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This is how ballet has evolved in SA

Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

The evolution of dance as an art form can be attributed to numerous factors, mainly technology. But this hasn’t come without challenges, says sports massage therapist, Cecchetti Associate teacher and award-winning company manager at Joburg Ballet Chase Bosch.

Those who are less fortunate can’t afford WiFi and data, “which inhibits outreach programmes. Then there are online classes, superficial interactions that cause many dancers of all ages to become depressed.”

He further notes physical injuries are still rife “because instructors are conducting online classes with more students than a studio can usually hold. The instructor might miss incorrect steps as a result of swiping through numerous tiny videos where they can barely see their students’ faces, never mind the intricate details of their craft.”

But it’s not all bad. Chase says technology has made it possible to attend national or even international classes, allowing students to develop a broader understanding of dance.

These conversations and influences enable them to adapt and strengthen their craft. “[During the pandemic] We banded together to support one another in a way I thought we’d forgotten how,” says the esteemed dancer, who transitioned from a trained to a professional dancer in 2004 shortly after she joined Joburg Ballet, formerly known as The South African Theatre.

To Chase, the changes are noticeable. “Local dance in general now showcases the flavour of our rainbow nation. Some believe we introduced it to encourage our diverse audience to promote and support dance, but I think that’s merely a bi-product.

This flavour I speak of incorporates what South Africans want now or to see more of in the future. Sadly, corporations have capitalised on South African dance, and our work has become a little slapstick, vulgar.”

Image: Unsplash

Glamour: Do you think the dance industry receives enough support and recognition as a part of the South African entertainment industry?

Chase Bosch (CB): The moment dance societies in South Africa embrace the diversity amongst us, we can contribute collectively towards the bigger picture, which is to entertain our nation. You can’t offer long-lasting support to an industry as divided as ours. We artists and performers must recognise and respect each other enough to unify as an industry. Some entities have set this in motion, but the artists they’re trying to uplift and protect aren’t buying into it.

G: We’re navigating uncertainty. What role does ballet play in this?

CB: Many of us have lost so much due to Covid-19. Our company struggled, but I’m super-happy to say we’ve pulled together as a team (with an eager audience to support us), and it’s through this we’ve been able to continue to perform.

A live orchestra accompanied The Nutcracker at the Playhouse Theatre Company in Durban last year, and Evolve, at the Joburg Theatre, will run between 25 March and 3 April. These performances are a testament that although these are challenging times, Joburg Ballet is a steadfast cultural pillar for our fellow South Africans. I’m grateful to work for a company that has looked after me, providing a stable job through this time.

Regarding the ballets themselves, much of the music is recognisable from famous performances, giving us a sense that although things are changing or have changed, there are constants we can rely on to anchor us.

This isn’t just about nostalgia; I find these famous works’ ability to endure alluring. These ballets have stood the test of time through world wars, famine and disease. If ballet is enduring, then there’s hope we can be too and enjoy better, more stable times ahead.

Image: Unsplash

G: How has your perception of the industry changed since you retired from professional ballet in 2016 to explore other opportunities beyond the stage?

CB: Ballet is like a jealous mistress to whom you devote every waking minute. Like many other dancers, I couldn’t walk away from her entirely at the end of my career. We look for ways to improve current practices or teach its long-lasting principles. This has led me to form a deeper connection with ballet. I’m still, and always will be, learning about aspects of this art form I find surprising.

G: Does Joburg Ballet provide opportunities to people who haven’t been exposed to the art form but want to dance?

CB: Through Joburg Ballet’s development school and adult ballet classes, we’re finding hidden treasures in children who can’t get to a ballet class or even know what it is. Our adult students combine mental and physical acuity to promote audience development and enthusiasm for ballet.

G: What does the future hold for dance?

CB: It’s integral to being human, and it’s not going anywhere. But how we nurture it and allow it to grow will be specific to its geographical area.

South African dance must change its current trajectory. We need to gain loyalty, respect and trust from home-grown talented dancers. This way, they won’t feel they need to flee the country for opportunities. This isn’t to say they should remain landlocked. They should explore, learn different methods and experiences, but return to us to impart what they’ve learnt. We’re failing tomorrow’s dancers by not stepping up to the plate. We should constantly challenge dance to ensure growth and evolution.

A GEN-Z PERSPECTIVE

Ballet, jazz, Spanish and contemporary dancer, Nicole Ferriera-Dill

I remember watching Swan Lake at The State Theatre when I was a little girl, thinking it was the most beautiful performance I’d ever seen. That performance drew me to the art form and inspired me to become a ballet dancer.

I strive to improve every day, to be consistent and dedicated. The biggest highlight of my career was when my dream of dancing the dual principal role of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake came true.

Having performed internationally and worked with crew members from all over the world, I can confirm our standard at Joburg Ballet is world-class. I love performing to any audience, a South African one most of all.

Ballet is forever growing and evolving, so it remains relevant. During Covid-19, the biggest challenge for professional dancers was doing classes at home on a tiled floor over Zoom instead of training in the studio, which wasn’t ideal.

But these classes allowed us to attend classes by world-famous dancers such as Argentinian Marianela Núñez. Two of my biggest dreams came true: dancing the principal role in Swan Lake and achieving principal status.

I want to continue dancing principal roles in classical ballets and inspire the next generation of young dancers. If ballet is your child’s passion and they’re willing to dedicate themselves to going professional, then I’d say support them.

ON REPRESENTATION AND INCLUSIVITY

Ballet dancer and choreographer, Tumelo Lekana

More principal artists of colour are emerging, more changes are being made in companies through movement call outs. Ballet is accessible to everyone who dares to try it. The pandemic has bankrupted artists, leaving many without jobs or spaces to rehearse in or even perform at.

But we can elevate the conversation by taking dance to our audiences, engaging them in more familiar and accessible spaces such as the Festival Of Lights at Joburg Zoo. We can also organise more dance workshops and outreach programs.

To be a dancer, you need a strong mind and willingness to carry artistic challenges and responsibilities that come with the art form for the rest of your life.

Image: Unsplash

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