Joburg Ballet’s Brazilian flavour

Larissa Carvalho is a journalist from Brazil spending time at the Mail & Guardian. In Johannesburg she has found a community of ballet dancers from her home country who came for the opportunity to perform but who are also helping to transform an industry. The lead role in classical ballet tends to be dominated by white men globally — particularly in Brazil. That is changing thanks to the Joburg Theatre and Joburg Ballet company. Carvalho spent time with them before and during the first performance of Don Quixote, which has since been cancelled because of restrictions on public gatherings in response to Covid-19

The Joburg Ballet started the 2020 season with Don Quixote last Friday. On the opening night, the main role of Basílio was performed by black Brazilian ballet dancer Ruan Galdino, who shared the stage with South African ballerina Shannon Glover in the role of Kitri.

Joburg Ballet cycles its repertoire every three to four years. It’s now time for Don Quixote again, which artistic director Iain MacDonald said was the first performance by the ballet company for the year.

Don Quixote is a mixture of joy, playfulness and romance. This has made it one of the most influential works in Western literature and across other mediums of storytelling. MacDonald said Don Quixote has a “great sense of humour and there are some beautiful moments in the ballet”.

The dancers’ enjoyment in their art and roles is visible.


For MacDonald, it was a good time for the performance: “You know the environment in South Africa at the moment … Everyone is depressed because there is no money and jobs. I think this ballet will just make people laugh and feel good.”

Of course, that was before it was cancelled.

Speaking before his first appearance on stage as the principal, Galdino said: “I am dealing with very high expectations obviously. Here’s a ballet that has this Spanish and Latin footprint. It’s very close to me but at the same time distant.”

Brazilian beauty: Joburg Ballet company has a history of employing Brazilian dancers such as Ruan Galdino (Delwyn Verasamy)

Back home, in Brazil, it isn’t common for a black ballet dancer to interpret the main role in the classical ballet world. “I’m a black dancer and I’m playing this role which is very unprecedented, it’s something really great! Things are changing and they will continue to change. And I can be an example of this.”

Galdino said when he was young he only knew one black dancer cast in the main role — the Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta, who worked at the Royal Ballet in London.

Joburg Ballet has a history of hiring Brazilians in solo roles for Don Quixote. In this run, Galdino was joined by two compatriots — Monike Cristina and Ivan Domiciano — who also played main characters.  

MacDonald said: “I had the privilege of going to Brazil after I was invited to go over and I think that’s when the relationship started.”

On the choice of Brazilians for lead roles, he said they “are dynamic, they have an energy, which is something similar to the South Africans. I think they have got great classical ballet training.

“They are loud and full of life and I think this is what we need in the company and they fit in so beautifully.

“And with Don Quixote now, it’s so their style and just who they are as a people. So I think that this ballet’s perfect for all the Brazilians with us now,” he said.

Galdino is also helped by having a long working relationship with his lead partner, Glover. “We are always laughing at the mistakes that we did or I’m laughing at him or he is laughing at me, so we laugh so much together and sometimes we cry,” Glover said.

Four performances out of the 10 planned took place before the coronavirus restrictions struck.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Larissa Carvalho
Larissa Carvalho is a freelance Brazilian journalist currently based in Johannesburg

Related stories

Businesses should use alternative energy sources, industry bodies advise

Business associations are urging companies to continue seeking alternative energy sources in light of Eskom’s court judgement which would allow the utility to bump up electricity prices up to 15% from next year April 2021.

The new ‘invisible enemy’

Anti-racism and political contagion from Save Darfur to Black Lives Matter

Eusebius McKaiser: A witness to Covid-19 stigma

Let us please not repeat the devastating Aids story where people died of shame rather than admit being infected by the virus

Richard Calland: What brave new world awaits us?

Responses to terrible inequality, climate change and the Covid-19 economic crisis will decide this

‘Fake news’ fears as Covid-19 highlights the dangers of misinformation

Reliable news coverage is needed more than ever, but trust in the media is at an all-time low

The brutal beauty of Morocco’s Soccer Ultras

Raja Casablanca's fan clubs are well organised, politically active and occasionally violent
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Q&A Sessions: ‘My north star is the patient’

Rhulani Nhlaniki is Pfizer’s cluster lead for sub-Saharan Africa. As Pfizer starts phase III of the clinical trial of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, he tells Malaikah Bophela that if it is successful, the company will ensure the vaccine will be available to everyone who needs it

In terms of future-telling failures, this is a Major One

Bushiri knows how to pull a crowd. Ace knows a ponzi scheme. Paddy Harper predicts that a new prophet may profit at Luthuli House

Ghost fishing gear an ‘immortal menace’ in oceans

Lost and illegal tackle is threatening marine life and the lives of people making a living from the sea

Vitamin therapy is for drips

It may be marketed by influencers, but intravenous vitamin therapy is not necessary and probably not worth the hype, experts say
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday