The history of ballet in South Africa is relatively new, so this post is not overly long. It is just interesting to see how ballet has evolved in South Africa over the years, and we don’t have to go too far to see spectacular ballet productions anymore.
Ballet In South Africa
The two main ballet companies in South Africa over the years have been PACT (Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal) ballet Company and CAPAB (Cape Performing Arts Board).
PACT Ballet Company History
Let’s start our look at ballet in South Africa article with PACT Ballet Company.
PACT gave its first performance in 1963. A Cecchetti teacher in Johannesburg, Faith de Villiers, was the main force behind the formation of the company.
She along with Joyce van Geems were responsible for founding the Johannesburg Ballet Theatre, which later became the Johannesburg Ballet, and then finally with Yvonne Mounsey, the Johannesburg City Ballet in 1959.
This company gave its first public performance in 1960.
Johannesburg City Ballet then became Ballet Transvaal and was given a government subsidy when the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal was established. The Company’s name was then changed to PACT Ballet.
Fatih de Villiers was Artistic Director of the Company from 1963 to 1968.
Burne was also to create some very original choreography for both the ballet companies in later years and Spira became CAPAB’s prima ballerina.
Frank Staff was PACT’s resident choreographer from 1966 to 1967, then he left and became artistic director of PACOFS Ballet until his death in 1971.
PACOFS was a small company in the Orange Free State. It closed when Staff died.
Staff was a brilliant choreographer. His most important ballet while with PACT was RAKA which told a traditional African story in ballet form. Two of his ballets, Transfigured Night and Peter and the Wolf were still performed by both PACT and CAPAB for years afterwards.
Staff’s wife, Veronica Paeper, is the resident choreographer of CAPAB Ballet.
Denise Schultze gave the longest service to PACT Ballet. She was PACT’s ballerina from1964, then she became a teacher from 1967, ballet mistress 1971 and 1972 and Co-Artistic Adviser with Louis Godfrey from 1973 to 1978.
In 1979 Lorna Haupt was appointed Artistic Director.
Marjorie Sturman has been Honorary Consultant for the PACT Ballet Company ever since it was founded in 1963.
Miss Sturman began teaching ballet in Pretoria in 1922 and introduced the RAD method to South Africa in 1926. She opened her own school in Johannesburg in 1934. She founded the Pretoria Ballet Club in 1943 and formed the Festival Ballet Society with Ivy Conmee and Poppy Frames in 1944. The society existed until 1956 and presented the first ballet productions in Johannesburg.
CAPAB Ballet Company History
CAPAB Ballet Company gave its first performance in 1965, although the company had originally begun as UCT Ballet, thirty-one years earlier.
The University of Cape Town Ballet Company was founded in 1934 by Dulcie Howes.
In 1965 the Cape Performing Arts Board Assumed financial responsibility for the company and it became CAPAB Ballet.
Dulcie Howes was trained by Helen Webb in Cape town and by Karsavina, Craske and Brunelleschi in London.
She toured Europe with Pavlova’s company, then returned to Cape Town to open her own ballet school. In 1932 this ballet school was transferred to the University of Cape Town and it was the first ballet school in the world to be attached to a university.
From this school grew the UCT Ballet Company, which gave its first performance in 1934 at the Little Theatre, Cape Town.
The company toured extensively from 1941, not only in the Cape Province but right up to Johannesburg, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South West Africa (Namibia) and Mozambique.
In 1965, when UCT Ballet received a government subsidy and became CAPAB Ballet Dulcie Howes was Artistic Director and David Poole the ballet master.
When Dulcie Howes retired, David Poole became Artistic Director in 1970. He was appointed the director of the UCT Ballet School in 1973 but retained his position with CAPAB Ballet as artistic advisor.
The company was fortunate to have had such a continuous and stable line of artistic guidance from its inception to the present day.
CAPAB was the first to perform two original ballets by Gary Burne in 1971 – Variations within Space and Birthday of the Infanta.
As well as the classics that the company performed, their repertoire included The Rake’s Progress, Cranko’s Pineapple Poll, Lady and the Fool, the Two Pigeons, Les Patineurs, La Sylphide and a number of ballets by Veronica Paeper.
In 1971, David Poole’s production of Sylvia opened in the Nico Malan Opera House in Cape Town. Also in 1971, Attilio Labis produced Swan Lake, which has proven to be very popular over the years.
So as you can see, ballet in South Africa has had its heroes over the years.
This is a short summary of the two main ballet companies and it is impossible to mention all the people who played a role, but this is part of South African Ballet history as it stands today.
Due to changes in politics during the ’90’s, the arts in South Africa, and especially ballet in South Africa no longer gets the financial support that it used to. The ballet companies have both changed names again, and have both managed to keep themselves afloat, thanks to good sponsorships, public support and better financial management from the top.
We now have Cape Town City Ballet and South African Ballet Theatre which came to life in 2000 after the closure of the Pretoria State Theatre.
It would be a sad day indeed if ballet in South Africa ever died out completely.