Mozart and Salieri must be lauded as Cape Town City Ballet’s most successful ventures into contemporary ballet yet seen. It is hugely exciting and refreshing to see the company perform something so stylistically and thematically different.
Choreographer Marc Goldberg has interpreted the Alexander Pushkin novel of the same name to tell the legend of the composers’ rivalry, envy and betrayal through various mediums. The movement is at the forefront and remains largely in the classical/neo-classical vocabulary with the addition of some quirky character motifs and floor work. Stand out moments include the dancers ‘playing the piano’ with their hands in a corridor of light, and the physical portrayal of the Sequenze Lacrimosa which is comically tongue-in-cheek and perfectly delivered by Elizabeth Nienaber. The two male leads, Martin Milner and Daniel Szybkowski physically embody the opposing ideologies of the composers, with Milner’s fluid, loose and light energy depicting Mozart’s view of art as divine inspiration whereas Szybkowski’s upright and precise movement reflects Salieri’s idea that music and art are the result of craftsmanship and hard work.
The pre-production publicity has been particularly rich with its eye-catching photographs of strikingly lit dancers in wonderful costumes and wigs. And it more than lives up to its promise. The ballroom dresses in particular are one of the highlights, with contemporary tonal colours light-heartedly juxtaposed with an elegant boning to give the illusion and silhouette of the era. The sheer materials allow the audience to see the shapes of the dancers’ legs without losing the movement of the full skirts as they sweep across the stage.
Lighting and projection also play a fundamental role in the aesthetic of this ballet. The animation by Pieter Steyn is projected onto a backdrop of hanging ropes which adds extra movement to the images and creates a multitude of entrance and exit points for the dancers. The animation is wonderfully timed to some of Mozart’s most famous music and is used not only to set each scene but to transition between scenes and to show the passage of time. Occasionally very literal, the overall effect is nonetheless both visually striking and elegantly efficient in telling the story.
It is extremely exciting to see the Cape Town City Ballet adding works like this to its repertoire. We look forward to seeing more new pieces and more of such bold design collaborations in future.