The French proclamation Le roi est mort, vive le roi! –  The king is dead, long live the king (or queen) –  dates back to1422. That’s when d’Uzes – a senior French noble – declared Charles V1 of France dead and his son ascended the French throne as Charles V11.

Oddly, that phrase has become adopted when a ‘crown’ worn by someone in the top echelons of their profession, whether it be business, sport, politics, film or theatre, has passed on to someone else. One day, a name or a company’s name is on everybody’s lips. The next, a new name is the talk of the town.

In such instances when ‘the king is dead, long live the king’ their demise (take that to read fall from grace) is usually preceded by whispers, gossip or concerns about ill health, aging, financial difficulties or maybe even personality clashes.

Still, unless truth behind such rumours is known, sensible people try to take little notice of what could easily be interpreted as maliciousness.

Ballet dancer Tracy Li has been synonymous with CAPAB Ballet/CTCB for half a century
Ballet dancer Tracy Li has been synonymous with CAPAB Ballet/CTCB for half a century

Principals Coach

However, for a number of years, concerns regarding Cape Town City Ballet’s (CTCB) performance standards, loss of dancers, personnel and other problems had spread along the grapevine. So, not unnaturally when CEO Elizabeth Triegaardt and Principals Coach Tracy Li, suddenly disappeared from CTCB’s hierarchy, folk wanted to know… why?

From an outsider’s viewpoint it made sense Triegaardt should retire. After all, in one capacity or another she’s been synonymous with CAPAB Ballet/CTCB, for half a century.

Audiences favourite ballerina

That is where Tracy Li comes into the picture. Petite, gracious Li, who joined CAPAB Ballet in 1993, soon became audiences favourite ballerina. From her Giselle debut opposite Stanislav Tchalov she danced every principal role in CAPAB/CTCB’s repertoire.

These included Camille, Sleeping Beauty, Juliet, Carmen, Cinderella, Eurydice in Orpheus in the Underworld and Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.  When, in 2007, Daniel Rajna, her long-standing partner retired, Li left behind her illustrious, award winning, international career with a memorable performance of Camille.

Gifted with such wide performance experience Li, guided by Keith Mackintosh and Triegaardt, joined CTCB’s management team as Principals Coach.

During her new career, Li coached principals, soloists, guest artists and CTCB’s corps de ballet. She regularly gave company class, helped produce and rehearse CTCB’s productions as well as overseas works. In 2008, Li was instrumental in the creation and administration of Friends of the Ballet – the organisation formerly known as Balletomanes – which helped fundraise and bring to public attention CTCB’s activities.

When in 2018 Triegaardt’s retirement became eminent, CTCB’s board appointed Li as Acting Executive Director. In anticipation of Li’s formal appointment Triegaardt had been expected to guide Li through administrative duties. Unfortunately communication crossed wires failed for this to happen.

Never-the-less between April – September 2018 Li successfully mounted Mark Goldberg’s Mozart & Salieri. And, after many year’s absence achieved enticing international designer Peter Cazalet and South Africa’s premier choreographer Veronica Paeper back into CTCB’s fold to mount Paeper’s Cinderella.

What happened next to Li never reached the public domain. For whatever unknown reasons, both Triegaardt and Li disappeared off ballet lover’s radar.

By chance I recently met Li and over a coffee we chatted away.  She is very loyal to CTCB and would divulge nothing about her abrupt departure except to say she is now happy teaching with Jacqui Pells at her studio in Steenberg. There, in a wholesome environment, she is nurturing young pre-professional dancers. Li’s newest adventure is giving motivational talks. Her most recent one being with Gender DynamiX.

But the question still arises. Why did CTCB’s board allow Tracy Li to vanish without any fanfare with which to honour her years of dedicated service. Surely the public is entitled – even a year after the event – to be told why their queen ballerina no longer wears a CTCB crown?

Who: Ballerina Tracy Li