swingtime in the park sean bovim
SwingTime in the Park. Pictures: Pat Bromilow-Downing

SWINGTIME IN THE PARK. Two-act ballet choreographed by Sean Bovim. Music: Recorded Big Band Sounds.  Costumes: Gavin Rajah. Lighting: Shamiel Abrahms. Presented by Cape Town City Ballet. At Maynardville Open Air Theatre for a short season ending 26 January 2019.

SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews

Sean Bovim’s fast, sexy, multi styled, gorgeously costumed ballet SwingTime in the Park pivots around Jerry Jeff Walker’s 1968 song Mr Bojangles.  Mr Bojangles aka Bill Robinson, is credited as the most successful African American tap dancer during the early 20th century and, in various guises, he’s been portrayed by such greats as Sammy Davis Jnr and Harry Belafonte.

Bovim’s Mr Bojangles is Mervyn Williams. Bojangles, now retired from showbiz, likes to reminisce past glory days, when “he danced for you in worn out shoes, silver hair, ragged shirt, baggy pants and the old soft shoe.”

Although Bovim’s storyline is thin, weaving Williams (soundlessly) tapping through scenes, does create an element of unity, preventing each act devolving into single disconnected song/dance pieces.

Swingtime in the park review

Notable soloists

Not that that isn’t Bovim’s choreographic design. SwingTime is his interpretation of famous songs, such as Kurt Weill’s Mack the Knife; Irving Gordon’s Unforgettable; Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell’s rhythm and blues Fever; Andy Razaf and Joe Garland’s swing hit In the Mood; Bart Howard’s jazz number Fly Me To The Moon and Vincent Youman’s 1925 hit Tea for Two from No, No Nanette.

Bovim’s first 30 minute section, married CTCB’s corps de ballet with senior principals. The second 30 minutes reversed that. Senior principals took centre stage in pas de deux, occasionally backed by corps de ballet.

Most notable soloists were radiant Mariette Opperman and assured Conrad Nusser (Unforgettable and Tea for Two); serene Claire Spector and (almost back to form) Daniel Szybkowski (Fly Me To The Moon).

Meghan Henegan’s stage presence continues to improve and partnered by the dedicated Stephen Underwood they could form a sound regular partnership (Dream a Little Dream; Kirstel Paterson and Szybkowski turned in an elegant The Way You Look Tonight.

However, however good it is to see new male corps dancers, overall the male contingent were untidy and under-rehearsed. Patrons who recalled how niftily the Irving brothers performed Jumpin Men, were disappointed by Jan Kotze and Gabriel Mechlomakhulu’s efforts. Both are still young.

Unfortunately in a professional classical ballet company – which CTCB is – youth is no excuse for not understanding the basic technical value of a 5th position of the feet or, using it as a springboard for tours en l’air. Hurling into the air “from where the feet fall” doesn’t replace a neat, clean technique – especially in allegro steps.

Bovim’s choreography employs an off centre techniques to devise interesting body shapes and movements. Apart from high kick over usage, Bovim’s novel ideas are visually appealing, but not favoured by female a la pointe dancers as they tend to fall prey to injuries. Never-the-less they embraced Bovim’s work with oomph… coping well against Thursday evening’s strong cold, wind.

Maynardville’s tall trees, parkland vegetation, under a starlit sky are expected to form a magical kaleidoscopically lit frame at ballet performances. What a pity Shamiel Abrahms’s dull lighting plot, didn’t rise to those expectations.

What: CTCB Swingtime in the Park review
Presented by: Cape Town City Ballet
Where: Maynardville Open Air Theatre Cape Town
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