ATHLETIC AND GUTSY: Steven van Wyk (Master Time) in Death on Two Legs, the opening sequence of the show.

Tall, strong and exquisite dancers have been picked for Queen at the Ballet, which will be in Joburg for its 100th performance.

IT HAS TAKEN almost five years, but Sean Bovim is edging closer to achieving the look he has envisaged for Bovim Ballet.

About to take Queen at the Ballet to Johannesburg, Bovim has drawn together 24 dancers, a mixture of old and new faces for his project-based company.

“The look is a taller company. Yes, you need the shorter dancers to pin down the rest of them in the front, but my guys are athletic and strong. My girls are exquisite.

“Someone asked me, ‘Do you choose your dancers on looks?’ – and, yes, that helps. After all, you’re selling the company.”

Bovim wants what he calls gutsy dancers and particularly for Queen at the Ballet, he needs those who are seriously athletic, to handle the gymnastics.

He was particularly happy about having the choice when it came to the most recent round of auditions – and this reflects the strength of the graduates who have been emerging from dance schools in the past few years.

“I would never have said five years ago, this is where I’d be. I started Tango Nights and we just needed a table and a backdrop.”

This year Bovim Ballet was invited to take part in the Infecting the City public arts festival in Cape Town, another first for the company. “It was an amazing experience because the audience was part of the performance.”

The dancers performed in front of St George’s Cathedral. It was particularly sweet to see company members in their dark blue T-shirts who had come to watch their fellow dancers, teasing them like high school pupils.

Of course, as Bovim points out, using strong dancers means strong personalities, which can be useful in a ballet with a narrative, but destructive in a group with too many prima donnas.

For him, the way around this is to foster a friendly atmosphere that allows the dancers to express their personalities. He points out, however, that he can be an exacting perfectionist.

“At Bovim Ballet I do not tolerate fights and bitchiness. I believe a stronger team is the one that can actually get along. That’s another quality I look for because the product as a whole, sells.

“Finding a signature is the hardest thing as a choreographer. I’ve never believed that a pure technician can move me. Yes, a dancer needs technique, but also an innate musicality and a performance quality which includes acting to bridge that gap.

“Then there’s the fourth quality which is that X factor, which combines all of that. Dancers aren’t just machines,” said Bovim.

Two thirds of the current company have danced Queen at the Ballet before, a third are new and being drilled mercilessly, but he knows what he wants.

“Like, Zandile (Constable), she has such an expressive face, I have to use her in Bicycle Race.

“Or Simone (Botha) – she’s such a brilliant comedy dancer and she has impeccable timing, yet she’s deaf. I can’t believe it, sometimes she’s the only one on time,” laughs Bovim.

We are sitting in the sun, chatting outside the St John’s Church Hall in Wynberg, Cape Town, where the dancers are rehearsing for their Johannesburg trip. Normally they would rehearse at the UCT Dance School’s studios, but this year the university has a full class, so there are no free spaces during the week. They have to use the space over a weekend so the dancers can get used to the silk work.

Queen at the Ballet is fast-paced and needs dancers with a strong gymnastic bent, as well as some who can work on suspended fabric.

While they have performed this ballet in Johannesburg before, it was not with a full complement of dancers, and this time singer Angela Killian joins Cito for the grand finale.

The ballet uses contemporary dance techniques and is nominally about the life and times of Freddy Mercury, while the costumes reflect the Queen singer’s interest in fashion.

The role of Master Time – featuring JV Mattei – has evolved to incorporate hip hop. “You need to keep up with trends and what young people want to see,” said Bovim.

• Queen at the Ballet at Joburg Theatre from March 26 to April 4 at 8pm (except April 7 and 8).