When the invitation arrived for a night out at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) with the Royal Moscow Ballet, my first reaction was to pass on the tickets.
‘What do I know about ballet,’ I thought to myself, ‘except the image of the queer looking guys in tights with their exaggerated crotches and their beautiful lady counterparts in sexy leotards?’
My first experience with ballet was back in 2000 with the release of the Nicholas Hytner movie ‘Centre Stage’. In place of the usual background classical music that is associated with the performance, was actually mainstream pop music like Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ or Ruff Ends’ ‘If I Was the One’. The familiar pop sounds made it possible to appreciate ballet even for a novice.
It was against this little background that I enthusiastically made my way to the GICC on Tuesday night (April 12) to watch ‘The Crown of Russian Ballet’.
The event was sold out, proving ballet to be more popular than I had imagined. But the few black people who constituted the smallest fraction of the largely cosmopolitan audience that graced the event only served to prove the low appreciation of ballet among indigenous citizens.
The Royal Moscow Ballet, which consists of principal dancers from leading Russian choreography schools, kicked off the night by performing Chopiniana. The performance consisted of several white-clad sylphs (ballerinas) dancing gracefully under the spotlight with a gentleman dressed in the popular white tights and a black top. There were unanimous applauses from the audience every now and then, consistent with every extra-ordinary move made by the dancers. And then there were a few isolated applauses from one or two novices like me who probably could not decipher between the ordinary and the extra special.
The company also performed ‘Carmen’ to music by George Bizet and Alberto Alonso choreography.
The ballet was first set as a one-act ballet by Russian choreographer Marius Pepita in 1845, some 30 years before Bizet’s celebrated opera was first heard. Several versions followed, including that by choreographer Alonso working with renowned Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya.
The Royal Moscow Ballet wrapped up the night with ‘Paquita’; a romantic ballet in two acts and three scenes. Its story was written by Joseph Mazilier and Paul Foucher. The music was composed by Edouard Deldevez and originally choreographed by Joseph Mazilier. Paquita was first performed by the Paris Opera Ballet on 1 April 1846.
The story behind Paquita takes place in Spain during the occupation of Napoleon’s army. The heroine is the young Gypsy girl, Paquita. She is of noble birth and was abducted by Gypsies when she was an infant. Paquita saves the life of a young French officer, Lucien d’Hervilly. He is the target of a Spanish governor who desires to have him killed by I├▒igo, a Gypsy chief. Paquita discovers that she is of noble birth. She is in fact the cousin of Lucien. She and Lucien eventually get married.
If there are lessons to be learned about watching a performance is that it can be a daunting and intimidating experience to go into a ballet not knowing what to expect. Next time I get tickets to a ballet I shall definitely do some research prior to the performance. It is important to find out what the company is performing, the plot behind the ballet, its choreographer, and the music composer.
That way, my friends Dave Baaitse, Omphile Valela and I won’t feel out of place at the next ballet. “Banna, nna mmino o wa lona ga ke o tlhaloganye ebile kea otsela. Nna ke batla Mahempe le bo Sekuta,” Baaitse posted on his timeline during the event.
Multichoice Botswana’s Basadi Masimolole and The Botswana Guardian’s Phemelo Ramasu seemed completely at home. Masimolole attributes her appreciation of ballet to her primary school days. “Whilst at Westwood we had exposure to a lot of the arts,” she said.
According to the company, the premiere performance of the Royal Moscow Ballet “The Crown of Russian Ballet” took place on 12 August 2002. The founders are Anatoly Emelianov and Anna Aleksidze.
The company has just held performances throughout South Africa and have over the years past few years toured other African countries such as Tanzania, Zambia and Kenya. The Dancers have performed on specially built stages near Victoria Falls. Each year, the company give at least 50 performances from its classical and contemporary repertoire on the best stages in Europe. The GICC performance was presented by The Grand Palm Hotel in association with Edouard Miasnikov.