For many artists and audience members, 2023 signals a return to stages – to live, physical performance, following two years of social distancing and pandemic-related disruptions. For Joburg Ballet, it’s a year for grand flourishes, bold programming, and pushing the boundaries of the dance form.
Ahead of the launch of Dialogues, we spoke with Joburg Ballet’s Chief Executive Officer Esther Nasser, Marketing and Publications Administrator Jonathan Hurwitz, and Artistic Director Iain MacDonald about the year ahead.
Joburg Ballet is off to a busy start this year. This March, you launch Dialogues, a triple bill of ballets by Chloé Blair, Rosie Wilkens, and Bruno Miranda. Can you tell us a bit about this opening programme?
Dialogues offers a trio of premieres in an intoxicating mix of the dramatic, the classical and the new. Chloé Blair’s intriguing Table for Two is an expanded version of a work she originally created for Joburg Ballet RAW while with Identity, Rosie Wilkens gives us a dance piece with a South African flavour. Bruno Miranda is staging the Grand Pas from a 19th century classic, Bluebeard, bringing a touch of the grand and the classical to Dialogues.
In February, you also hosted a five-day intensive workshop led by Akram Khan who worked with Joburg Ballet dancers. How did this workshop come about and do you think this has influenced the practice of the Joburg Ballet dancers?
The visit by Akram Khan and his creative associate, Mavin Khoo, was negotiated by company CEO Esther Nasser. It was a revelatory experience for the dancers of Joburg Ballet to experience these two dance luminaries over the five-day workshop.
While the city continues to face its challenges, it seems as if theatres, concert halls and live performance venues are being enthusiastically activated and engaged with following the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This feels evident in both the frequency of events and the general attitude of artists and organisations – a renewed sense of passion to perform. Is Joburg Ballet feeling this, too? Are you noticing more eagerness among audiences?
Even during the pandemic, when we were performing to reduced audiences in socially distanced seating configurations, we felt an enthusiasm among audiences. It was as if the public were defying the pandemic. Our first season following the lifting of restrictions in 2022 did very well. It will be interesting to see how Dialogues does.
Romeo and Juliet, La Traviata, and Don Quixote are the upcoming 2023 seasons at Joburg Ballet, performed across Johannesburg and Cape Town. Why the choice to stage these well-known works?
The repertoire for the year is chosen by artistic director Iain MacDonald based on a range of considerations. In choosing the ballets for 2023, some of these considerations would be, in the case of Romeo and Juliet, that it has not been performed by the company since 2016 so it is ready to return to the repertoire after a seven-year break. La Traviata has been chosen for the company’s first-ever full-scale season in Cape Town. It was presented to great acclaim in Johannesburg last year and will show the company off well to Cape Town audiences. And as for Don Quixote, it was the ballet we were presenting just as the country went into lockdown in 2020 so we only managed to do four performances before the theatres closed. So in a sense, it’s “unfinished business” which we look forward to finishing with a grand flourish in October 2023.
Lastly, for those readers who might not have spent an evening at The Joburg Theatre watching a Joburg Ballet production, could you give us a sense of what a contemporary South African ballet is all about?
Contemporary ballet in South Africa, as it is globally, is about pushing the boundaries of dance and developing new voices. What makes dance such a living and vibrant art form are its firm classical foundations and its exploration of new frontiers. In South Africa, we have our own unique element: a voice that is unmistakeably and proudly South African. To provide a platform for aspirant choreographers, Iain MacDonald introduced Joburg Ballet RAW at the beginning of 2021. In this safe and nurturing environment choreographers have the opportunity to explore the creative process. Chloé Blair’s Table for Two was first created for the RAW project and is now being expanded for Dialogues.