Ballet's bright young things

Cape Town - We caught up with four rising stars to find out what goes on behind the greasepaint and glittery costumes.

Two new partnerships have burst upon the Cape Town ballet scene. Revil Yon and partner Meghan Henegan, together with Conrad Nusser and his partner Cleo Ames, have made their onstage bow as The Nutcracker prince and in the dual role of Clara and the Sugar Plum fairy in the Cape Town City Ballet’s latest production of The Nutcracker.

In the performance I saw with Revil and Meghan in the lead roles, they gave a delightful portrayal full of sparkle and fun, with plenty of promise of good things to come. Watching Meghan, I could see a beautiful Aurora in Sleeping Beauty in the making, while Revil has an assured stage presence.

Revil Yon and Meghan Henegan in The Nutcracker. (Photo: Pat Bromilow-Downing)

But however glamorous they may look on stage, these four young people have hopes and fears just like those of us with more mundane jobs. They also enjoy the same leisure pursuits: they’re keen on computer games and hiking, like girly things like shopping and cooking, and snuggle up with a good book to relax after a hard day’s graft at the rehearsal studio.

The young stars in the making confessed to Channel2 4 that their Nutcracker debut has been both a highlight and the greatest challenge in their careers. Says Cleo: “It is both technically challenging and pushes me stamina wise, but it is a lovely role to portray.”

Looking to the future

Turning to the future, Revil unhesitatingly singles out Romeo in Romeo and Juliet as one of his dream roles. His partner Meghan is on the same wavelength: “The emotions Juliet goes through, going from an innocent young girl growing into a young woman and being able to portray that in a ballet, makes it one of the best roles to be able to dance.”

Conrad has his sights firmly set on the role of Siegfried in Swan Lake. “Swan Lake is the ultimate classical ballet, done by all the world’s best ballet companies. Also, it is a physical and artistic challenge.”

Cleo dreams of dancing Carmen and Giselle. “They both emote such passion, which is an incredible feeling to have on stage. It is also an incredible feeling to take an audience to another place emotionally.”

What inspires them

They draw their inspiration from different sources. Conrad singles out Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta for his flawless technique and work ethic, while Revil pays tribute to his ballet teacher Gwen Mary Wells and is inspired by the music “which allows dancers’ bodies to speak so expressively without having to say a single word”.

He also singles out senior principal dancer Kim Vieira as someone he looks up to: “Not only is she an amazing dancer, but also a great human being.” Kim’s energy both on and off stage is a quality Revil says he would love to emulate. Meghan and Cleo both find inspiration from a diverse range of dancers both locally and abroad, for a variety of qualities and reasons.

All four agree that ballet is not a career for shirkers. Conrad says frankly: “Advice I would give to someone who wants to be a professional dancer is first of all that it involves a lot of work.” But, he adds, it’s important not to forget to also have fun.

“A true love of dance is the number one as it is the only thing that keeps you going when things get tough,” says Cleo. And don’t compare yourself to others: “It is important not to be in competition with or to compare yourself to other dancers, but rather to be in competition with yourself .”

Conrad Nusser and Cleo Ames in The Nutcracker. (Photo: Pat Bromilow-Downing)

Work hard and don’t get discouraged, says Meghan. “The career is difficult, but it is rewarding. The feeling you get when you perform onstage makes all the hard work worth it.”

And the best ballet company around in the world today? The verdict is pretty much unanimous: London’s Royal Ballet has what it takes. “I love their style and the repertoire that they perform,” says Meghan. Conrad says simply: “Best in the world, enough said.”

There are vulnerabilities as well

These young adults also have a vulnerable side as they learn to master a new phase in their careers.  “I would say my greatest challenge so far has been developing my confidence as a dancer. I am a very critical person so I can be very hard on myself at times,” says Meghan.

Conrad says: “I would say that my greatest challenge so far has been in learning how to mime and act on stage so as to be not just a technical dancer with no stage presence, but to be a performer. “Working on partnering skills is also top of list,” says Conrad, adding that he is “very lucky” to have Cleo for a partner.

You can catch Revil Yon, Meghan Henegan, Conrad Nusser and Cleo Ames in action at the Cape Town City Ballet’s production of ‘Night & Day’ which is on at the Artscape Theatre until 10 January 2016.

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