Soweto ballet dancer says ‘I am’

9 February 2004

He is 20 years old, Soweto born and raised, already a principal dancer with Ballet Theatre Afrikan, and about to showcase his first major choreography, a ballet, at the State Theatre in Pretoria.

Thoriso Magongwa, described as the “leading male dancer of his generation”, launches his first major work of choreography, “Je Suis” (I Am), during During Ballet Theatre Afrikan’s new season, “Dance Cool & Classic”, running from 25-28 February.

Magongwa’s mentor, Ballet Theatre Afrikan artistic director Martin Schonberg, has carefully developed the choreographic talent he first saw in this dynamic dancer.

Four years ago, Schonberg took the 16-year-old Thoriso to Switzerland to compete in the prestigious international classical ballet competition, the Prix de Lausanne. Thoriso placed 16th among the best ballet dancers the world had to offer – and deepened his love for this extremely difficult classical art form.

Schonberg ensures that the young dancers of Ballet Theatre Afrikan are exposed to a broad and diverse range of dance styles. They perform works from South Africa’s leading contemporary, jazz, and Afro-fusion choreographers on the same platform as a classical repertoire from the old masters.

Having worked with South African choreographers Vincent Mantsoe, Moya Michael, Christopher Kindo, Adele Blank and Alfred Hinkel, among others, and having been trained in classical ballet, Spanish, contemporary, Afro-fusion and modern dance, Magongwa says he has “only one favourite: classical ballet”.

“I am determined to share this passion of mine with everybody.”

“By putting the challenging classical technique to African music, quickening the tempo and using my individual fashion sense to influence the costumes, I have tried to make ballet appeal to South African audiences.”

“Je Suis”, says Magongwa, “focuses mainly on my understanding of what it means to be African. It also reflects on African heroes and the hardships we have encountered in the past, and those we will still meet because of our choices.

“The main aim of this work is to celebrate ourselves for who we are. The title is specifically in French to challenge the boundary which is set by society when it comes to broadening our literacy and vocabulary of other cultures as Africans.

“I have never believed that as Africans we should be limited to only what lies within our borders, and this I also bring to the audience’s attention in this ballet.”

The cast of “Je Suis” includes all the members of Ballet Theatre Afrikan.

A number of musicians have composed especially for “Je Suis” and will accompany the dancers during the performance. They are:

  • Priyesh R Bhana – composer, harmoniam, bansuri, and vocals.
  • Reza Cota – classical guitar and arranger.
  • Mark Duby – double bass, electric bass guitar.
  • Godfrey Mgcina – Djembe, congos, bongos, percussion.
  • Lydia von Hagen – vocals.

“Je Suis” will appear on a triple bill with Schonberg’s own neo-classical work “Sunshine Suite”, with music by Bach, as well as the jazz work “Lift to the Scaffold”, created by the Free Fight Dance company’s Adele Blank and choreographed to the music of Miles Davis, Ramsay Lewis and Dave Brubeck.

Ballet Theatre Afrikan exists through the funding of the National Lottery and the National Arts Council.

Performance times:

Wednesday 25 February
11am – schools’ performance
8pm – half price preview

Thursday 26 February
11am – schools’ performance
8pm – opening night and press performance

Friday 27 February
11am – schools’ performance
8pm – evening performance

Saturday 28 February
3pm – matinee performance
8pm – evening performance

Tickets cost R65 and R75 for adults, and R50 for scholars and pensioners. Block bookings (of 10 or more) are less 10%, school block bookings cost R30, and dance student block bookings cost R25. All block bookings must be booked directly through Ballet Theatre Afrikan on (011) 880-3099.

Source: Ballet Theatre Afrikan