AMARANTH. A Triple Bill of: Serenade, Transfigured Night and Enemy Behind the Gates. Cast: Members of Cape Town City Ballet. Choreographers: George Balanchine, Frank Staff, Christopher L Huggins. Accompaniment: The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Brandon Phillips. Photographs: Michael Groenewald. Artscape Opera House.

AMARANTH REVIEW. Cape Town City Ballet
Serenade. Choreography by George Balanchine ©️The George Balanchine Trust


It’s not so much a breath of fresh air as a tsunami blowing through Cape Town City Ballet as the company presents its winter season for 2019 under the stewardship of new CEO Debbie Turner. Not for nothing is Amaranth, with its connotations of well-being, chosen as the title for this triple bill which confirms the CTCB’s health after its struggle to survive, often in the face of major challenges.

Turner has stitched together three works representing diverse facets of ballet – traditional (Serenade), classical narrative (Transfigured Night) and contemporary (Enemy Behind the Gates). From Balanchine to Huggins, these ballets span roughly seven decades, (1934 to 2001), and collectively have the wherewithal to gratify a wide range of taste. What makes this production so pleasing is the commitment and well-honed proficiency of its executants.

Serene dancing

Minimalist elegance, evanescent groupings of ensembles small and large, tranquil shades of blue suggestive of moonlight, and the exquisite lyricism of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings combine to create an all-too-brief evocation of serene dancing to delight eye and ear. The uncompromising nudity of the stage focuses attention on elements that matter: beauty of line, aesthetic appeal of romantic costume, and adroit use of space.

Although at times individual dancers, like the impressively on-form Mariette Opperman, graceful Kirstel Paterson, or a nimble-footed Craig Pedro, detach themselves from the corps, Serenade remains essentially a grouped tableau and a team performance. A hint of narrative is present, but not sufficiently developed to counter the overriding impression of harmony in this extended “dance by the light of the moon” (to quote Balanchine – and he should know). From prefatory frozen tableau to stately finale, this ballet keeps its audience in thrall.

AMARANTH REVIEW. Cape Town City Ballet
Transfigured Night

Darkly arresting

Framed by the ensemble dancing of both Serenade and Enemy Behind the Gates is Staff’s darkly arresting Transfigured Night, a taut piece for a small cast of four. The timeless tragedy is enacted in the gloom of a dilapidated mansion, to the hauntingly sinister music of Schoenberg which is rendered by the CTPO with requisite subtlety and drama. Of the quartet of performers, the Elder Sister has the most exacting role, and dominates as a result.

Opening night saw Leané Theunissen as this persona, and her interpretation ticked all the boxes, conveying a toxic amalgam of frustration, misery and hatred. With a strong stage presence and authoritative command of Staff’s choreography, she eclipsed her trio of fellow dancers, whose performances were more muted. Chanté Daniels, as the Younger Sister, danced sweetly with the daintiness befitting her role, but like the male protagonists (Brother and Lover) her dramatic impact gave precedence to that of Theunissen, perhaps intentionally.

AMARANTH REVIEW. Cape Town City Ballet
Enemy Behind the Gates

Vigilant of potential invasion

Last comes the Huggins masterpiece, with its timely warning to be vigilant of potential invasion. Whether or not its message resonates with the audience, the dynamism of its massive ensemble as it powers through athletic choreography suspends intellectual inquiry; one is caught up in the vitality of the work, to feel almost as exhausted as the cast when the final note of Reich’s ferociously iterative music has sounded.

A multi-level set, bold lighting by Wilhelm Disbergen, unisex black costumes relieved with touches of scarlet, and militaristic drill that reduces the dancers to automatons, all play their part in creating a distinctive ambience both unsettling and exciting. Tightness of ensemble in such a huge group of dancers is admirable, attesting to the discipline of long and intensive rehearsal common to both classical and contemporary ballet and, in this case, bringing its reward.

Amaranth signals an auspicious start to the new season of ballet from CTCB.

What: Amaranth – Cape Town City Ballet

Where and when: Artscape Opera House until 7 July 2019

Tickets: Computicket