| Julie Jammot |
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – It’s danced to Tchaikovsky’s famous melody, but it’s not your traditional Christmas Nutcracker: the Joburg Ballet has set it in the Kalahari desert among ancient Bushmen paintings.
The winter theme has been replaced with sun, sand and baobab trees.
The role of the Sugar Plum Fairy is instead played by a sangoma or traditional healer, and the famous “Russian Dance” is performed in overalls and gumboots.
“The Nutcracker Reimagined” comes with the original music and story line of France’s famous ballet dancer and choreographer Marius Petipa – during Christmas night.
And a little girl named Clara experiences a magical adventure.
A dancer of the Joburg Ballet prepares her pointed shoes on September 17. It’s danced to Tchaikovsky’s famous melody, but it’s not your traditional Christmas Nutcracker: the Joburg Ballet has set it in the Kalahari desert among ancient Bushmen paintings. ‘The Nutcracker Reimagined’ comes with the original music and story line of France’s famous ballet dancer and choreographer Marius Petipa – during Christmas night
Dancers of the Joburg Ballet get ready to enter the scene on September 17, in Johannesburg during a full dress rehearsal of the ‘Nutcracker Re-Imagined’. The Nutcracker Re-Imagined is a new and uniquely South African production of the ever-popular ballet piece The Nutcracker, that uses African tradition elements like the Sangoma (traditional healers) and African atmospheres
But with no snowflakes or tutus, Clara is led by a sangoma through the Kalahari Desert, where the cave paintings come to life. And a baobab is all there is for a Christmas tree.
Christmas in the southern hemisphere comes around midsummer so “trying to pretend that it’s winter outside, is a little bit ridiculous”, said Dirk Badenhorst, CEO of the Joburg Ballet.
“So the idea was to create a South African Nutcracker that would tell the normal story of The Nutcracker, but in a South African setting and in summer.”
“The Nutcracker Reimagined” was first created in 2008 by the Joburg Ballet’s forerunner.
It is on show again this year – from September 19 through 27.
“This one is very, very different,” says dancer Keke Chele, who plays the butler.
“Like a traditional Xmas party when that uncle that you haven’t seen in a long time comes to visit, those are the kind of characters that we get to explore and it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
It is set in a magical world of South Africa’s sangomas, baobab trees, the gumboot dance – an invention of black miners – and would not be complete without koeksisters, a traditional local sweet treat.
The choreography is based on classic and contemporary inspiration and is sometimes strikingly pictorial.
But the 2014 version of the ballet adds circus performances, with some characters travelling to a magical world suspended from ropes.
Performers find some of those aerial tricks a bit demanding.
“The most challenging for me is probably the new circus stuff that we’re doing, it’s quite difficult,” says Angela Revie, who plays Clara.
Kitty Phetla, a soloist at the Joburg Ballet, who plays the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy – which in this case is a sangoma – finds the latest version of the dance “more dangerous”.
“It’s more sculptured, rather than being classical, it’s exciting, it’s quick,” she says.
Choreographer Adele Blank, admits that adaptation did not initially flow smoothly because many of the dancers are not from South Africa and have already played in the classical Nutcraker.
“So they look at us as if we have lost the plot,” said Blank.
For several years, the Joburg Ballet – previously known as Mzansi Productions and South African Ballet Theatre – has tried to rebrand itself and reach out beyond its predominantly white audience.
“We are trying to sustain the existing audience, but grow a very new South African audience, particularly a young and black and exciting audience,” said Badenhorst. This performance “is one of the ways we are trying to achieve that”.
The first production of The Nutcracker took place at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia in 1892.