On Christmas Eve, after the final performance of A Christmas Carol – the curtain rings down on Robin van Wyk and his career as Cape Town City Ballet’s (CTCB) dancer, choreographer, teacher and artistic director. SHEILA CHISHOLM talks to him about the past and the future:
Not that van Robin van Wyk is departing into coffee-drinking oblivion. To start with he doesn’t like coffee. Even if he did, at 49 he’s too young and energetic for that laid back lifestyle. But he has decided to swing onto a different dance branch, and pass on his “wealth of knowledge” (he said experience) teaching up-and-coming dancers, as well as choreographing new children’s ballets.
“Why now?” I asked. With his deep brown eyes peering under scrunched up eyelids van Wyk searched for an answer: “It’s never easy stepping away from a way of life you’ve loved for 22 years, 12 of those spent as artistic director – especially when you feel you still have something to offer.
However, over the years teaching children and choreographing their ballets, I’ve realised there’s a need for more classical ballet teachers. Ever more youngsters are demanding to learn this art, and I want to fill a gap,” he said.
Long and complex training
“I’m sorry I can’t give you any ratio of how many trainees it takes to produce one professional dancer. It’s a long, pretty complex training which even the most talented doesn’t always want to pursue as a livelihood. Therefore, the more teachers, the more trained dancers will be willing, and able, to choose a classical ballet career … to benefit South African ballet.
“Doubtless I’ll miss my CTCB dancers, they are a grand bunch. But I am really excited about 2020 bringing me new, wide ranging, challenges. I’ll be teaching at Natalie Lissak’s studio in Hout Bay and Fish Hoek; working at LAMTA; guest teaching for SASAD Dance Congress (South African Society for the Advancement of Dancing); working with Elizabeth Triegaardt at the Cape Junior Ballet Di Cheesman and I co-founded in 2005; choreographing ballets for Port Elizabeth’s Friendly City Youth Ballet; working with Mariane Weiderman in Pretoria and holding Workshops for KZN Youth Ballet in Pietermaritzburg. So you can see I’m forging a new exciting path in an art I have loved since I was five years old.”
How did van Wyk “find” ballet, living as he did in Pietermaritzburg? “Through my grandparents,” he said with pride. “They took me to Durban to see a ballet performance and that was that. I have never deviated from wanting to dance, and I owe my teacher, Mrs Brenda McLachlan, a deep debt for making this possible. She taught me, encouraged me and when money was short, never asked for fees. She’s been my guiding light and because she insisted on correct technique, no sloppiness permitted, I’ve had the successes I’ve had. Thank you, Mrs B.”
When did van Wyk turn professional? “After matriculating from Haythorne Senior Secondary, I enrolled at UCT School of Dance studying under Elizabeth Triegaardt and Dudley Tomlinson (the best ever male teacher!). In 1990, after passing my RAD Solo Seal, I joined NAPAC Dance Company under Ashley Killar. Then, in 1991 crossed to PACT Ballet. Under artistic director Dawn Weller’s guidance I quickly moved into Senior Soloist rank and won the Nederburg Award for my Texan Kangaroo Rat in David Bintley’s famous Still Life at the Penguin Café.”
1997 saw van Wyk a member of CAPAB Ballet (now Cape Town City Ballet) where Veronica Paeper, artistic director and choreographer, choreographed him as Caesar in Cleopatra, Senore Bellini in The Two Pigeons and Dorking in Daphnis & Chloe.
Career switches, choreography
An surprise career switch found him abracadabraing magical tricks ‘pas de chat’ing’ through Gillian Lynne’s complex choreography in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical Cats. “Oh! I enjoyed touring the world. However suitcase living wearies so I rejoined CTCB and have danced virtually every role from princes to Freddie Mercury in Sean Bovim’s Queen at the Ballet,” laughs van Wyk.
“Then choreography took over. Since 2005 I have contributed at least 16 ballets to CTCB’s repertoire as well as producing children’s ballets in Port Elizabeth, Pietermaritzburg, Harare, Windhoek and Cape Town. Since 2008, when I became CTCB’s artistic director, I’ve done everything from choreographing, stage managing, pressing sound equipment’s go buttons, to costuming and stage dressing ballets by the dozen. And here credit to Charles Petersen who, as Production Manager, is a wizard conjuring up suitable long lost sets that fit a new production’s bill.
“Now looking back I realise its time to move forward. I’ve my Cecchetti Associate tucked under my arm and on the pathway to attaining RAD registered Teacher Status.” As can be seen all Robin van Wyk’s lights are set on Green. Go and best of luck!