Tuesday, 6 December 2016



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (marrgaretta.gacheru@gmail.com) October 2016

Ballet has been big in the past fortnight. First came members of the popular German dance company, the ‘Semperoper Ballett’ to Nairobi last weekend and gave two performances at Kenya National Theatre.

It was the first time the troupe had come to sub-Saharan Africa (otherwise, spending most of their time performing either in their home town of Dresden or around Europe and the US).

So I guess they assumed Kenyans knew nothing about ballet since their program included an act one in which they ‘introduced’ two audiences (one last Friday, another on Saturday) to a beginner’s ballet class.

Nairobi audiences didn’t seem to mind, especially when the last act was interactive and all were invited up onto the KNT stage. Then they were advised to get a partner (preferably a stranger), focus their gaze on the other’s eyes and then (without touching one’s partner) move together to the music.

It seemed that however crowded the stage was, few people wanted to leave as they were having too much fun.

Personally, I loved the brief excerpts from the company’s ballet repertoire which were dazzling. They made me want to go straight to Dresden to see them perform with live musicians and complete ballet programs.

The other big ballet event takes place tomorrow night, October 8 from 7pm at Braeburn Gitanga Theatre when the Dance Company Kenya (DCK) will also introduce Kenyans to excerpts of world renowned ballets in a show entitled “Giselle and Other Bits of Ballet.”

But the ‘bits’ will include complete dances or entire acts from such acclaimed ballets as Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Spring Waters and Les Corsaire.

For instance, in the case of Giselle, we’ll see the whole of Act 2. The title role will be played by Oona Nary, 13, who will partner with DCK dance instructor Mishael Okumu and whose Queen of the Wilies will be played by Lucile Plumbe (who played the Sugar Plum Fairy in last year’s DCK’s production of The Nutcracker which returns to Kenya National Theatre on December 2nd and 3rd).

The ‘Garland Waltz’ set to Tchikovsky’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ has been choreographed by DCK’s Creative Director Cooper Rust for the DCK’s Junior Company, little boys and girls from the ages of 7 through 12.

The ‘Odelesque Pas de Trois’ from ‘Le Corsaire’ will be performed by three young dancers, Tara Brmbota, 14, Lulu Heinel, 16, and Mai Sher, 16, all of whom spent their ‘summer months’ (July and August) in rigorous rehearsals, in either Croatia, Israel or the US.

And the ‘Pas de Deux’ from ‘Spring Waters’ (which is set to the music of Serge Rachmaninov) will feature DCK’s founder and Creative Director Cooper Rust who will perform with DCK instructor Mishael Okumu.

Ms Rust is also the founder of the US-based NGO, Artists for Africa, which is currently sponsoring four young dancers from Kibera who not only have full DCK dance scholarships but also full academic sponsorship to attend the Mainflow Preparatory School.

George, 12, Alvin and Shamick, both 13 and Pamela, 14, were specially selected to not only study ballet tecnique but also jazz, contemporary dance, musical theatre and company classes. So far, only Pamela has begun to learn to dance on Point (shoes), but under Ms Rust’s disciplined dance instruction, they are all learning fast.

Artists for Africa also sponsored Okumu to study dance this past ‘summer’ in the US, and last year, the NGO also sponsored several more youth to study dance abroad, including Joel Kioko who will come back before Christmas to perform in what’s become an annual performance of The Nutcracker.

What’s fascinating about Ballet is that before the French Revolution (1789), it was only performed for the aristocracy. But after the Revolution, ballet became the dance beloved by ordinary people.

It’s no surprise then that ‘Giselle’, first staged in Paris in 1841, is a romantic ballet about a beautiful peasant girl who’s betrayed by her aristocratic boyfriend whom she believed was a humble peasant like herself until she learned he was betrothed to another woman of his upper class. The news literally breaks her heart by the end of  Act one.

Act 2 is set deep in the dense forest where a troop of 24 supernatural spirits called the Wilies revive Giselle so she can get back at her cheating Duke. But her love for him compels her to save the guy from the avenging female spirits.

It should be a beautiful evening with lovely costuming and sets. What’s more, Ms Rust has performed in professional ballet companies all over the US and engrains her own professionalism in her students.

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