Arts ministry in ballet botch-up

2012-08-25 16:59

The 11th-hour cancellation of a prestigious tour by the National Ballet of Cuba, which was expected to be funded by the South African government, has left local dancers fuming.

The world-famous company cancelled its first-ever sub-Saharan African tour on Wednesday – a week before their much-anticipated arrival in Johannesburg.

It’s believed that the ANC had booked out a large number of seats for the opening night, and intended hosting the final performance at the Sand Du Plessis Theatre in Bloemfontein.

With posters on street poles, advertisements on buses and thousands of tickets already sold, in a sudden about-turn this week the stars of the ballet were no longer even available to give media interviews.

And then Dirk Badenhorst of Mzansi Productions broke the news in a statement: “Cuba took the decision to cancel the tour after the South African government’s ongoing delays in the payment of the funding required.”

Approached for comment this week, government denied Badenhorst’s claims.

“The department of arts and culture (DAC) did not commit to funding this project,” said the department’s media liaison Kalay Maistry. It instead “sought to assist Mzansi Productions with other sponsors, because we liked the project and because of South Africa’s long relationship with Cuba.”

But Badenhorst made short shrift of Maistry’s claims. He said that “in a meeting on November 7 2011 the director-general of the DAC said that the DAC would provide the funding. This was reiterated in a later meeting with Minister Paul Mashatile.”

When approached for further comment, an annoyed Maistry said the department had nothing further to add.

However, Badenhorst had much to say and he lashed the DAC: “They have never been interested in the development of ballet in this country and have no respect for the arts,” he said.

South Africa has only two remaining professional ballet companies, yet the art form has become increasingly popular with underprivileged youngsters.

Kitty Phetla, the only senior black dancer and choreographer at the Johannesburg Ballet Theatre, was scheduled to perform with the Cuban company.

This week she struggled to hide her disappointment.

“I am very sad because this was going to be a great opportunity for me,” she told City Press.

Badenhorst said the National Ballet of Cuba has promised to reschedule a tour to the country in future, and that those who had bought tickets for next week would be refunded.

The DAC said the cancellation will not cause diplomatic tension with Cuba.

“Relations between the two nations, including cultural relations, are deep and have endured over a long period of time and cannot be affected by this rather unfortunate incident,” said Maistry.

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