Cape Town City Ballet (CTCB) is not only Under New Management, it is also Under New Energy, as SHEILA CHISHOLM discovers:

Shortly after Debbie Turner took office as Cape Town City Ballet’s newly appointed Chief Executive Officer in October 2018, she told me she “felt confident she would find the road that could lead the company back to its former international heights.”

Cape Town City Ballet
Marcel Meyer and Kirstel Paterson in A Christmas Carol. Photo credit Pat Bromilow Downing

So after almost 18 months at the helm, it seemed a good time to sit down with Turner and Suzette Raymond (CTCB Board Chairperson) to chat about how far along that road they thought CTCB had travelled.

Have Kombi, will travel

Said Raymond: “I am not talking out of turn by saying that for the past few years, Cape Town City Ballet has not maintained the technical or artistic standards expected from a professional classical ballet company. That is why CTCB’s Board brought Debbie on board as we knew she had the drive and ambition to tackle problems besetting the company. One such problem is transport. Most company members have cars and share with others who haven’t. But what we urgently require is a multi-purpose vehicle to transport workshop staff, costumes, and the odd small props from our wardrobe stores to the studio for fittings/repairs, to the theatre for performances, to the laundry for cleaning and back again.”

She continues: “You can’t believe how bulky costumes en masse are, and presently Mervyn Williams, our wardrobe chief, is wearing out his own car for this purpose. The vehicle we need will also be used to Build the Ballet Initiative – our development programmes around and beyond our city borders.  We’ve beseeched our “lilac fairy” to weave a spell that would magically produce either a six seater Kombi or finances to purchase one. Unfortunately, Carabosse’s negativism is winning as no vehicle has, to date, materialised. Do you think a kindly, sympathetic philanthropist is somewhere out there?” she asks.

Cape Town City Ballet
Mariette Opperman and Ivan Boonzaaier in Concerto Barroco. Photo credit Paul Seaby.
Concerto Barocco choreography by George Balanchine.
Performed by permission of the ©️The George Balanchine Trust

Changes and future plans

Turning to Turner, I asked what changes she has introduced and what future plans she, and CTCB’s Board, have in place? “Although there is still a way to go, I am making headway. One of my first jobs has been to enlarge the company to forty dancers. That’s been done by bringing in Tamlyn Higgins as a principal. She’s a widely experienced ex-Joburg dancer with 11 years experience dancing in Europe. I have drawn four male dancers from my own Cape Academy of Performing Arts, and offered contracts to several apprentices – young dancers aspiring for professional careers but not quite emotionally or artistically ready for long term contracts.”

Turner recently held auditions in Paris; were they successful? “Yes and no. Several dancers attended and one or two could join us, if, and it is a big if, they obtain work permits. Where my greatest success lay was networking with Parisian and European ballet personalities. CTCB requires a recognised position on the international field and, through experience I find networking an excellent route for the outside dance world to learn about us.

“Another project going well is introducing guest teachers. Dancers’ technique and artistry require continuous challenging and refreshing. Guest teachers do this through their different methodologies to classical ballet’s traditional frame. Guest teachers who have graced our studios or are yet to do so are Dianne van Schoor, former CAPAB soloist and retired Principal at Royal Ballet Lower School, White Lodge; David Peden, an international freelance teacher; Matz Skoog who, with his exceptional professional development pedigree is contracted for three weeks later this year; and then there is Vincent Hantam, another ex-Capetonian dancer, who is nurturing our apprentices as well as acting as repetiteur. Watching over our dancers’ health as well any injuries is our physiotherapist Brett Phillips,” adds Turner.

Exciting CTCB productions coming up

Plans for exciting CTCB productions are underway. A triple bill – Forget Me Not – will be on at Artscape from 9 to 23 May 2020. Slotting in from 17 to 24 May 2020 will be Veronica Paeper’s reworked three-act ballet Carmen. 8 to 23 August 2020 will see Maina Gielgud’s new Swan Lake. From 17 October to 1 November 2020 a new triple bill is on the cards and from 12 December 2020 to 3 January 2021 a full festive season ballet is on the cards.

As can be seen Cape Town City Ballet is not only Under New Management, it is also Under New Energy.