Dance review: Intoxicating Alchemy- Three Dances– programme by Cape Town City Ballet –November 2021

What: Alchemy – Three Dances-Cape Town City Ballet Spring 2021 season
When: November 6-13, 2021 at 7.30pm with 3pm matinee on Saturday Nov 13
Where: Artscape Opera House Tickets: R195 – R350
Booking link:  or Artscape Dial-a-seat 021 421 7695

Please Note: The event complies with all COVID-19 regulations including social distancing and patrons must wear masks for entry  

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the opening of Alchemy – Three Dances, so time is of essence. I urge you to see this thrilling programme of dance- which wraps up November 13. It is an intoxicating programme of gentle neo-classical ballet (George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco), seamlessly plotted strength/athletic dance (Jiří Kylián’s Falling Angels)and cirque/circus/warrior dance infused with a millennial frenzy, reminiscent of TikTok and social media expressions of wowing viewers (Troy Game by Robert North). Under the direction of its CEO, Debbie Turner, Cape Town City Ballet is increasingly presenting dance which pivots way beyond the box of ‘ballet’, grounded in Eurocentric conventions. This programme, featuring three male choreographers, is emblematic of the innovation, energy and artistry of the company and its creative team – lighting, costume and set design.

Alchemy begins with George Balanchine’s neo-classical ballet, Concerto Barocco danced to J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins. Everything is laid down – as specified by ©The George Balanchine Trust and this staging is beautifully paced – with Diana White (via Zoom) as répétiteur [coach]. White is a former soloist of Balanchine’s NYC Ballet and is répétiteur and Master teacher for the George Balanchine Trust and the Jerome Robbins Trust. The grace and light touch of Concerto Barocco – is followed by an all women line-up in Jiří Kylián’s Falling Angels. It was conceived as a piece for eight women and according to the programme notes, is a “light-hearted homage to female performers.” The work engages with “discipline and freedom” as the women work within the markings on the stage. They work with and against each other’s bodies; always within the frame of the grid that is set out. Wondrous use of space – the floor/stage as a container and frame. We hear the thump and pounding of the bodies – pushing and pulling – retaining its integrity as a whole. I loved the reflections of the bodies, mirrored in the polished floor.

Alchemy starts with the stillness and grace of George Balanchine’s ballerinas, revs up with the eight falling women – straddling the spaces – pushing and pulling together and then whoa – we get an Alpha Male extravaganza of virility, sexuality, hyper dexterity in Troy Game by Robert North. Troy Game, inspired by “Ancient Greek war games and martial arts”, was first staged in 1974 and this is its first presentation on the South African stage. It may have been conceived in 1974 but it pings for me in relation to contemporary culture, I am thinking of the Korean survival TV series Squid Game, on Netflix. I am thinking of men strutting on social media, showing off their abs as they dine on 18 egg whites per meal and no carbs. They do pole dance and indoor rock climbing and invite us to gaze at their bodies as works of art. They are contemporary gladiators braying for us to ogle as they balance and hold their poses and positions, for their selfies. The racking, stacking of bodies – pyramids of bodies- transports me back to when Boswell Willkie Circus brought out “exotic” acts from Eastern Europe and Russia  to South Africa. Men in leotards and uni-tards– buffed and puffed – were grunting and fooling around and pleasing the crowds. We sat transfixed in circus tents filled with sawdust, with the smell of scrawny captive performing lions, waiting in the wings. The acrobatic troupes panted and spurted out phrases we couldn’t understand. They could have been wooing us or mocking us. We didn’t care. They laughed. We laughed. We swooned at their muscles and timing. They gestured for us to put our hands together, in appreciation and we applauded on demand and continued as they went on for another round and then we were screaming throughout, holding our breaths. They may have tumbled here and there but it was all choreographed and we all in the game together.

Cape Town City Ballet dancers joke and kibbitz in Troy Game, playfully, sending up the genre of old style circus acrobats, infusing the piece with a heightened millennial exhibitionism and tapping into survival Alpha Male constructs from TV. The dancing and dancers are mesmerising; the costumes by Peter Farmer are delicious. Alchemy is a must see- and it is happening now- level 1 lockdown South Africa, year two of the pandemic. This a stunning programme. Do not miss.

Concerto Barocco- choreography by George Balanchine.
Performed by permission of the ©The George Balanchine Trust. Kyle Baird, Tamlyn Higgins and Chanté Daniels in Concerto Barocco. Photo: Joan Ward.
Alchemy – Three Dances- Cape Town City Ballet Spring 2021 season- programme

Concerto Barocco -George Balanchine’s neo-classical ballet, is danced to J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins- performed by permission of the ©The George Balanchine Trust.

Falling Angels – Jiří Kylián’s all-women work – set to beguiling score by Steve Reich.

Troy Game – Robert North’s all-male work – with a Brazilian inspired score by Jon Kelietio and Bob Downes. It was inspired by “Ancient Greek war games and martial arts.” Costume design by Peter Farmer. Lighting design is after original design by Charter.

❇ Images supplied. Featured image: Troy Game – pic by Joan Ward. Supplied.