Dance maker Ashley Killar, whose programme of ballets called ‘Shades of Love’ recently delighted Cape Town audiences, has a wealth of experience, first as a dancer and then as a choreographer. He chatted to Channel24 about what it takes to succeed in the tough career of professional dance.
Cape Town – Dancers offer a tantalising glimpse into a world of fantasy and make-believe. Many aspire to join their ranks, but only a few are destined to succeed.
"Basically, it’s a very strict code. Physique has to be able to cope as in terms of strength and flexibility." And, says Ashley, people should never be put off if they’re told ‘you’re going to be too tall’ or any other type of discouragement.
"A lot of people who have started off with drawbacks have made it – because some of these things can be remedied." Apart from all those technical standards, there’s a special ingredient: "There’s got to be a simple thing really – it’s passion."
That’s important, "’cause it hurts a lot. Quite apart from physically, there are lots of downs as well as ups. People see dancers on stage and think how lovely, how graceful and the rest of it." But apart from the hours and hours of sweat in the practice room, there can be the pain of being overtaken by someone else in the company for a prized role. "So it is tough, but it’s the passion that will win through in the end. There are no short cuts."
(Thomas Thorne in Sarabande.)
Local exports have made their mark, says Ashley: "There have been South African dancers all over the world, and there have been for many, many years." He has praise for both South African teachers and dancers: "The basic ballet training here is still very, very strong so there must be lots of kids and teachers here doing the right thing."
Ashley offers aspiring dancers the advice to draw from the rich heritage of the past: "It can be so inspiring, and now with YouTube and DVDs and books from libraries and everything else, there’s so much at their fingertips."
And beware ballet moms; he has a simple message for parents who think the next eisteddfod prize or the next exam certificate is all that matters: "It isn’t. You don’t need any exam certificate to get into a ballet company."
But what you do need, says Ashley, is that special passion "and to maintain that passion, to fuel it, I think if you’ve read about great dancers from the past like Nijinsky, Fonteyn, Pavlova, and about people who are still alive today like Natalia Makarova and Natalia Ossipova – these great artists can fire the imagination.
"Dancers need their imagination fired to think one day I can be like that. If they’ve got the passion, then there’s a chance."
(Claire Spector and Daniel Szybkowski in Beauty and the Beast.)
Ashley is no ballet snob, and believes this exciting art form should be adapted to "cater for different expectations where you don’t necessarily need any specialised knowledge. Why should you?
"I just hope that people aren’t intimidated by a big theatre – I mean, I can imagine some people worrying what do I wear, when do I clap? Maybe they’re a little intimidated walking up those steps big theatres have, and they shouldn’t be. Each performance should be an event where the people on one side should be sharing with those on the other side of the footlights. That’s what theatre is – it’s a celebration."
Ultimately, it’s all about communication: "Look, we’re all in it, whatever colour we are, either gender, rich or poor - you can’t lie when you’re dancing. It’s a wonderful true communicator."
And when it comes to the outlook for dance, Ashley quotes Margot Fonteyn, one of the great dancers of the 20th century, who said in her book The Magic of Dance that she was often asked where the future of dance would be. "And she said ballet is vibrant in Australia and Canada but her guess is Africa, because the African people have dance in their blood."
(Laura Bosenberg as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.)
"Sleeping Beauty to me is the pinnacle of dance. I think it has to be the greatest ballet ever made, mainly because of its score but also because of the sumptuous dancing."
The Cape Town City Ballet is performing The Sleeping Beauty in a production with beautiful sets and costumes at the Artscape Opera House from September 2-18, with an array of local and international stars. The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra will play the score at selected performances. Tickets at Computicket or Artscape Dial-a-Seat on 021 421 7695.
ALSO READ: Meet the ex-rugby player who’s a brilliant ballet dancer
(Photos: Pat Bromilow-Downing)
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