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Two Decades, One InSPIRAtion

Fiona Gordon: Dancers of all ages and walks of life graced the Artscape Opera House stage in a tribute to the late great Prima Ballerina Assoluta Phyllis Spira.

Celebrating its 20th year of existence, Dance for All pays fitting tribute to an icon that was and remains an integral part of the organisation, and mentor to many. Accepted into the Royal Ballet School at just 15 years of age, Spira went on to join of the ranks of the Royal Ballet Touring Company. Turning down a blossoming international career, in favour of the opportunity to perform for her home crowds, she returned to South Africa, and went on to dance in legendary partnerships with Gary Burne and Eduard Greyling until an injury on the opening night of Giselle in 1988 forced her retirement from the stage.

Compared by people of consequence to the likes of Alicia Markova and Margot Fonteyn, Spira left an indelible imprint of the performance landscape of this country – through her performing career, which happened at the height of this country’s ‘ballet heyday’. The students of DFA’s twenty year history would not have had the opportunity to watch her perform, but they have been able to experience her magnetism in a different way. Involved with the project from its inception, Spira became an indelible part of the organisation, and lives of the children involved with the programmes, with her partner, current CEO, Philip Boyd. “Phyllie” remains an inspiration to these younger generations of dancers in the impact she had and continues to have on their lives, daily, through the existence of the organisation and the life-skills which it aims to impart.

With the opening numbers, we are reminded of this source of the inspiration, as stars of the past return to the stage in a tribute to their colleague and mentor. A showcase of dance in the city, with guest performances by the Cape Dance Company, Cape Town City Ballet, Cape Junior Ballet, the University of Cape Town School of Dance, Jazzart Dance Theatre and the young men from La Rosa Spanish Dance Theatre – all of whom boast products of the DFA system amongst their members – in their moving tributes to the legend.

For a programme that boasts more than 1500 participants across the greater Cape area, I felt it a pity that more did not have this opportunity to grace the Opera House stage, as many of the same faces and movements were seen in repetition. However, products of the various Dance For All training programmes take to the stage in various forms – from the pink leotards and bright smiles of the littlies, to a performance by members of the erstwhile InSPIRAtions Dance Company, all a tribute – as sung by Aviva Pelham and up-and-coming star, Mbongeni Moyakhe – to the ‘Power of the Dream’.

Having performed internationally, and now a member of the DFA teaching staff, product of the programme, Noluyanda Mqulwana pays a spellbinding self-choreographed solo tribute to Phyllis, using a waist-height flybar as her ballet barre base.

Some ‘interpretive dance’ from Soli (Philander) and ‘the Arch’ (-bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu) who also features in an impromptu pas de deux of sorts with Western Cape Premiere Helen Zille, has the audience in stitches.

Mixing his fairy-tale metaphors, Tutu articulates, beautifully, of the purpose of Dance for All – as a means of finding many feet to fit the satin slippers of the illustrious swan.

Two Decades One InSPIRAtion – the 20th Celebration Gala and a tribute to Phyllis Spira, was held at the Artscape Opera House on 1 August 2010.

See www.danceforall.co.za for details of upcoming events, and how to support the organisation.

Fiona Gordon

Mamma Mia! Cape Town

Experience the wonderful, irresistible story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs in the worldwide smash hit musical Mamma Mia! This enchanting tale of love, laughter and friendship will premiere at Artscape, Cape Town on Sunday, 11 August 2010 for a limited season.  Thereafter the production moves to The Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg, opening on Friday, 02 October 2010. Mamma Mia! is musical entertainment for the whole family. Its broad appeal to audiences of all ages guarantees everyone at every performance will be “having the time of their lives”.

Leading South African concert promoter Attie van Wyk of BIG Concerts and theatre producer Hazel Feldman of Showtime Management in association with Nick Grace of NGM (U.K.) are proud to bring Mamma Mia! to South Africa. “Mamma Mia! is the ultimate feel-good fun musical, which explains why it enjoys enormous global success! And of course we are proud to be presenting it on our very own doorstep, and even more proud to present a full local cast. This is a must see for every South African.” says Attie Van Wyk.  “”This all-South African cast is going to wow audiences – a sensational mix of experience, youth and glamour – plus special chemistry! Fantastic fun’ says Hazel Feldman.

From sets to costumes and its multi-talented 31-member company and six musicians, Mamma Mia! is proudly South African. Boasting a cast featuring South Africa’s finest talent and starring many highly acclaimed stars of stage, film and the small screen including award winning actress Gina Shmukler (Chess, Blues Brothers, Jesus Christ Superstar, Showboat) as the mother of the bride, Donna Sheridan; South Africa’s youngest theatre sensation, 19 year old Carmen Pretorius (High School Musical SA & Shanghai, Footloose) plays the role of the bride-to-be, Sophie; theatre and television award winning actress, Ilse Klink (Chicago, The Full Monty, Isidingo, Scandal, 7de Laan) is the no-nonsense Rosie and acclaimed stage and television star, Kate Normington (Hairspray, Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard, High School Musical) plays the role of the wealthy, multi-divorcee Tanya. Cape Town actor and 2008 IDO Hip Hop World Championships team finalist dancer, Stephen Jubber (Merchant of Venice, High School Musical, Bollywood movies) plays Sophie’s fiancée, Sky. Popular Afrikaans actor and soapie-star Anrich Herbst who began his television career as the young son, “Wimpie” in the hit series Orkney Snork Nie and went on to play major roles in Egoli and Isidingo, will delight audiences in the role of the charismatic, Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s three possible fathers. The other two possible “dads” are Bill Austin, played by Murray Todd (We Will Rock You, Romeo & Juliet,  Egoli, Invictus) and Harry Bright played by Neels Clasen (Isidingo, We Will Rock You, Annie, Soul Buddyz).

Sophie’s friends Ali and Lisa are played by Christel Mutombo (High School Musical, West Side Story, Cabaret) and Gemma Donnelly (Hairspray, My Fair Lady, Footloose) with Karabo Maithufi (Cats SA & International Tour, Hairspray, Groovy Nights) and Christopher Jaftha (High School Musical, Saturday Night Fever, African Footprint) as Sky’s friends, Pepper and Eddie.

Mamma Mia! is an original musical love story featuring 22 of ABBA’s hits including: Chiquitita; Dancing Queen; I Have a Dream; Knowing Me, Knowing You and The Winner Takes It All.

Inspired by the well-loved storybook lyrics of ABBA’s ever-popular hits, writer Catherine Johnson’s sunny, funny tale of family and friendship unfolds on a Greek island paradise. On the eve of her wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago.

With more productions playing internationally than any other musical, Mamma Mia! is a global smash hit. Over 40 million people around the world have fallen in love with the characters, the story and the music that makes Mamma Mia! the ultimate feel-good show!

Since its stage premiere in 1999, Mamma Mia! has gone on to gross over $2 billion at the box office worldwide. This production has premiered in more cities worldwide faster than any other musical in history, opening in more than 200 major cities. Mamma Mia! is currently in its 10th Anniversary year since the first production opened on London’s West End on 6th April 1999.

With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia! is written by Catherine Johnson and directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Mamma Mia! has choreography by Anthony Van Laast, production design by Mark Thompson, lighting design by Howard Harrison, sound design by Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken, and musical supervision, additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch.

Big Concerts and Showtime Management, in association with NGM by arrangement with Judy Craymer, Richard East and Björn Ulvaeus for Littlestar in association with Universal present Mamma Mia! South African Producers, BIG Concerts and Showtime Management and their creative team will work with the global creative team to present “the world’s number one musical” boasting an entirely South African company.

Mamma Mia! runs at Artscape from 11 August and shows are Tuesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and Sundays at 2pm and 6pm. Tickets cost from R180 to R380 via Computicket, 083 915 8000 or 021 4217695.