Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; June 17, 2014
Dada Masilo is one of the success stories of the new South Africa. Although she spent ten of her twenty-nine years under the Apartheid regime, she epitomises all that is positive about the new country: the vibrant confluence of cultures, the edgy mix of danger and beauty and, most of all, life enhancing energy. In her “Swan Lake”, Masilo takes ballet not as a ring-fenced European cultural preserve but simply as a splendid dance form to be both employed and enjoyed.
Her “Swan Lake” has a totally original slant: Odette and Siegfried are brought together in an arranged marriage to her delight and his despair. The arrival of Odile, a dark male swan, sexy as hell and dancing on pointe flips the rest of the story on its head – a ‘homophobe’s nightmare’, in Masilo’s words.
Masilo’s choreography reflects the cultural mix; traditional lines of swans are punctuated with a rhythmic swirl of bottoms and the thrust of a hip that throws up a flutter of tulle. Her swan corps is inclusive: male/ female, black/ white, united by their white tutus, bare feet and tufts of swan feathers on their heads. If you need a classification, contemporary with African and classical influences would be about right. Her choreography, particularly for her Odette solo, using Tchaikovsky’s music and the duet for Siegfried (Songezo Mcilizeli) and Odile (Llewellyn Mnguni) to Saint-Saens, were fine examples of her skill.
Masilo has the charisma of the nascent ballerina but strictly on her own terms. As Odette she is delicious sassy, brave and totally irreverent. The piece has elements of cliché although not always unwelcome. Paul Jenning’s clever commentary of the ‘beginners guide to ballet’ variety brings its own laugh-out-loud moments and the physical comedy is most often delivered with insight and intelligence.
The duet for Siegfried also has its comic moments but the honesty of their emotions shines through in the choreography as does the pain of the outsider. The final scene, set to Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” with dancers dressed in long black skirts and bare chested, earths the work with exactly the right tone. Sadler’s Sampled is a mixed bag and Masilo’s “Swan Lake” launches it on the right trajectory combining accessibility and humour packaged in quality dance.