Johannesburg - One could compare soccer with ballet: people who are passionate about harnessing the intrinsic power and agility of the human body spend hours and hours daily, practising their physical skills, and then take to a field or stage to perform before an audience.
Ballet dancers and choreographers expand on the movements we all make, creating and performing sequences that lilt, glide, sweep, spin, surge and soar through the air. They do it because it feels fantastic. And they love the affirmation of applause from an audience that feels fantastic watching these expansive movements.
When the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre (SPBT) performs at Montecasino in September, they’ll be entertaining us using the stylised dance form that began in Italy and France, was developed in Russia and taken back to Europe, and then spread to the rest of the world, over hundreds of years, during which time it has been refined, combining dance, choreography, music, design and stagecraft into fascinating productions.
Steeped in the tradition of Russian ballet, and proud of the role that their city played in its evolution, the SPBT specialises in the wonderful productions one can always savour again, appreciating various interpretations. They will present two full-length ballets that were created in their country in the latter half of the 1800s in a collaboration between choreographer Marius Petipa and composer Peter Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (140 years old this year) and The Nutcracker.
The US author Willa Cather said: “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” These balletic classics tell some of those stories: The romantic Swan Lake of yearning and love between Prince Siegfried and Swan Princess Odette, of distraction, betrayal, regret and … will their love prevail over the threat from the evil Rothbart? We’ll have to wait and see which way this version of the ballet ends.
And, in The Nutcracker, the imaginations of young Clara and her godfather Drosselmeyer bring to life a delightful adventure of hope, adversity, love and happiness.
Unlike other companies, general manager Konstantin Tachkin’s survives on box office takings; an achievement in itself worthy of applause, given the cost not only of putting on a ballet, but of transporting dancers and sets around the world.
With their touring across six continents over the 23 years of the company’s existence, on arrival in another city, the experienced stage crew requires about 24 hours to prepare the magnificent sets and hundreds of beautiful costumes. Among the many challenges of touring are various weather conditions and altitudes. With Joburg being at 1 750m above sea level, some of the dancers will need oxygen backstage to sustain them through the more energetic dances.
How wonderful for Joburgers, who are accustomed to touring ballet companies performing to recorded music, that the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra will be accompanying the dancers this season. Aside from their own rehearsals beforehand, the orchestra has nine hours of rehearsal time scheduled with the company’s conductor, Timur Gorovenko.
Among the dancers are the likes of the splendid Irina Kolesnikova and Dmitry Akulinin. Spoil yourself this spring with the splendour of Russian ballet; it will be a moving experience.
Swan Lake will be presented from September 14 to 19 and The Nutcracker from September 22 to 24 in the Teatro, Montecasino. Tickets can be bought from Computicket.