Ten minutes before the demonstration class the stands in the Cape Town City Ballet company studio were already overflowing with ballet moms, bright-eyed children and an assortment of dance enthusiasts of all ages.
On the floor of the studio the 27 company dancers were warming up, dressed in an array of what can best be described as ‘ballet grunge’ – a somewhat eccentric assortment of pyjama pants, leg warmers and layers of lycra and netting. As one, they stood to attention as the internationally renowned Tracy Li, a CAPAB veteran, began the class.
A group of young girls, glittering in a sea of pink and white ballet paraphernalia, pressed themselves up against the glass wall of the studio to better see the dancers as Li guided them through a barre and centre, occasionally interjecting with phrases such as “don’t be stingy with the fondu” or “extend and 6 and 7 and pas de bourrée.” Instructions came thick and fast from Li’s tiny frame and demure voice, with demands to correct the position of a hand here, the tilt of a chin there, the extension of a line. The dancers were receptive, absorbing and applying Li’s corrections, feeding off her energy. Even for those who’d attended many ballet classes, the vigour and speed and intensity were truly impressive.
After the class, there was the chance to roam the UCT Dance Campus and look at poster and costume displays from CTCB productions over the years, or browse in the pop-up ballet shop. Some guests took the opportunity to have stage make-up done by two of the CTCB dancers. I overheard one of the dancers explaining, as she applied a heavy dose of eyeshadow, how the CTCB is in dire straits since one of its major sponsors pulled out.
This has been the situation for some time now and yet, partly through initiatives such as this Open Day, and various ‘Tea and Tutus’ events, but mainly through sheer determination, the Cape Town City Ballet has still managed to pull off regular top notch performances at the Artscape such as its hugely successful Sleeping Beauty last year, and its upcoming production of Swan Lake opening next week.
On top of that, the CTCB supports several outreach programmes, including the ZAMA Dance School which was giving a demonstration as part of the Open Day. Director Andrew Warth first opened by telling the audience that the school, based in Gugulethu, has 100 students, each sponsored for their classes and their dance attire. The well-disciplined girls and boys in the programme, smartly dressed in brightly coloured leotards, then ran through a couple of their exam exercises in front of the audience. One confident little performer, Monica, showed us her ‘Little Miss Muffet’ dance, for which she received an astonishing 100% from each of the three adjudicators at the Cape Town Eisteddfod. The highlight of the demonstration however was when seven of the dancers donned tap shoes and performed a rhythmic routine featuring some groovy little beats and complex formations. Tightly executed, the huge beams on the faces of the performers quickly spread to those of the audience.
The day also included the opportunity to view a company rehearsal of Swan Lake with former CAPAB alumna Elizabeth Triegaardt, the CTCB Honorary Executive Director affectionately referred to as ‘Prof’ by many of the dancers. There was also the chance for guests to test their own abilities when CTCB Artistic Director Robin van Wyk opened up the studio floor to a beginner’s ballet class “for 9 to 90 year olds” which saw a laughing (and groaning) crowd attempting tendus and ronde jambe at the barre. There were even class demonstrations for Spanish, African and Contemporary dance, as well as a class with the Cape Junior Ballet (CJB) company. The packed day concluded with two fundraiser performances featuring dancers from CTCB and CJB.
A wonderfully well-organised and heartfelt display of the CTCB, the Open Day inspired me, on my return home, to pull out my old ballet flats and do a couple of pirouettes for old-time’s sake. I like to think that in rooms across Cape Town of all shapes and sizes, many other girls were doing the same.
The Cape Town City Ballet Open Day took place at the School of Ballet in Lovers Walk on Saturday 29 March 2014.