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Monday, September 20, 2010


Margaret von Klemperer reviews The Witness Hilton Festival 2010 Flagship Production. (Courtesy of The Witness)

There were probably purists who came out of the theatre after seeing brilliant dancer/choreographer Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake feeling a bit wobbly. This is not the trad version. Tchaikovsky’s haunting music is there, some of it, and there are tutus, on the blokes as well as the girls. But other things are changed – utterly. And wonderfully.

Swan Lake opens with a quick rundown on the absurdities of ballet – why men do the “virility splits”, the problems of the girls who never get the guy, and so on. They could have added the unusual world ballet inhabits, where women turn into swans. So, when you think about it, Masilo’s Swan Lake, where Prince Siegfried fancies Odile rather than the flirtatious Odette because Odile is a bloke, is a more realistic outcome. Masilo is not afraid to use Swan Lake as a vehicle to explore sexuality, or the boundaries between Africa and Europe.

Her stage presence is extraordinary, holding the eye wherever she is. She has combined classical ballet with contemporary dance – the African wedding scene a splendid example. There are laughs at the expense of tradition, but not laughs of disrespect. Just a reminder that it doesn’t all have to be taken too seriously. And in the final scene, Odette’s agonising grief is as moving as you will ever see on a ballet stage. - Margaret von Klemperer