PRETORIA._ The presence of ballet stars from Cuba, China and the United States at the Joburg Ballet (JB) of South Africa during the recent production of Swan Lake was something marvelous, said Dirk Badenhorst, director of this independent South African ballet company.

The presence of ballet stars from Cuba, China and the United States at the Joburg Ballet (JB) of South Africa during the recent production of Swan Lake was something marvelous, said Dirk Badenhorst, director of this independent South African ballet company.The April 17-May 3 program included performances by Cuban lead dancer Viengsay Valdés, who has traveled to this country three times, and by Brooklyn Mack, lead dancer of the Washington Ballet Company.

In an interview with The Havana Reporter, Badenhorst admitted that it was a huge challenge for his company to make a production involving dancers from so many different ballet schools, and referred to the Cuba-South Africa ties in this field.

The director recalled that the 2013 visit to the JB headquarters by the founder of Cuba’s National Ballet Company (BNC), Alicia Alonso, was of utmost importance.

That visit represented the main drive for the consolidation of ties between the two sides, stressed Badenhorst, who noted that the Cuban methodology “has helped us train professors, dancers, and young students from underprivileged communities here in South Africa.”

The links between the South African and Cuban ballet companies, however, go as far back as 2008, when Badenhorst implemented a program involving Cuban dance institutions.

The first project of this exchange program bore fruit one year later, in 2009, when young Cuban dancers, including a group of students from Cuba’s National School of Ballet and some of their professors, made a tour of South Africa.

In Cape Town, they organized workshops for ballet dancers and professors, as well as for children from communities that have historically lacked opportunities.

In 2010, two groups of dancers from Cuba’s National School of Ballet arrived in South Africa to work with Mzansi Productions.

The training project continued throughout 2011 involving Cuban professors and that same year, in coordination with the Department for Arts and Culture, 17 dancers, three professors and a costume designer traveled to South Africa for the joint staging of the classical ballet piece Don Quixote.

Dancers from five Cuban ballet companies (the Ballet Company of Santiago de Cuba, the Ballet of Camagüey, the Laura Alonso Ballet Company, Cuba’s National School of Ballet, and the Ballet School of Camagüey, took part in the project.

At the beginning of 2012, six Cuban dancers (three professional dancers and three senior students) joined Mzansi Productions for a long stay.

Likewise, in 2014 three dancers from the Joburg Ballet (Burnise Silvius, Linde Wessels and Jonathan Rodrigues) were invited to participate at Havana’s International Ballet Festival.

The participation of Cuban dancers has made ballet in South Africa even more attractive, critics wrote in the Sowetan newspaper, which highlighted: “There was a time when classical dances such as ballet were connected with the privileged classes in the country, especially well-off families, excluding the poor.”

Today, however, “the country is hanging (…) and opportunities have opened up in artistic disciplines and spaces traditionally dominated by the white, as is the case with ballet.”

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