped working together and training even while Rajna’s studies were in full swing.
Evening sessions in the studio or at the gym kept Rajna in peak condition.
“It’s great rehearsing together, when your body and brain come to terms with what you have to co-ordinate to create some- thing artistically complete and beautiful,” says Li. Rajna endorses this: “It’s all about co-ordination, the marriage of athleticism and artistry.”
On the subject of Fragile Balance, Li explains that it was created to fill the gap between two other new ballets staged in Ballet Beautiful while the dancers change costumes. “It’s scarier for us because it puts us in an unknown space”, but Rajna points out that “it’s also good because there are no points of comparison with previous performances, and it’s a new departure for us both”.
Dancing together again as more mature artists has its compensations. “Life’s experience has taught us to be comfortable in our own skins, but we’re not complacent, we have to keep pushing to maintain standards,” says Li.
According to Rajna, “you’re very nervous initially, but with the first steps it all changes and you settle into the dance; we did it for so long that it all comes back unexpectedly, and in the end it’s all about dancing that role”.
It’s also about reliance on a sound partnership, and Li says what she most values in Rajna is his honesty. “There is total trust, and we can fight constructively to achieve something worthwhile.” For him, she inspires great respect and he relies on her to correct and improve his own performance.
“She is one of those very rare dancers who watch their partner’s solos from the wings and offer advice when needed.” As for pas de deux, they concur that if something goes wrong in mid-performance, they can depend on each other to put it right. As in any really good partnership, on or off the stage.
• Ballet Beautiful runs at the Artscape Theatre from Friday to July 12. Check Computicket or www.artscape.co.za.