Covid-19: Cancelled performances cost Joburg Ballet R1-million

The Don Quixote season — the first show this season at the Joburg Ballet — began on March 13 with great promise. This year the lead was played by a black Brazilian, a rarity in a ballet world dominated by white men. The first performances were well received.

But the season ended on March 15, just two days and four performances later.

With President Cyril Ramaphosa declaring a national state of disaster on the night of the last performance, the Joburg Ballet decided to cancel all further shows. After hundreds of hours of practice, the Don Quixote season had to end before it could recoup the costs of this practice and investment.  

The chief executive at Joburg Ballet, Esther Nasser, said it would lose about R1-million because of the cancellation. This, she said, was a huge blow for the company, not only artistically but from an administrative point of view. “You can imagine the impact of cancelling not only the guest artists, Marianela Núñez and Vadim Muntagirov from the Royal Ballet, as well as the gala in Cape Town, which was to follow after the Don Quixote performances.”

Nasser said such a wholesale cancellation had not happened before, and was something the ballet company could not afford.  

Artistic director Ian MacDonald said it is difficult to make artistic decisions, because the response to Covid-19 is taking centre stage. “We don’t know exactly how long we’ll be held captive by this virus.” 

Asked what the company would do to recover the losses, Nasser said management is looking at fundraising possibilities. “Joburg Ballet’s focus is to keep our dancers, school and staff as safe and secure as we possibly can, as they are the future of a company that is truly acknowledged not only nationally, but internationally.”

In an Instagram post, the Joburg Ballet published a message from Nasser, thanking people for the donations received. It noted that all the people who had bought tickets before the cancellation decided to donate them, rather than asking for a refund.

“The cancellation of six of the season’s 10 performances has obviously had an impact on Joburg Ballet and your generosity will help the ballet company through the tough times ahead,” the post read. 

The financial implications aside, MacDonald said it is a huge disappointment that audiences will not be able to witness the current production of Don Quixote — a state of affairs that arts organisations around the world are now grappling with. 

MacDonald said, similar to any high-performance athletes, the dancers work daily on improving their technique, strength and stamina. “It’s frustrating for the dancers not to be able to perform, as they have all worked incredibly hard on their individual interpretation of their roles within the production.”

MacDonald said he experienced a similar situation when he was a main dancer in a company 20 years ago. “It was like my whole world had collapsed. It makes you more appreciative and thankful for what you have when it’s taken away.” 

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

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