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Too little balls for balletomanes

Roshan Sewpersad

Performed by Cape Town City Ballet, with vocals by Duncan Royce, Luciano Zuppa and Zanne Stapelberg, accompanied by the Cape Town Opera Vocal Ensemble and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra
Choreographed by Sean Bovim
Artscape Theatre Centre
30 September to 9 October 2004.

Queen at the Ballet, touted as South Africa's first rock ballet, is an exciting, breakthrough move for Cape Town City Ballet. Although not without its faults, it marks a positive evolution of tradition, and embraces a more popular, contemporary (dance performance) culture.

In theory it should have been a showcase for the dancers to express their versatility and rock personas, and for the choreographer to dazzle with his interpretation of the music and performance of legendary Queen. My central expectation was a performance as gutsy and ballsy as Freddy Mercury's.

In practice it looked and felt a lot like a Sun City Extravaganza with distracting and excessive use of props, was unfocussed in places, and displayed too little coherent, original dance passages that made one think "wow". It also relied heavily on a few outstanding individuals and it is evident that all dancers are not of a similar calibre.

The pieces that used the corps de ballet were the weakest in terms of choreography and revealed too many less than scintillating dancers and dance movements. The ballet did not sustain the drive promised by the volume at which the music was amplified.

The smaller pieces revealed a more thoughtful choreography and aesthetic. However, some movements were clichéd and most of the interpretations did not do justice to the music, or if they did, they were diluted in the execution. In fact, the costumiers' interpretation of and homage to Queen was more meaningful.

Cape Town audiences have been fortunate in experiencing cutting-edge contemporary dance and physical theatre companies recently. Cape Town City Ballet also sparkled a few months ago in their collaboration with the Zürich Ballet. So have our expectations been raised. While there is no denying the high production values of Queen at the Ballet, one expected a lot more substance from South Africa's first rock ballet.

The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and the Cape Town Opera Vocal Ensemble were on form under the baton of Michael Hankinson. The singers are all capable performers, with Zanne Stapelberg bringing the house to its feet with her soprano role in "Barcelona".

As a lush extravaganza appealing to an audience appreciative of pop, this production works. The dance aficionado, however, will be left wanting more.

LitNet: 21 October 2004

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