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The Inconsequential Diary: Hairy Ballet

To the ballet. A Hamburg Ballet/Cape Town City Ballet collaborative production at the Artscape Theatre.1 Three works choreographed by the esteemed Hamburg ballet director John Neumeier.2 Marvelous. Of what is the human body all capable! One could be mesmerized for weeks on end. During the first interval over a glass of bubbly, Therese, a keen observer of life, asks whether I had noticed the only male dancer in the corps de ballet with hair on his chest. Had I? No I hadn’t. I’m the sort of person who takes in the whole, the general impression, the big picture, not bothering with specifics unless I have to. I therefore often miss the finer detail in life, that which makes life interesting, and am often vastly the poorer for it.

Alexander Riabko in Vaslav

Alexander Riabko in Vaslav – Photo Holger Badekow – Cape Times

Therese’s remark quite forgotten, we enter the hall for the second ballet. Instead of the full orchestra, a solitary pianist at the back of the stage transmits baroque music, Bach actually, to dancers which clothe it in the most exquisite post-modern forms. Entrancing. I actually stand to applaud.3 During the second interval I take another bubbly from the bar as one does and head through the foyer to the piazza outside for some fresh air. And then I spot him. He has the-look-the-look-the-look-the-look-the-look-the-look. He’s wearing high boots. He has a John Wayne deep macho cowboy pose although being half the size and a third the age, and he’s fresher and better looking, much better looking. Legs astride, he takes deep draws from a cigarette and gazes straight ahead, back erect. That’s where the resemblance with John Wayne ends; he fools no-one.

Le Sacre ballet

Le Sacre Scene – Photo Holger Badekow, Cape Times

The boots are not cowboy but quite designer, so is the scarf thrown at an insouciant angle over the shoulder. So is the embroidered waistcoat worn just so, and the hair style, cut razor short on the sides but trained up in a beehive on top, is quite outré. There he is. There used to be a time when I would look, look away and then look again. Nowadays I engage, more out of an elevated degree of personal risk-taking than curiosity. I approach The Look.

“Great outfit “, I say. “And the pose goes with it too.” At this The Look baulks, blinks, grins and says something. The Look has a name. It’s Jeno.4 It also has an accent, a confusing mix of Bostonian and West London.   “From Boston?” I ask, knowing he is not. “No”, he deflects without specifying, preserving enigma, wanting to remain a denizen of the wide, wide world, actually from everywhere yet nowhere. I apply the pressure. “Where from then?” “Johannesburg”, he betrays. Of course, should have known. It’s all about pose and composure even though it slips at times. The Look then gives away a lot of himself despite his allure. He is into anthropology, glass blowing and fashion of course. Has come from spending two years in France and has been in Cape Town for four months. Cover broken, The Look readily talks.

“I’m still deciding about Cape Town”, he says. “It’s got to do with the way I engage with Cape Town and the way it engages with me. We don’t often find each other.” “I see. Is it in the reciprocity of mood, temperament or space in which you and Cape Town don’t quite synchronise?“ I enquire. “All three. None. I’m still making up my mind about this place” he says. [Note to self: To enhance personal allure, mouth general enigmas, personify cities, speak in faux Bostonian and wear pouffed-up hair. High boots help.]

I was rapidly figuring things out. Time to wind down our conversation. Besides the gong was going for the start of the final ballet. “Err, do you frequent the ballet often?” I ask by way of a feeble parting shot. “No, not actually. I’m here because my friend is dancing.” “Oh, which one is he?” “The most gorgeous one of the lot”, he stresses. “The most good looking one. He’s the only dancer with hair on his chest!”, he says, eyes gleaming, voice dropping and accent thickening. “You surely must have noticed?” I still hadn’t, but mutter something like “I’ll be looking out for him…” Deflated by this, The Look waves me a dismissive “ta-ta” and scurries off into the foyer.

To be sure, back in the hall I take up my seat and train my eyes very intensely on the chests of the dancers the moment the curtain lifts. And then I spot him. Yes, it’s he, the hair, yes.

And he wasn’t dancing too badly. All things considered, he wasn’t dancing too badly at all.



  1. In celebration of Cape Town City Ballet’s (CTCB) 80th anniversary.
  2. They comprised a wonderfully balanced programme of Neumeier’s Le Sacre masterpiece (music by Stravinsky), Vaslav (score by JS Bach for solo piano), and Spring and Fall (Dvorák). Owing to the complexities of the Stravinsky score 60 orchestra members instead of 47 were required, which contrasted with the single piano of the Bach in the second act. To accomplish the dancing, CTCB dancers had to be taught new techniques. Apparently the dancing in Le Sacre involved “unusual techniques in accent stressing, highlighting the importance of intellectual capacity for a modern dancer”, and “Spring and Fall is not easy… quality of movement is important, the men have to be very athletic and have to concentrate on counting correctly to co-ordinate the many sequences in canon.” (Debbie Hathaway, Cape Times). It was an artistic occasion of note.
  3. A standing ovation, previously the crowning of solely the greatest of performances by an audience, is nowadays often perfunctorily dished out to the ordinary. As discerning audience members, let’s try to preserve the distinction, being generous in our appreciation for good performances but enthusiastic for the truly moving ones.
  4. Not quite Jeno but something like that.