Queen at the Ballet is a tribute to Freddie Mercury created by choreographer Sean Bovim, whose dance company, Bovim Ballet, interprets the classic art form from a fresh point of view. By adding modern elements such as rock music and even break dancing the company succeeds in opening up ballet to a new audience.
Sure enough, at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre on Wednesday night the most surprising thing for me was not on stage but in the audience. Sitting right next to me were four male students who, judging from the conversation I eavesdropped upon, appeared to be straight up and down heterosexual. How refreshing.
The story of Queen at the Ballet is set around Freddie (Henk Opperman), his male lover Jim (Devon Marshbank) and the women in his life played, or rather danced, by Tanya Futter, Nicola van der Merwe and Faye Dubinski.
The chemistry between the male leads was one of the most natural pairings I have ever seen. This was most obvious during “Take My Breath Away” when Opperman dances with Nicola van de Merwe while Marshbank and James Bradley partner up. Although Opperman’s movements flowed together effortlessly with those of van der Merwe, the combination lacked the flair and passion of the duets with Marshbank.
I’d forgotten how very soft ballet is. Even those hard pointe shoes the ballerinas wear hardly make a sound. As a result it felt distinctly odd without, for example, the stomping feet of the classic “We Will Rock You”. But just as Mercury shifted expectations of how a rock star should be, the different sound effects cast the music in a new perspective, challenging us to adapt our expectations.
Cito, the lead singer of rock band Wonderboom, provided the voice behind the Bovim’s ode to Freddie along with Daniel Fisher. He veered off pitch at times but he encapsulated the spirit of the music in such a way that his minor slips could be forgiven, perhaps not surprising for someone who has just been nominated for a Fleur Du Cap award for his performance as the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar. Fisher in contrast gave a more technically sound performance but his classical interpretation lacked the grit and soul of Cito’s.
The costumes, designed by South African designers Ian West, Klûk CGDT, Gavin Rajah,CraigPortand Jay Jays were a draw in themselves. This is not a typical ballet in any way. The male singers’ outfits were the only let down. The unfitted suits made even the lean Cito look dumpy.
And the boys beside me? Well, even the one who looked rather as though he had been dragged there against his will had shining eyes by the interval. And after the ‘Barcelona’ finale he was the first one on his feet clapping and hollering. Another win for Team Culture.
By Jana van Heerden
Sean Bovim’s Queen at the Ballet runs at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre 1 – 11 February 2012.