BWW Interview: Q&A with Debbie Turner of Cape Town City Ballet
Their autumn season may be postponed, but Cape Town City Ballet dancers are still hard at work behind the scenes. CEO Debbie Turner talks closing the company, and what's in store after lockdown.
Q: The lockdown caused all theatres and dance companies to temporarily close. How did you manage this at Cape Town City Ballet?
A: A ballet company is a unique space in that the work is done in very close proximity to colleagues and, in the case of pas de deux work, even more so. A decision was taken on the 15 March to keep our dancers at home for 48 hours in order to take some sound medical advice. After taking advice it was medically advised to close CTCB for a month given the nature of the work and after doing, so the lockdown was announced.
A Whatsapp group was immediately formed for the whole staff so that we could stay in regular contact, post inspiring material, and share video footage of our 7-week rehearsal period that was filmed prior to lockdown. The dancers are thereby able to revise the material we had been working so hard on. All dancers are doing their level best to keep their bodies in shape and their minds fit; albeit in the confines of a small space at home when compared to the studio sizes.
Q: We are looking forward to still seeing the postponed triple bill FORGET ME NOT, which includes a new work from South African choreographer Kirsten Isenberg. Can you give us a few insights about the work?
A: It is Cape Town City Ballet's strongest desire to get our dancers back on the stage as soon as possible, and to that end we are considering all possible options. FORGET ME NOT - our first triple bill of the year - will most definitely be staged during the second half of the year within one of our three week residencies at the Artscape Opera House. The triple bill takes its name from Kirsten Isenberg's new iteration of a much shorter work created some two years ago. FORGET ME NOT aims to explore why women are more than just nouns and adjectives, created through history to confine and suffocate. Women have relentlessly pursued freedom; and we have a voice and our own language. We will not be forgotten. We will not be silenced. We will be heard.
Q: With the lockdown it was great timing that ballet luminary Maina Gielgud had already been here working with the company for SWAN LAKE, which is planned to be presented in August at Artscape. What can audiences look forward to with her staging of this perennial favourite?
A: It was indeed serendipitous that the available time that Maina Gielgud had in her very busy professional engagement calendar was February and March. This enabled us to complete a good "rough draft" of the full ballet created from scratch but, in the tradition of the timeless work, with a few nuances and interpretation of certain moments entirely her own. An insight presentation of the full production was fortuitously held in March, and hence we have a full video recording of the rehearsal. We have been able to share this with the dancers who can keep themselves up to speed for when we return to work. Ms. Gielgud is world-renowned for her artistry and musicality, and immediate benefit was acknowledged by the dancers and staff. We cannot wait to get back to work on SWAN LAKE and bring it to the stage.
Q: What others plans do Cape Town City Ballet have for this year?
A: A crucial element for CTCB when we are able to go back to work is to garner as many performance opportunities as possible in other venues in our city and province. Taking ballet and dance to as wide an audience as possible was at the forefront of our planning and operations prior to lockdown, and we want to get back to this as soon as we safely can. Our dance education initiatives will also recommence as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Our October/November season at the Artscape Opera House will take place with the staging of a traditional full-length ballet alongside a new varied classical triple bill, and our final outing for the year will be our festive season ballet that will commence on the 12 December and have its final performance on 3 January 2021.
Q: You have been at the helm of the company now for almost 18 months. What is your vision for the next 5 to 10 years for Cape Town City Ballet?
A: My vision for ballet and dance in South Africa and, more specifically, for CTCB is to continue to strongly align our standards, the diversity of our repertoire, the production quality of our work, and our education and audience development initiatives with the global trends and standards. We have made a significant stride in this direction in the last year and the support, interest, goodwill and eagerness to assist from colleagues around the world has been nothing short of astounding. South Africa holds a very particular interest for so many artists around the globe, as do its artists. Our visiting choreographers and ballet masters thus far have found the dancers to be incredibly hard-working, open to learning new things, and exuberant in performance. Diversification of the repertoire will see development, nurturing and profiling of the work of South African choreographers, and working with traditional classical works that have not been staged in South Africa for many years will also be a strong focus.
CTCB is fortunate to receive a portion of their annual budget from both the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government and, willingly, we want to serve our public through various projects of audience development providing access to performances, dance classes for the young who are economically unable to meet the costs of such, to adults who want to experience the empowering exercise of dance, and to extend a hand to other members of our population who are challenged in some way and would like to experience dance as therapy.
CTCB is a cultural asset of the city and province, and we remain committed to fulfilling our responsibility as members of that cultural life. Our country will so need the invigorating cultural aspects of life that came to an abrupt end even prior to lockdown, and we wish to inspire and motivate our followers, fans and supporters to look forward to a bright future post COVID-19.
Photo credit: Oscar O'Ryan