Cape Town City Ballet’s latest production Shades of Love features five ballets by internationally renowned choreographer Ashley Killar. Each piece explores a different aspect around the idea of love; from the playful ‘Tritsch-Tratsch’; the tragic ‘Miraculous Mandarin’ to the more reflective ‘Towards Illusion’ and ‘Sarabande’ as well as the fairy-tale love of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It is refreshing to see such an array of diverse works, many of which are new to CTCB, not only to enjoy new choreography, but because it gives us a chance to see various dancers performing in roles we have never seen them in before.
Stand out performances are given by Rosmund Ford and Ivan Boonzaaier in ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’, which, with its controversial history of being banned, was always going to be the most anticipated work. And it did not disappoint. Boonzaaier has become one of the best actors in the company, whether comical or serious, and as the forlorn Mandarin he delivers an earnest and affecting performance with his stricken physicality and helpless eyes. He is lured to his fate by Ford who, although always confident in sensual roles, conveys a deeper level of empathy and remorse as the young girl which moves the character beyond merely being a seductress and draws the audience into the story of her destitution. It is cleverly constructed to the gripping music by Bartok, ebbing and flowing between moments of tension and relief without losing the attention of the audience. But although ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’ is a definite highlight of the evening, it is closely followed by ‘Tritsch – Tratsch’ which is delightful for all the opposite reasons. Its charm derives from its unashamed innocence and comic characters. Conrad Nusser and Revil Yon dance well together with clean lines and almost perfect unison as the two sailors who are entranced, along with the audience, by the always captivating and charismatic Elizabeth Nienaber.
There are other memorable moments such as the comic interaction between Xola Putye and Thomas Thorne in ‘Towards Illusion’ and Claire Spector’s effortless elegance as Beauty in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It is also great to see Laura Bosenberg and Thomas Thorne together again, their partnering never missing a beat, yet the opening and closing numbers fall short of the standards set by the other pieces. ‘Towards Illusion’ has an easy, anecdotal energy and there are stunning moments in ‘Sarabande’ when the company, all in white, dance in absolute unison, giving a glimpse of something great. Yet it never quite fulfils these expectations. The large number of dancers in both pieces serves to create impact, particularly with beautiful shapes and patterns, yet at other times the sloppy canon undermines this effort. ‘Sarabande’ is accompanied by Ravel’s rousing piano concerto and set on an ominous full depth black stage, yet this stark contrast of white on a vast black space is only fully utilised to its full dramatic potential right at the end when Thorne lifts Bosenberg above his head and runs with her from right at the back of the stage towards the audience at a breathtaking pace, making the audience feel as if she is about to shoot off the stage before it blacks out.
Despite the varying shades of enjoyment experienced throughout the evening from contagious joy, enchantment and heartbreak to feeling slightly underwhelmed, it is exciting to see the Cape Town City Ballet continuing to expand its repertoire with invigorating new works. It is also thrilling to see how choreographers such as Killar are able to draw out something new from the dancers and push their versatility. One can only hope that this is only the first of many more collaborations between CTCB and Killar.
Cape Town City Ballet’s Shades of Love runs at the Artscape Opera House in Cape Town 7 to 22 May 2016.