Chante Daniels. Picture: Supplied.
Chante Daniels. Picture: Supplied.

Dancers bring sculpture gallery to life

By Chelsea Geach Time of article published Aug 28, 2020

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THE DANCERS of Cape Town City Ballet may still be separated from the theatre, but in a stunning innovation of the socially-distanced era, they have made a sculpture gallery their new stage.

The local ballet company teamed up with the Norval Foundation to create a dance film combining the artistry of its dancers with the sculptures of internationally-renowned artist William Kentridge.

The 11-minute film, directed by Kirsten Isenberg and Nathalie Vijver, navigates through the picturesque Norval Foundation gallery, cutting between different dancers interacting with Kentridge’s ‘Why Should I Hesitate: Sculpture’ exhibition.

Debbie Turner, chief executive of CTCB, said the challenge that Covid-19 presented to performers had pushed them to explore new digital ways of connecting with their audiences.

“This time is not a question of survival for Cape Town City Ballet - one of the longest standing ballet companies in the world - but one of growth and development,” she said. “We will continue to explore new ways to engage with our audience, until the time we can come together again to experience the magic of a live performance.”

Elana Brundyn, chief executive of the Norval Foundation, said that it’s more important now than ever for different creative disciplines to unite and support each other to transition according to the times, and keep artistic expression thriving. The film’s dynamic interplay between dance and visual art is an exciting example of such a collaboration.

“Museums worldwide are looking at how dance - which until now has been performed almost exclusively in theatres - can be experienced in a more interactive and experimental museum context,” Brundyn said.

“The museum setting allows dance artists to engage with and interpret the artworks in a way that transforms both artwork and dancer, in a synthesis that generates new and exhilarating meanings and possibilities.”

Peter Johnson composed an original score for the film, which drives the pace through periods of grace and calm, to drama and intensity.

The movement in the film was designed by participants of CTCB’s Choreolab programme, which was introduced last year to develop choreography talent within the company.

For ballet dancer and Choreolab participant Gabriella Ghiaroni, the project was a unique challenge to combine her love for two different art forms.

“I am a lover of all forms of art - I love going to museums and exhibitions, so I was already well accustomed to William Kentridge,” she said. “It is not every day that you get to use and be inspired by the art of one of SA’s most well-accomplished artists, so I wanted to find some common link between his work and my own.”

Ghiaroni took the theme of opposed harmony - typical of Dadaist artworks - and translated it into choreography using contrasting movements.

“I created movement that was strong and soft, fast and slow, controlled and released,” she said.

In the film, Ghiaroni performs her own choreography in amongst the shapes and shadows of a procession of Kentridge sculptures. Another section of her choreography is performed by principal ballerina Mariette Opperman, interacting with Kentridge’s giant whimsical ‘Ampersand’ sculpture.

“I like the weird and slightly strange and sometimes unexplainable, so when I saw Ampersand I was drawn to the absurdity of this mammoth sculpture with no definitive meaning behind it,” Ghiaroni said. “This gave me a lot of freedom to come up with my own meaning behind the work that I was going to create on my dancer incorporating the sculpture.”

Being separated from the stage has taken its toll on the dancers, and adapting to film was one way of still being able to perform.

“This year due to Covid we haven’t been able to perform to a live audience, so this became our new way of still getting to create our works and provide dance for the fans of Cape Town City Ballet.”

*The film is available to watch for R50 at, and the Norval Foundation reopens to the public from Wednesday.

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