Scene It: Classic and modern ballet styles converge in exquisite 'Amaranth'

June 27, 2019

Classic and modern ballet styles converge in the most exquisite manner in the Cape Town City Ballet’s latest production, Amaranth, at the Artscape Opera House until 7 July 2019.


At first the title Amaranth may leave you puzzled, but when one looks to the Greek ‘amarantos’ (unfading) from which it is derived, a beautiful ballet image comes to life. In legend the colourful amaranth is known as an imaginary flower that never fades, never dies. With ballet having originated in the Italian Renaissance Courts of the 15th century, the comparison seems perfectly fitting as the vivacious imagery ballet has evoked onstage over the centuries also never fades nor dies —the selection for the Cape Town City Ballet’s Amaranth proves beyond a doubt.


Amaranth is an exciting triple bill of neo-classical and contemporary classical masterpieces: George Balanchine’s Serenade, Frank Staff‘s Transfigured Night and Christopher L Huggins’ Enemy Behind the Gates.

With Tchaikovsky’s 1880 Serenade for Strings C, Op. 48 setting the music-driven story mood with its four movements (Sonatina, Waltz, Russian Dance and Elegy), Balanchine’s Serenade is a neo-romantic classical explosion of beautiful fluidity. First performed in 1934, it has become a signature work of the New York City Ballet. It’s here staged by Rebecca Metzger, 85 years later, as part of Amaranth. Even years later it still has a magical appeal as a breathtaking ballet. In this latest performance of Serenade, it’s a joy to behold Kirstel Paterson, Hannah Ward and Mariette Opperman. They bring a wonderful whimsical presence to this tranquil, blue-infused dance under the moonlight.


From Serenade’s love-thwarted-by-fate theme, Staff’s Transfigured Night —set to music by Schoenberg and staged by doyenne Veronica Paper— reveals darker dramatic tones of a love-thwarted-by-family scenario. Based on a true story, it presents the tale of a triangular sibling relationship dominated by the eldest sister entrancingly portrayed by Leane Theunissen. The darkness in the setting does not take anything away from the performance. In fact, it’s haunting elements elevate the tension to give the heightened emotions at play an evocative allure as it explores strained family dynamics, power struggles, and the hope that love will set one free juxtaposed with the reality that love doesn't always survive family tension. It’s a theatrical drama where dance in it’s most fantastic form replaces words to tell a story that you will want to hear more than once.

This all leads up to a grand finale with a modern dramatic edge. American choreographer Christopher L Huggins returns with his acclaimed Enemy Behind the Gates. It gives audiences a look into the minds of incendiaries and the shadows within which they hide until they're ready to strike. This phenomenal piece is presented in a style that can be described as stunning modern synchronicity with athletic militaristic flair. A touch of red in otherwise black dominated costumes leaves no doubt of the presence of power and its accompanying larger threat in numbers. A true test of skill and stamina, precision is at the heart of this captivating piece that left me in a general state of amazement throughout. If pushed to choose my Amaranth favourite, Enemy Behind the Gates would be it.


The overall striking effect of Amaranth is further complimented by the added magic of the Cape Ton Philharmonic Orchestra in their performance under the guidance of conductor Brandon Phillips of the music that sets the tone for this triple bill. It always ads to the fantasy of a ballet performance if a live orchestra is there to accompany the stories that unfold en pointe.

Amaranth will make every ballet lovers’ heart dance with delight. And those who aren’t yet fans of this magnificent art form will possibly be converted after seeing this exquisite production.


Amaranth, a unique, world class dance showcase of great creativity that celebrates ballet in a most moving manner, is onstage at the Artscape Opera House until 7 July 2019, with tickets available online at Computicket.


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