PICTURES: Lauge Sorensen
The dance conversation starts tomorrow at the Joburg Theatre with Joburg Ballet’s triple bill of ballets new to the company’s mainstream repertoire. Titled Dialogues, two dancers were invited to choreograph two new works while a third, Bruno Miranda, will stage the 1896 ballet Bluebeard Grand Pas –
described as a glittering showcase for dancing in ballet’s finest classical tradition. Artistic director Iain MacDonald believes the programme exposes dancers and audiences to the diversity and versatility of the company. DIANE DE BEER talks to Joburg Ballet dancer Chloé Blair who has been invited to expand Table for Two (part of Joburg Ballet’s RAW programme for new choreographers in 2021) for this first season of 2023 and Roseline Wilkens of Vuyani Dance Theatre with her first for Joburg Ballet entitled Identity:
“My choreography philosophy comes from the extreme passion and love that I have for dancing, specifically ballet. I find dancing to be one of the most humble ways to tell a story as it’s very understated as opposed to other art forms, like singing or acting which are maybe more out there or confrontational in some way.”
Chloé Blair believes that dance is so special because it asks the audience to look at body language and interpret it for themselves and then to connect this body language to their own feelings in a way that’s not really conscious.
When she starts working on a piece, there’s her emotional response to music, which is always the starting point. “I find that music allows me to process ideas and memories and thoughts and there’s a lot of time that I spend by myself just listening to movie scores, orchestral music, classical music and just letting my mind wander into specific situations.”
In this instance she was sitting at the dining room table with a friend listening to music they both loved called Table for Two. It’s music she loves and she started thinking about how much of our relationships happen around a table: we celebrate, we eat together, we toast one another, we have fights, she says. “And I thought that would be such an interesting way to centre a specific relationship story. From there I took some of my own memories and own experiences I had which all felt quite universal.”
As a classical ballet dancer, it influences her choreography because it forces her to pay attention to the detail of body language. “In my dance life I’m bound to a classical repertoire, which has a very solid structure. The things that convey emotion are often in the detail, like a look, a head movement, the use of the fingers or a touch, detail orientated when it comes to body language, interpretation.” She tried to use that in the piece, to capture those detailed moments, the difference between emotions by using specific body language. “Being a classical dancer, the dance is very structured and I enjoy that. You find freedom in that structure.”
But after the initial discovery of the narrative, she finds music – which, incidentally, is not usually the music she has used to develop her narrative. “The music which I finally use for the piece, is something different which marries not just the feeling of the narrative, but the structure as well.
Excited to rework the piece, she is also intimidated because to expand everything would be quite a challenge. “I expanded the cast, because the first time it was just two men, but this time round there was a whole corps de ballet. I used the extra dancers as a tool to tell the story, giving a lot more thought to formations, movement and how to incorporate this into the structure,” she notes.
Using two men as main characters was determined by a desire for the relationship to be very interpretive. “I wanted the audience to view it as either a friendship, a romantic relationship, or a family dynamic without specifically dictating it,” she says. She also loves working with men, because they bring an energy and a freedom of movement which is very inspiring to work with.
Her narrative and thus choreography tells a story of how changes in thought and changes in feeling lead to changes in the dynamic between the two of them. While Table for Two follows one character’s narrative, she wanted to show a relationship in multi-dimensional way, not always as so often seen from our own perspective.
What Roseline Wilkens hopes to achieve with Identity is for the self to be comfortable in its own skin. She strongly believes that everything happens for a reason. “My identity was formed by my life stories. All the work I have created is very personal.”
It deals with the journeys she has made, things that have happened to her, and things that have formed her as the person she is today. “But things still keep happening and shaping my character,” she emphasises. “Whoever I meet, whether the person stays in my life or leaves, there’s always something that keeps forming you.”
But, importantly, she also holds onto her roots and where she came from, not forgetting what she stands for. She embraces change and carefully dissects wat she incorporates into her life and what she lets go. “That’s what identity is all about, finding your true self,” she says.
She was surprised by how much the dancers understood the storyline she presented them with. “It was more than I thought they would because it came from a personal perspective,” she explains. “Dealing with identity, everything had to be honest about some life-changing event.
She usually works in the field of African contemporary, sometimes classical and it would have been easier working with dancers she has worked with on a daily basis However, it was surprising working with classical contemporary ballerinas. “It was interesting how we influenced one another and the work. It came together as they made it their own and gave it their own flavour. I didn’t come with any expectations, so it was a work in progress and a work together.”
Having created the music in collaboration with Isaac Molelekoa, she doesn’t see herself as a composer, but she loves sound and working with what she feels. “I created the music with my own beats which was then transcribed as sheet music by my collaborator.” She feels blessed by this partnership which has been worked at through the years. “He gives life to the craziness in my head and the sounds I make during rehearsals.”
She doesn’t have to use any other sounds or music and this for her, truly represents her identity. “I chose the title, because it is about becoming one with self, learning to start over, relearning yourself in every way possible which means growth. I am in tune with myself,” she aptly concludes.