Part of the charm of the annual Maynardville Open-Air Festival is experiencing a ballet under the stars —what could be more romantic and enchanting than that?! This year, the Cape Town City Ballet takes a nostalgic dance down big band music memory lane with a wistful reprise of the first ballet Sean Bovim created for the company 15 years ago. After SwingTime's successful Artscape Theatre run at the end of 2018, it now gets a new setting as SwingTime in the Park until 27 January 2019.
If you have a Michael Bublé album in your music library (specifically his self-titled one), and also find yourself often gravitating towards Robbie Williams’ Swing When You’re Winning, then the music of SwingTime in the Park will already bring a smile to your face.
Sold as a nostalgic journey through the big band music era, SwingTime is said to centre around flashbacks from the perspective of Mr Bojangles, the owner of the Swing Club. From my viewing, this trip down memory lane (as the story being ‘told’) does not translate in a manner that is clear enough to guide an audience member who did not read the show blurb beforehand. However, that does not detract from the enthusiasm of the performances, the allure of the striking costumes, or the charm of the lighting playing off the forest-like setting. That all makes SwingTime a generally enjoyable and somewhat unique theatre night out as part of the 2019 Maynardville Open-Air Festival.
SwingTime would perhaps make a much stronger theatrical impression if Mr Bojangles (endearingly brought to stage by Mervyn Williams) was made a more central character, rather than an onlooker or almost incidental bystander. The two tap numbers by Williams looked beautiful and gracefully executed, but, sadly, the outdoor stage does not appear to be a tap dancer’s friend as that lovely clicking sound that draws an audience in went missing in the general atmosphere.
‘Unforgettable’, performed by talented, Kristel Paterson and Daniel Szwybowski, was absolutely enchanting, while Mariette Opperman, along with her pas de deux partner, Conad Nusser, also captured the imagination with graceful performances throughout.
Although the effort and passion with which the corps de ballet executed their every movement can’t be denied, the feat of synchronicity at times seemed to be just out of their reach. They did, however, entertain thoroughly with their performance of ‘Fever’, which with its striking and measured beat appeared to empower them as a collective.
After the interval, the heightened energy of SwingTime was recaptured with a lively number performed to the music of Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’, which was a crowd-pleasing moment.
An extended sequence of pas de deux performances followed. During one of these, Caitlin Smith and Xola Putye revealed how captivating a true trust relationship between dance partners can be. There was an almost tangible joy they brought to the stage with their performance —another highlight of the evening.
I’m a great admirer of the Bovim approach to ballet —edgy and energetic— yet, this is perhaps not my favourite of Sean Bovim’s creations: It appeared to be somewhat Bovim-lite when it comes to the magic I associate with his style of ballet. Whether that be because of the early-years style of choreography or the degree of focus of the dancers on the night, I can’t say with certainty. But, when keeping in mind that SwingTime was the first ballet Bovim created for the Cape Town City Ballet 15 years ago (definitely an impressive feat at the time) the fact that it is not as high-impact as Private Prestley or Queen at the Ballet can easily be forgiven.
As the treat of seeing ballet in a whimsical setting such as Maynardville is always a lovely experience, it should be a pleasant theatre night out for dance and big band music lovers alike. So, pack a picnic for pre-show enjoyment, and go sit back and be swept away by the nostalgia of the Cape Town City Ballet’s performance of SwingTime in the Park as part of the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre Festival until 27 January 2019. Tickets are available online through Computicket.