Review: THE GOLD RHINO OF MAPUNGUBWE at Baxter Theatre Is a Fresh, Vibrant, African-infused Ballet

This production is presented by Mzansi Ballet.

By: Feb. 13, 2024
Review: THE GOLD RHINO OF MAPUNGUBWE at Baxter Theatre Is a Fresh, Vibrant, African-infused Ballet
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It is always gratifying to witness performers staging highly technical artforms, like ballet, and giving them fresh, local twists. THE GOLD RHINO OF MAPUNGUBWE BALLET is such an example. The show tells the story of Van Graan, a white man in the 1930s who embarks on a journey to discover the treasures of the ancient civilisation of Mapangubwe (which existed circa 1050-1270). Ultimately, he is met by the spirits of the rulers and subjects thereof, and must grapple with his greed and his newfound respect for Mapangubwe. Commisioned by the South African International Ballet Competition (SAIBC), the show premiered last year at the South African State Theatre in Pretoria.

This production presents a fusion of classical ballet and more contemporary, African styles – which is so much fun to watch. The result of this fusion is a high-energy, fresh, and impressive show, with striking choreography, courtesy of Angela Revie and Mdu Nhlapo. While I appreciate classical ballet, I found the style of dance in this show a lot more accessible and illustrative in terms of storytelling. The narrative is clear, which is also ensured by the narration at various points of the show.

The production features a talented company of dancers including Joshua Williams as the Crocodile, Veronica Louw as the Bird, Monica Dumekude as the Princess, Omogolo Gaorekwe as the Healer, Thato Nkwe as the King, and Ruxin Bi (from the National Ballet of China) as Van Graan.

While all members of the company are skilled dancers, my favourites are Williams as the Crocodile and Louw as the Bird. They do such an excellent job of portraying their respective animal-roles through physical characterisation. Williams’ crawl-like gait is unnervingly similar to that of the bone-crushing reptile. The same can be said of Louw, whose light, feathery movements make it seem as though she may take flight at any second. She is a seriously versatile dancer, who is electric onstage. I also loved Gaorekwe as the Healer – he is a spectacularly graceful dancer, with his own, unique style.

Other highlights of this show are the costumes, designed by David Thlali and the effective projections to evoke scenery.  The costumes are gorgeous – lush, diverse, colourful, and textured. They complement the dancing beautifully. Likewise, the projections on the stage, by Andrew Botha,  combined with clever sound and lighting make for atmospheric viewing. I was particularly ‘struck’ by the scene involving thunder and lightning (pun intended). The gorgeous music ties the show together: deeply rousing, the score is made up of music by various composers. The team includes double GRAMMY Award-winning flautist, producer and composer Wouter Kellerman; lyricist Dr Reuel Khoza; musical arranger and director Mark Cheyne; and co-composers SJ Khosa, Dr Cara Stacey, Matthijs van Dijk, and Indigenous Music specialist Mpho Molikeng.

THE GOLD RHINO OF MAPUNGUBWE runs from 7 to 17 February 2024 and is family-friendly. Tickets are available via Webtickets and range between R120 and R330. Evening performances take place on 7, 9, 10, 16, and 17 February at 19:30; and matinees take place at 14:00 on 10, 11 and 17 February 2024.