A Spartacus of Africa, featuring the original music of Khachaturian, opens at the Port Elizabeth Opera House on 3 November 2016, the first of several upcoming seasons of this all-new touring version of the ballet that captivated audiences when it premiered last year in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Renowned choreographer Veronica Paeper, has re-designed her original ballet that she created for CAPAB Ballet in 1984, incorporating contemporary dance with classical ballet. This production was made possible by a grant of R949 000.00 from the National Lotteries Commission (NLC).
In the title role Amari, Casey Swales reprises the role he danced to great acclaim at the world premier season of A Spartacus of Africa in 2015. Also dancing the lead role, Juan Carlos Osma, partnered by Dyana Acuna as Fayola. She shares this role with Capetonian, Elzanne Crause. Osma and Acuna are both Cuban and appear by kind permission of Joburg Ballet. Nadira will be danced by Kristin Wilson. The role of Nagash, Amari’s nemesis, will be danced by Xola Willie and Milwhynne Williams who hail from the Eastern Cape. Lwanele Masiza, also from the Eastern Cape, will take the part of Badu. Alfonzo Freemantle dances the role of Isenyaya, the African Spirit. South Africa’s most exciting and talented dancers from all around the country make up the cast of twenty, further perpetuating SANDT’s collaborative approach.
It’s long been Paeper’s ambition to reproduce this ballet – arguably her finest. Drawn to the similarity between Rome’s treatment of their captives and the many down-trodden peoples in Africa, Paeper has given the ballet a mythical African slant, naming it, A Spartacus of Africa. The South African National Dance Trust (SANDT) is thrilled to bring this romantic and dynamic two-act ballet to the Port Elizabeth Opera House, Joseph Stone Theatre and Oude Libertas Theatre after successful seasons in Johannesburg and Cape Town. It will inspire new audiences with its unique form of collaborative dance styles.
The story mirrors the original ballet about slaves fighting for freedom, Spartacus’s deep love for his wife Phrygia and Aegina’s guile helping her lover, Crassus, to quell the revolt. The tale makes ideal material for an exciting ballet and love story calling for a technically strong cast able to act. Nelson Mandela’s fight for freedom for which he and others were prepared to die, links to the message behind Spartacus. It is also relevant to several states in Africa. Innovative set designs capturing the spirit of Africa were created by KMH Architects, whilst ingenious costumes by the late Dicky Longhurst, an award winning designer, allow the athleticism of the dancers to be vividly dramatized.
Spartacus – the Thracian gladiator who escaped in 73 BC to lead a major slave uprising against the Roman Empire – has inspired revolutionaries, politicians and writers ever since then. The fact that he was defeated in no way detracts from his courage and that of his fellow slaves, in pitting themselves against mighty Roman legionaries led by the General, Crassus. It’s a tale that, finding favour with the communist regime, saw Leonid Yokobson choreograph a three-act production for Kirov Ballet in 1956. In 1968 Yuri Grigorovich choreographed his version for Bolshoi Ballet. Both accounts use Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian’s superb score, as did Veronica Paeper for her 1984 CAPAB Spartacus production.
A key element of SANDT’s strategy is to include local communities in as many aspects of the production as possible and to mentor up-and-coming talent. Part of the set was constructed by a group of Masiphumulelo women plaiting thousands of recycled green plastic bags into vines. Another project involved City Varsity students filming an educational documentary about bringing a ballet of this magnitude to the stage. The eight minute DVD illustrates the diverse disciplines involved and forms an inspiring introduction for previously disadvantaged learners who will attend the final dress rehearsal at each theatre.
Promising to be a dynamic spectacle, the opening night performance of A Spartacus of Africa on 3 November will be the first major dance production for Port Elizabeth‘s beautiful newly renovated Opera House where the season runs until 6 November with tickets costing from R100 to R220 with group and special discounts available. All bookings can be made through Computicket or 08619158000.
Xola Willie was born in the Eastern Cape town of Jamestown which is 58 km south of Aliwal North and 105 km north of Queenstown in the Joe Gqabi District Municipality.
Contemporary Dancer, Musical theatre artist, actor and Singer, Xola Willie realized his talent, potential and love for artistic expression at an early age. Growing up in a small town in the Eastern Cape,he was more than willing to grab opportunity in cultivating his talent. His family grooming him in humble grounds he started dancing late in high school, and with guidance from his principal and other inspirational figures he left to study Musical Theatre at The Tshwane University of Technology. There he featured in several of musicals, Rent, Parade, and most of the dance seasons, mainly Chronicles- choreographed by Timothy Le Roux. He began choreographing in 2nd and 3rd year and aspired further in professional Dancing. He finished his Diploma in Musical Theatre in 2011 and partook in the annual Showdance Competition with the South African team in Riesa, Germany.
In 2012 he started dancing Professionally with Ester Nasser’ company,Tshwane Dance Theatre. During that year he also gained experience in the cooperate dance industry, dancing with the likes of Debbie Rekusin, David Gouldie, Timothy Le Roux and other cooperate industry figures, and left for Germany again for the Showdance Competition, bringing home with him a bronze title in duet and solo dance routines, as well as two Gold medals with the team. Willie featured in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express by Janice Honeymoon held at the Joburg Theatre, where he played a swing. He now dances for Dada Masilo, and plays the King in her Swan Lake,and is currently on his European third with her in France. He is under Viclectic Artist Managenment with Althea Peters and continues his career as Dancer, Actor, Musical Theatre artist, Singer and now ventures into choreography.
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