South African Ballet Theatre turns 10

4 February 2011

The South African Ballet Theatre has made it to two figures – the dance company turned 10 on 2 February. In the space of a decade, the company has notched up an impressive list of achievements, and will be celebrating this with two full-length seasons this year.

“I am so honoured and proud to be part of this proudly South African professional ballet company that has flourished and blossomed against all odds and is currently celebrating a milestone 10th birthday,” SA Ballet Theatre (SABT) managing director Fiona Budd said during a celebratory screening of the film Black Swan at Hyde Park in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

“All at the SABT are to be hugely applauded and thanked for their passion, commitment and dedication, but in particular my co-director, Iain MacDonald, the artistic director, without whom we would not be able to put on our productions of quality, glamour, escapism and magic, nor deliver quality ballet training to over 200 children in our Development Schools in Alexandra, Soweto, Melville and Katlehong.

“This birthday is a time of great celebration and thanksgiving for us,” Budd said. “There are so many who have assisted us in arriving at where we are today, but in particular we must thank Bernard Jay and his team at the Joburg Theatre, the world-class theatre which we are proud to call our home.”

2011 programme

Marking its 10th birthday in a more public way, the SABT will have two major full-length seasons this year, and continue to provide excellent training at its Development Schools.

It will also host a series of gala dinners at Le Canard restaurant in Rivonia on 13 and 14 February, 11 and 12 May and 31 August and 1 September, as well as two autumn schools at the SABT studios in Braamfontein from 28 March to 2 April and then again from 11 to 16 April.

The 2011 season includes a full-length production of Romeo and Juliet, from 27 May to 19 June. It was last staged in 2007. The ballet tells the tragic tale of two young lovers separated by a passionate vendetta between their families and is set in renaissance Italy. The grand vistas of the city of Verona will provide the setting for this classically choreographed ballet, with music by Sergei Prokofiev.

Sleeping Beauty will be performed from 30 September to 16 October. There will also be four Open Days at the studios, on 19 March, 14 May, 10 September and 5 November. And finally, the SABT Development School will have its annual year-end concert on 2 December.

The South African Ballet Theatre

The SABT is a non-profit, section 21 company, established in 2001 after the State Theatre Ballet – previously called Pact Ballet – closed in 2000.

Samantha Saevitzon, the public relations officer, said: “Since then, it has forged a central niche in the local dance sector and has established itself as a major player in the performing arts with impressive productions of classical ballets, new works by South African choreographers and collaborations across international boundaries.”

International stars including Mara Galeazzi (Royal Ballet), Guillaume Cote (National Ballet of Canada) and Maina Gielgud (English National Ballet) have worked and performed with the SABT, which received public acclaim from Nigel Lythgoe from So You Think You Can Dance during his visit to South Africa to launch the South African version of his show.

The founding members were all former State Theatre Ballet and Pact Ballet dancers: Fiona Budd, Iain MacDonald, Karen Beukes, Dirk Badenhorst, Kimbrian Bergh and Angela Malan.

“The SABT is committed to bringing classical ballet performances of quality, glamour, escapism and magic to the South African stage and to make ballet an art form that is known, loved and shared by all South Africans,” said Saevitzon.

In addition to the professional company, which presents three to four annual seasons of international standard and undertakes national tours when funding permits, it manages a variety of programmes.

The newly re-branded SABT Development Schools, previously called the SABT Outreach programmes, take place in Melville, Soweto and Katlehong. They offer free ballet lessons, ballet equipment and trips to SABT performances, as well as the opportunity to participate in SABT’s professional productions, to young learners.

There is an extra-curricular Ballet Academy for high school students and a Graduate Programme that functions like an apprenticeship.

Milestones achieved by the SABT include the world premiere of Kenneth Greve’s Hamlet in 2003 and its move to a new home at the Joburg Theatre in 2004 with two state-of-the-art ballet studios.

Russia tour

In 2006, the SABT was the first South African ballet company invited to tour Russia, which is generally recognised as the home of classical ballet. In 2007, it received the prestigious Proudly South African Nation Builder of The Year Award and in 2008, the SABT and SABC 2 partnered to present the full-length Swan Lake, which was broadcast on Christmas Day – and repeated because of popular demand the following Christmas.

In 2009, the SABT released the first ever full-length South African ballet DVD, of its production of Coppelia; it was also screened at Ster Kinekor Cinema Nouveau cinemas countrywide in 2010.

“The SABT continues to proactively seek sponsorship and establish partnerships to ensure that the wealth of talented and highly skilled South African ballet dancers are able to continue to practice their careers locally,” said Saevitzon.

“In January 2010, the SABT stage a highly successful turnaround from the external market forces that wreaked havoc with most businesses during 2009 and substantial new funding was received – in major part from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund. Additional funding was also received from Air Products, the National Arts Council and through generous support from private individuals.”

She added: “The SABT is delighted to announce that its newest application to the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund has been approved ensuring that the company is able to present two major full-length seasons in 2011 as well as continue the excellent work being produced at the SABT Development Schools.

“An announcement regarding additional funding from the corporate sector will be forthcoming within the next month once details have been finalised.”

Source: City of Johannesburg