Mini musical musings – part 2 – Strauss

Music is one of my muses, especially for my dance creations. This is the second in a series of mini posts about the music I enjoy painting to.

In the last couple of years, I've been really delighted to track down some ballet scores that I've always wanted to own recordings of. One of these is Le Beau Danube. A sweet one act ballet, Danube comprises music by Johann Strauss arranged by Roger Désormière. If you're familiar with the Strauss pieces that are usually played on the radio, parts of it may sound familiar but with some modifications as the music meanders in a different direction to what you expect it to.

In the mid 80s, Napac Ballet (a ballet company that was based in what is now KawZulu-Natal in South Africa) came to Cape Town on tour. Choreographed by Massine, Le Beau Danube was one of the works restaged for their touring programme. 

Luckily for me, Napac required some young dancers to perform with them. I was delighted to play the role of the young girl's even younger sister. A pivotal role in the story, as the younger sister is the one who persuades the young girl and the hussar to kiss and make up after a disagreement (involving a flirty streetdancer with whom the hussar had a bit of history).

Here's a lil clipping from the newspaper of all of us young extras getting ready backstage. Can you recognise mini me? In the photo, I'm lucky to be wearing my blue and white Danube costume. Happy memories!

Scan of newspaper cutting of young ballet dancers in front of dressing room mirror

^ Newspaper cutting showing a very young Jeanne-Louise and other young dancers getting ready backstage for Napac's Le Beau Danube. Photo credit unknown but this was likely published in either The Cape Times or The Cape Argus.

Danube isn't the only Strauss music I've performed to. A few years later, my ballet school put on an Expo in which I danced two very different routines both set to Strauss.

The first, a commedia dell'arte themed dance to the well-known Radetzky march. Most of my peers were Pierrot and Pierrette characters but I had the honour of being cast as Columbine. I got to wear the most fantastic multi-coloured tutu for that. I was really chuffed about that costume. Best tutu ever! 

The second, was Tritsch Tratsch – a pas de trois with two flirty sailors and a young lass desperate for some attention. I had a lovely costume for this too, including a posh bonnet, a dress with voluminous skirt, white gloves and rather voluminous white knickers (more on those shortly). I rather loved that bonnet (I’ve always lived hats but the pink floral bonnet’s certainly not my style these days).

Tritsch Tratsch is a short, comedic John Cranko work set to, taa daa you guessed it, the tritsch tratsch polka. I suspect the version I danced was an adaptation, as I don't recall how similar the one I danced was to the one I once saw performed in Cape Town. I do however recall the choreography that I learnt. I can happily recreate the role although most of it simply doesn’t work as a solo so my current version is more step-marking than dancing.

André and Fanie (who were my two sailors) were both quite a bit taller than me. So this meant that in the linked bits of the dance, teeny tiny me was barely touching the ground as I was pulled from side to side. Younger me was rather naive and didn't quite grasp the scenario, so I had no idea just funny the routine was and was mortified when the audience laughed during the performance. 

My mother also explained to me afterwards that the reason why my costume had such flouncy knickers was because these were visible to the audience when I was doing the indignantly-kicking-put-me-down-now part of the dance! Ironically, my naivety suited the role to perfection. 

Unfortunately, I've never seen any photos or video from the Expo so I can't share any images of these with you. But, I'm pretty confident Tritsch Tratsch was my best performance ever, even if the flirtation techniques I had to master for it are totally outdated in today’s social milieu. 

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