Over the past few years Debbie Turner has made a point of bringing in choreographers from outside South Africa to produce new work for her company at the end of the year.
The choreographers working with the Cape Dance Company (CDC) all have a link with the country, but are working elsewhere at the moment.
Enter Bradley Shelver. He is a South African dancer-choreographer now dancing as a soloist in the Metropolitan Opera Ballet (watch out for the Ster-Kinekor screening of Aida in the new year).
Shelver attended the National School of Arts in Joburg and holds advanced diplomas in tap, jazz and ballet through the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing in London.
He received his SA National Colours in Dance in 1996 and has danced as a soloist with companies such as the Alvin Ailey Repertory Company, Elisa Monte Dance, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Ballet Hispanico of New York, Limón Dance Company and Phoenix Dance Theatre in the UK.
He has also performed as a guest artist across North America, recently showcased his Healing Song at the Baxter Dance Festival and his book Performance Principals through the Dance Technique of Lester Horton will be published by Lepos next year.
He was in Cape Town last month to work with the CDC dancers for Grace, their annual showcase.
He is specifically working on Scenes, a minimalist architectural ballet in four parts written to the compositions of Gallasso, Bach, Beethoven and Riley.
For Scenes, Shelver was inspired by the process of creativity and the four movements mimic the process of choreographing a piece of work.
With his own Bradley Shelver Contemporary Dance Theater (founded in 2003), and with the CDC dancers, this choreographer emphasises his love of technique, but not at the cost of the audience.
“I love the aesthetic of technique, of clarity and refinement and all of that, but then not hiding behind it but using it as a vehicle to be more expressive.
“What I tell these dancers, and the same goes for my company, is that audiences don’t understand battement tendu or glissé, they don’t understand the steps, but what they do understand is the motivation behind the steps.
“Even though my work is very technically inclined, I don’t use melodramatic gestures or things to get the feeling across. I use choreography and steps, but I coach it to the point where it’s about the intention behind the steps.
“‘Why do you do this?’ I ask the dancers. If they look at me like they don’t know, my question is: ‘Well, if you don’t know, then the audience is never going to get it. Whatever it is that you do, you have to believe in it’,” explained Shelver.
The CDC dancers learnt the steps for Scenes in about eight days and spent the next two weeks refining and tweaking their steps under his direction, before he handed over his notes to Turner.
Originally Shelver was meant to stick around and perform The Guff himself, but a last-minute change of plans saw him return to work as a soloist with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet when his contract started earlier than expected, so he’s taught that particular dance to three CDC dancers to perform during Grace.
Luckily he already knew what he wanted to do with Scenes before he even set foot in South Africa because he’d worked on the various parts at different stages.
“This is the first time it’s been put together in its entirety. That’s quite exciting and daunting.
“When you actually put it into practice, you hope everything’s going to work like you wanted it to work.
“I have made some changes. The last section I basically re-choreographed them here.
“As for the third section, the duet, I had the basis of that which I did for a company in Brazil.
“Then I changed quite a lot of it to suit the dancers here and the mood of the whole work.”
In addition, for Grace, CDC will perform Adele Blank’s newly commissioned ballet Mnemenology, created to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Christopher L Huggins’ Enemy Behind the Gates and When Dawn Comes, first staged by the CDC in 2010 and last year.
• Grace will be performed at Artscape Theatre from Friday to December 14 at 8pm and on Saturday, December 15 at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets priced from R120 to R140 at Computicket or call 021 421 7695.
TWO CAPE Dance Company members have been awarded full scholarships to attend Washington Ballet School’s Summer Intensive next year.
Cousins Mthuthuzeli and Aviwe November – who hail from the Zolani Township outside Montagu – were trained in ballet by Fiona Sargeant, who represents Dance For All in that community.
Both 19, the two come from a family that is passionate about ballet and dance. Mthuthuzeli’s younger brother Siphe is currently on full scholarship at the National Ballet School of Canada where he has been training for the past two-and-a-half years, and his older brother Vusumizi is a Dance For All teacher who worked alongside Sargeant as a translator and is now a hip hop teacher with DFA.
Mthuthuzeli won the gold medal at this year’s prestigious Cape Town International Ballet Competition in February at Artscape, in the Junior Contemporary Section after competing against some of the world’s best talent.
Both dancers are currently training at Debbie Turner’s Cape Academy of Performing Arts, which is the feeder school for the Cape Dance Company, and have started performing with the company. Mthuthuzeli will perform in the CDC showcase, Grace, which runs at The Artscape Theatre from December 7 to 15. – Tonight Writer