Joburg Ballet’s Unbound

Joburg Ballet’s Unbound: Four Ballets takes the neo-classical form to its extreme with acrobatic spectacles, feats of flight and fancy and epic fight scenes. Our resident arts and culture writer was invited to the opening night event on Friday, 05 July 2019. Here’s what she saw, thought and felt about Joburg Ballet’s most daring production yet. 

Unbound: Four Ballets

Unbound: Four Ballets

Unbound is a collection of four neo-classical ballets. Shannon Glover’s I Think, Therefore I Am and choreographer Kitty Phetla’s Wakanda, make their world debuts as part of this collective production, which is being hosted at the Joburg Theatre this July. Also included in the show line-up is Belgian choreographer Kevin Durwael’s Transcendence and Esther Nasser’s The Angel Trilogy. 

Unbound: Four Ballets had its opening night on Friday, 05 July 2019. Performed on the Nelson Mandela Stage to an excited and enthusiastic audience of near capacity. The youthful Joburg Ballet company delivered a sleek and graceful performance. However, there was a nervous energy about the dancers and they never seemed to reach their full potential during the 90-minute show. Nevertheless, with a triumphant end, reminiscent of the Lord of the Dance’s Riverdance, this four-in-one ballet is well worth seeing.

Kitty Phetla’s Wakanda

Welcome to Wakanda

The show was opened by Kitty Phetla’s Wakandawhich was arguably the most highly anticipated feature. Wakanda is an expanded version of the Breaking Ballet episode made for Joburg Ballet’s partnership with branding company TBWA Hunt Lascaris in 2018. This episode made up a series of eight bite-size ballets inspired by the biggest news stories of the time. Wakanda was filmed at the Cradle of Humankind, shortly after Marvel Studios blockbuster Black Panther slashed Box Office records.

Like the Marvel Studios film, Wakanda is set in a fictional African country. Unbound opens on this world. We immediately recognise the mountain scape setting and its characters thanks to the skillful set and costume designs. The cascading waterfall is especially evocative. But, while the dancers moved with utmost grace and precision in this piece, there was an overall lack of conviction in their movements. This opening could have been spectacular with a few minor tweaks. Bang those assegai’s with more intention, please dancers!

Overall, Phetla’s homage to the land of Wakanda was somewhat anti-climatic. The build up to the fight scene was slow moving and could be revised to create more space for conflict between our favourite characters. Nevertheless, it was a delightful contrast to the usual ballets we are accustomed to seeing. With a little more work, Wakanda may just become our national ballet.

Unbound: Four Ballets
Angel on my Shoulder

The Angel Trilogy 

Esther Nasser’s The Angel Trilogy is set to music by The Rolling Stones, Chopin and Mozart. Kicking off with a battle between warring angels clad in black bikinis, The Angel Trilogy certainly vamped up the energy in the auditorium. A rock ‘n roll ballet, featuring daring dancers Monike Cristina and Claudia Monja as our angels at war. There was no lack of confidence here – instead there was raw energy, intention and a viciousness usually only seen in Swan Lake’s Von Rothbart.

The Angel Trilogy’s male dancers took centre stage. Surprisingly, they spoke. Or, rather shouted. Taking the ballet genre to its edge, they paraded around the stage in a burlesque manner. They were boyish and vibrant as they made fun of the style of dance they have dedicated their lives to. Almost a mish-mash between Broadway’s Chicago and Ballet Eloele’s Men in Tutus. This was caricature at its very best.

The piece concluded with “Angel on My Shoulder” – an unbelievable feat of acrobatics. This melancholic first act finale delivered a wonderful sense of catharsis, as the dancers seemed to float above ground, defying gravity and human capability. Their strength and flexibility were on full display, moving the audience to cheer and gasp in awe. Ultimately, The Angel Trilogy ended almost too quickly, leaving the audience wanting much more.

I Think, Therefore I Am

I think, therefore I am…

Principle Joburg Ballet dancer Shannon Glover’s I Think, Therefore I Am draws its inspiration from French philosopher René Descartes. An image of the famed philosopher framed the stage as the curtain rose for the second half. Then, an ominous voice over relayed Descartes ideas about the reality of existence. As much as this production spectacle contextualised the theme of the piece, it did distract from the dancing going on below. However, the costumes for this piece were some of the most eye-catching of the production. Deep plum reds gave a sense of seriousness to the dancers movements.

I Think Therefore I Am is an intellectual experiment, combining philosophy with dance. The movement here was exceptionally graceful. However, it may have lost some audience members attention, as there was no real story to the piece. This one is for the deep thinkers out there.



Unbound came to a quick-fire end with Belgian choreographer Kevin Durwael’s Transcendence. This dynamic show-stopper was the highlight of the Mignon Furman Gala presented in Cape Town by Joburg Ballet in November 2018. And, it’s not difficult to understand why.

The lighting design took the prize here, as long throw casts of white light beamed down on the dancers. Then, just as the entire company came together for the grand finale, bright floodlights created a shocking backdrop. The dancers hooked arms and stood in perfect formation to perform a quick-footed sequence. Like Flatley’s Riverdance, this sequence was breathtaking in its precision. It was the perfect way to end off a ballet of four neo-classical dance pieces which test boundaries and the rules of storytelling. If only it could have gone on for a little while longer.

For more information

Unbound: Four Ballets will be staged at Joburg Theatre until Sunday, 14 July 2019. Get your tickets online via Webtickets.

For more information, visit Joburg Theatre’s website, or follow the Joburg Ballet on social media:

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Contact the Box Office on 0861 670 670 or via email at

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