SHEILA CHISHOLM

Debbie Turner is Cape Town City Ballet’s newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, and has spent her life in the world of dance.

Debbie Turner Cape Town City Ballet

Turner, who takes up her CEO position on 1 October 2018, started her dance career in Durban aged three when she bent her knees in her first plie. Fascinated by the alternative ways her body could move, Turner continued furthering her classical ballet lessons as well as joining Spanish dance classes. At 17 Turner branched onto the competitive Latin American scene, winning a Western Province championship.

As a young woman, seriously ambitious about learning as much as she could about dance, Turner regularly travelled overseas to study under master pedagogues and choreographers in England, Europe and America. After a short period as a professional Spanish dancer with Dame Mavis Becker, Turner set out on her own course by forming the Cape Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA). This she houses in her own spacious studios in Steenberg where she exposes her students to as many top grade teachers and choreographers as possible.

Geographically South Africa is large. It is also heavily populated. Yet, dance companies, where trained dancers find regular, paid work are few. This results in dancers either seeking employment in musicals, in commercial sectors or leaving for overseas jobs. In her personal effort to bypass this major problem, in 1995, Debbie Turner founded her own Cape Dance Company (pictured below). A company she’s taken to the Edinburgh and Grahamstown festivals, New York, the UK and South Korea, and which regularly performs at Artscape.

In earlier days Turner did much of the choreography herself. But she now engages the best international choreographers she can find to recreate or create new compositions for her Cape Dance Company.

I have watched Turner’s shows grow from  Las Vegas feathers and skimpy costumes, to outstanding and original choreographic art pieces – mostly based on the contemporary technique.

Debbie Turner Cape Town City Ballet

Vision for Cape Town City Ballet

With this bent towards contemporary ballets (albeit based on classical technique) one wonders exactly how she will fit into the classically-based CTCB and where her vision for the company lies ? So I posed these questions to her.

“This is the 21st century and as such CTCB must be part of it,” said Debbie Turner. “However, the classics are the classics and we will continue to present them. With the proviso that they are excellent productions.  We no longer need to present Giselle as it was in 1841.  Have you seen Akram Khan’s Giselle for the English National Ballet?  By sharing classical language with a 21st language, Khan created a new perspective to the story. Yet a story very much one of today as it questions love, injustice, and wealth versus poverty – and the same applies to other well-loved classics.”

“However, any, shall I say restructures, must be handled by sensitive and original choreographic thinkers. Part of my job prescription is to regenerate CTCB dancers into a top-class company. I know the company and repertoire well, therefore it shouldn’t take long before I can fully assess the road we must tread to achieve my goals.  In my years of searching for good teachers, new works and great choreographers I have made many international contacts and hope to draw upon them to help me in my task,” she said.

Asked how our audiences will deal with this “new thinking”, Turner is confident ballet patrons, like the company, are seeking top quality, innovative and exciting productions, and will be happy to queue to see great performances.

“Everyone who knows me, knows I run a tight, hard-working and disciplined ship, but one where dancers are treated fairly with care and respect.  It’s an adult environment with expectations and work ethic policies in line with that.  Naturally we’ll need money. However once sponsors realise CTCB is a revitalised brand, I’m hoping they’ll come on board,” Turner said confidentely.

We hope so, as Debbie Turner has the energy and foresight to breath fresh life into Cape Town City Ballet.

Take note: Cinderella will be the next CTCB production, opening on 5 October 2018 at Artscape Theatre, Cape Town
Cinderella tickets: https://online.computicket.com/web/event/
cinderella_cape_town_city_ballet/1250909198/0/89298941

WS