Joburg Ballet Waltzes to Montecasino


Joburg Ballet announced its first major season at The Teatro at Montecasino, which saw the company’s production of Cinderella waltzing across the stage from 14 – 23 December. ETECH spoke to Joburg Ballet’s artistic director Iain MacDonald and Vanessa of Vanessa Nicolau Theatre and Events, the contractor that provides Joburg Ballet with all of its technical services, about this ambitious undertaking.


Choreographed by Joburg Ballet’s artistic director Iain MacDonald in 2013, Cinderella graces the Teatro stage with Johann Strauss providing the perfect musical accompaniment to this rags-to-riches tale. Andrew Botha’s glittering designs frame the action, and Simon King lights up the theatre for a family-friendly production brimming with charm and magic.

“Cinderella is one of the company’s most popular and highly acclaimed productions,” MacDonald says. “Strauss composed some of the most enchanting, best-loved and memorable classical music ever written and Cinderella, his only ballet score, is no exception. In December, with Christmas just around the corner, Cinderella proved to be the perfect ballet for the holiday season and the ideal way to introduce Joburg Ballet to a wider Johannesburg audience.”

MacDonald goes on to explain that Joburg Ballet is privileged to be resident at the Joburg Theatre Complex and that the company debuts all of its productions using the full-sized operatic stage at the Nelson Mandela Theatre. However, the Nelson Mandela Theatre traditionally hosts the annual Joburg Theatre Pantomime over the end-of-year holidays, and therefore the Ballet needs to seek out other opportunities to bring ballet to Joburg audiences over the festive season. 

“While we have a very committed audience at Joburg Theatre, we have wanted to bring the Ballet to The Teatro at Montecasino for some time, which we hope will provide an opportunity to develop new audiences.” He adds that Montecasino is a multi-function venue, making it a perfect family outing for the holidays.

 “Montecasino offers audience members an opportunity to go for a meal, entertain the children and catch the show, all in one space. It’s an ideal outing for the whole family, especially over the holidays” - Iain MacDonald; Artistic Director Joburg Ballet.


The decision to take Cinderella to The Teatro at Montecasino may offer Joburg Ballet myriad opportunities but does also come with challenges. One of the hurdles that needed to be considered well in advance was the implications of taking the production to a novel venue, which is not equipped with the technical infrastructure that the company is accustomed to. 

According to Nicolau, Andre Botha did the stage design for Joburg Ballet’s Cinderella in the early 1990s, when the city’s ballet company – then called PACT – was resident at the Pretoria State Theatre. When Joburg Ballet was founded in 2012, the company purchased a number of productions from The State Theatre, many of which have been revised over the years. 

“When we made the decision to take Cinderella to The Teatro Montecasino, my team and I immediately started to calculate the adjustments that would have to be made to get Botha’s original stage design to translate for audiences at the Teatro,” she says. “The original set makes use of all of the tricks of the stage – including the full height and width of the opera stage and stage lifts. We, therefore, have made considerable adjustments to the set, while trying to remain true to Botha’s original vision.

“Based on the feedback that we have received over the years, audiences enjoy a multi-media approach when it comes to classical ballet,” Nicolau continues. “While projection can create depth and complexity on stage, people still want to see Cinderella in her actual coach or descending the magnificent staircase as she enters the ball. As a result, we work closely with our designers to ensure that we give audiences the opulence and richness that is so integral to people’s expectations of the ballet.” 


Ballet companies the world over are notoriously hard-pressed when it comes to funding. Joburg Ballet is no different and, coupled with general rising costs; Nicolau says she regularly needs to draw on all her creativity and resources to fit within her allocated budget. 

“Without the support that we receive from the technical theatre industry, fund-raising initiatives and the majority of our contractors, we simply would not be able to operate. Everybody that we work with has a deep understanding of our financial plight and are willing to negotiate on price and services to ensure that the Ballet continues to get what we need,” she says.

One of the most important partners that Nicolau has identified to support Joburg Ballet’s ambitious debut at The Teatro at Montecasino is Alistair Kilbee, managing director of Splitbeam, part of the Gearhouse Group of companies. As the rental supplier of choice for theatres around the country, Kilbee’s dedication to the performing arts remains a driving force in the fight to keep our theatres running: a commitment that has directly benefited Joburg Ballet over the years.  

“We have been working with Joburg Ballet since 2012, supplying the company with lighting over the years. More recently, we have supplied the Ballet with more AV equipment, in response to the increasing demand for video as a backdrop on many of their productions,” Kilbee explains.

According to Nicolau, Splitbeam has ensured that Joburg Ballet has access to cutting-edge technology while accommodating budgetary constraints. Recently, the company acquired state-of-the-art Panasonic laser projectors (which will be used at The Teatro at Montecasino for Cinderella), and Nicolau points out that Joburg Ballet was able to negotiate a payment plan with Splitbeam that takes into account the cyclical nature of budget allocations. Not only this, but Splitbeam supplied the ballet company with a comprehensive lighting rig for Cinderella, which featured a full range of intelligent LED fixtures at what Nicolau describes as a very affordable rate. 

“I have always been a supporter of the ballet, as I feel that is a very important art form in South Africa. It is a goal of Splitbeam’s to be involved in all aspects of theatre, so when the opportunity arose to assist Joburg Ballet to debut at Montecasino, we jumped at it,” says Kilbee. 

Noted South African designer Simon King lit Cinderella, in collaboration with Mitch Shuttleworth of Avcorp Holdings, who managed projection for the production. “Simon has more than 25 years’ experience as a lighting designer for the ballet and opera, and his design contributed enormously to the staging of this production,” Nicolau says. “We also owe an enormous debt of thanks to Mitch, who has extended both his time and considerable talent over the years, to provide AV and projection mapping for our ballets.”


Joburg Ballet’s Cinderella delivered a family-filled outing for all, complete with a memorable score, breathtaking staging and - with the ugly step-sisters making their traditional appearance - a lot of fun. “Christmas is about the magic of childhood, and while the artistry and breathtaking score continue to appeal to our more mature audiences, I always keep in mind what it is like to see the ballet through the eyes of a child,” says MacDonald.

Bryan Hill, Teatro’s general manager, says: “We were thrilled to host this exceptional production, and we know that Joburg Ballet’s many fans, both existing and new, enjoyed an incomparable performance when visiting The Teatro at Montecasino this festive season.”

The general manager of Montecasino, Mike Page, concludes: “Montecasino is all about making memorable moments for all our visitors – and Cinderella added a special touch of magic to our exciting festive offering. We were delighted to welcome the superlative Joburg Ballet and their enthusiastic and delighted audiences in December.”

Story reprinted courtesy ETech Magazine, Photos Susanne Holbaek/Bill Zurich

Feb 25, 2019

The Gearhouse Group of Companies