Contemporary dance

Desperately seeking Kitty


DOWN, boy: Kitty Phetla in Redha’s Whispers of my Soul. Photograph by Lauge Sorenson

WHEN YOU ENTER the theatre, you might be full of frissons of excitement contingent on the promises of Fire and Ice, the name of this double bill danced by Joburg Ballet. As the works unfold, you might feel oddly let down. At best, the ice you will experience here in the Petipa work to music by Glazunov is clinical. And then, after interval, the Redha Benteifour work brings fire, but it blows hot and luke warm in different ways. It’s an important season for the company, however, enabling you to see just how far French-Algerian choreographer Redha is able to push the dancers, into a new league altogether.

Raymonda Act 3, the first part of the work, draws from the stylistic convention of 19th century dance to reflect abstract movement in an interregnum that digresses from the traditional story of a given ballet. It’s charming and something quite different from a work that slavishly conforms to dated narrative constructs, but the performance on opening night lacked the kind of tight precision that this type of dance begs. It’s a situation where ballerinas’ smiles are more like grimaces, and the cohesion feels like an exercise rather than a work, but Ruan Galdino distinguishes himself beautifully.

The much anticipated work by French-Algerian Redha, Whispers of my Soul, is something completely different, and you cannot but quail on behalf of how the little ballet dancers in the audience – courtesy of Friends of the Ballet – and their ballet mommies may have responded to this, considerably more hard core dance, which is unabashed in its sexuality, uncowering in its physical sense of violence and in how it takes no prisoners in terms of the general spectacle it offers.

And while there are some alarmingly beautiful moments that see bodies doing things that seem impossible, there are brutalist elements in the work’s design that hurt it. We all know the vagaries of piped music in dance, and it’s a pity that this season’s dance was compelled to take this decision. The boom of the deep bass in this work is something you will experience in your head, long after you’ve arrived home, but it is the magic of the set that gives it prowess and the ability to haunt.

From the moment this work opens, there’s a sheerness to the use of light, and the bleachers constructed on scaffolding that define the space are remarkable in their architectural presence and the surreal sense of echo with you in the audience, that it promotes. The whole company takes part in this jagged and muscular work which initially takes your breath away … but alas, as it unfolds, so many things are happening at once, and so many different kinds of music and story are extrapolated here simultaneously, that you are spoiled for choice and land up seeing it all but fleetingly, because you don’t want to focus too heavily on one event, and ignore others. There’s rain, lots of brass, lots of very loud piano and the infernal base, and then there’s a story interjected about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera that feels anachronistic.

There are also some odd costume decisions – in particular the short pants of the men, which is particularly unfortunate given that the choreography frequently finds them in a frontal, seated position. What you get are their naked knees, foreshortened, which often takes on the illusion of them sitting on lavatories, pants down.

But the biggest flaw in this work is largely one of omission. Joburg Ballet has one very distinctive dancer: Kitty Phetla. She’s much taller than any of her peers and has a presence that is simply remarkable. She’s also a magnificent dancer. When she’s given the opportunity to embrace the stage, she does it with impeccable grace and realness. Her gestures are magnanimous, sometimes somnolent, but always her presence is regal. There are just not enough instances celebrating Phetla in this piece. Indeed, as the work unfolds and the physically smaller and blander dancers are seen to be doing a range of alarming movements, you find your eye casting around for where Phetla might be, pondering what she might be doing.

The two pieces are a bit of an odd couple and a surreal foray into the medium of dance. They offset one another with discomfort, and in a way, after the closing bars of the Redha piece, you feel the need for a tad more Glazunov to debrief, as it were.

  • Fire and Ice is a dance programme featuring two words danced by Joburg Ballet, at the Nelson Mandela Theatre, Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein Johannesburg, until July 8.
  • Raymonda Act 3 is choreographed by Marius Petipa with music by Alexander Glazunov, produced by Guivalde de Almeida and featuring design by Vanessa Nicolau (set), Andrea Delgado (costumes) and Simon King (lighting). It is performed by Kyle Baird, Monike Cristina, Shana Dewey, Ivan Domiciano, Nicole Ferreira-Dill, Ruan Galdino, Shannon Glover, Savannah Ireland, Sanmarie Kreuzhuber, Alice le Roux, Thabang Mabaso, Bruno Miranda, Claudia Monja and Ana Paulino.
  • Whispers of my Soul is choreographed and produced by Redha assisted by Armando Barros, with design by Redha (soundtrack and costumes) and Wilhelm Disbergen (set and lighting). It is performed by Kyle Baird, Armando Barros, Chloé Blair, Miles Carrott, Monike Cristina, Shana Dewey, Ivan Domiciano, Nicole Ferreira-Dill, Gabrielle Fairhead, Ruan Galdino, Shannon Glover, Sikhumbuzo Hlahleni, Jessica Hurwitz, Savannah Ireland, Laurance James, Sanmarie Kreuzhuber, Alice Le Roux, Tumelo Lekana, Jessica Lombard, Thabang Mabaso, Vuyo Mahashe, Bruno Miranda, Claudia Monja, Leusson Muniz, Cristina Nakos, Ana Paulino, Kitty Phetla, Mahlatse Sachane, Kristof Skhosana, Erica Vadelka and Revil Yon.

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