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Out & about | The ballet, the Barbie movie & a book launch

Out& About in Joburg - Wan Lake Ballet, The Barbie Movie and Tony Parks Book Launch

The one thing about living in a city like Johannesburg is having easy access to a world of arts and culture on your doorstep. My social events calendar is not usually very full, but the past week offered three completely different opportunities for me to be part of the audience.

From the ballet to a movie to a book launch, my ‘culture vulture’ cup runneth over. And sharing these moments with those who are prepared to tag along for the ride, made each event that much more special.

#1 The Ballet - Swan Lake

Swan Lake Ballet

'Swan Lake' performed by elite dancers from around the world at the Teatro, Monte Casino.

I believe everyone has an ‘inner ballerina’ (well, perhaps not my husband).😉

But despite one's exposure to the performing arts, it's hard not to be utterly enchanted and mesmerised by Swan Lake, the Ballet. The lavish costumes, the elaborate sets, the intricate and graceful choreography and the gliding, twirling and spinning ballerinas - ‘en pointe’ - across the stage, all tell a story in practised movement that is brought to life by a live orchestra. (In this case, it was our very own Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra).

"The great thing about dance is that you don’t need to go equipped. There’s no secret language, but the more you do see, the more you appreciate the depth and complexity on stage.” -Sir David Bintley, Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company.

It’s worth buying the programme to peruse the principal dancers’ bios and do a quick cheat’s study of Tchaikovsky's classic tale of Odette, Odile and Siegfried; a storyline as complex as Shakespeare's playwriting. But even if you do miss the plot, there is enough on stage, and in the pit, to envelop your senses. The masterpiece musical score alone will make the evening worthwhile.

“Swan Lake has remained the world’s most beloved classical ballet for more than a century. It is an achingly beautiful fairytale told through unparalleled virtuosic choreography and Tchaikovsky’s indelible score that has long surpassed the test of time.” -The Miami City Ballet.

#2 The Barbie movie (No spoilers)

The Barbie Movie review

I am well aware of the hype (and opinion pieces) in the run up to The Barbie movie release.

Director Greta Gerwig - who also directed and wrote the screenplay for Little Women - has brought Barbieland to life in an extraordinary and spellbinding way.

My opening comment (and caveat) in reviewing this movie is that just like Barbie’s mantra championing that “a woman can be anything she wants,” you can probably make the message of this movie say anything you want; it all depends on your age, worldview and imagination. I do, however, suggest you watch the movie before weighing in with any ‘stereotypical’ comments.

Speaking of ‘stereotypical,’ that is exactly who the protagonist of the movie is: Stereotypical Barbie (aka Margot Robbie in real life). You will love her!

It's worth noting that every movie has an agenda and this one is no exception. Greta Gerwig, who wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach, has openly said it is a feminist movie.

I am not so sure.

My take is that it's a subtle and cleverly scripted societal commentary on the weaknesses and cracks of both feminism and patriarchy. And as the movie explores these themes using reductionist techniques, a slightly nuanced paradigm emerges.

Even the narrator - Helen Mirren - agrees: “Thanks to Barbie, all problems of feminism have been solved.” Keep your ears tuned to the moment when the narrator breaks the fourth wall which is probably one of the funniest moments in the movie.

This all plays out in a visual big-screen display of iconic Barbie pinkness. The plot gains momentum with the help of Weird Barbie (brilliantly played by Kate McKinnon) and ‘stereotypical’ Ken. (Go and watch the movie just because of Ryan Gosling).

From the opening scene, you will be surprised and disarmed. And while you are deciding what your takeaway for the movie should be, just enjoy it. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry (maybe), it will make you think, and you will leave feeling satisfied. (In fact, guys will leave desperate to buy Ken’s T-shirt that he sports at the end of the movie!).

When I looked around at the average age demographic watching the movie, I realised that probably 90% would have missed the subversive ‘Stepford Wives’ references and lessons (such a pity).

In my humble opinion, the Barbie movie has a 13-age restriction for a reason. This is not a children’s movie. It is also not about the nostalgia of playing with Barbie dolls. It is much deeper than that. It is about ‘adult’ Barbie’s journey of self discovery and I am not sure 13-year olds have the critical thinking ability to properly appreciate the storytelling layers and unravel the way we have subtly been indoctrinated by the flawed ‘ideologies’ of historical feminism, sexism and patriarchy.

The movie cleverly crosses the lines between Barbie’s fantasy imaginary world and the real world, leaving you with a new appreciation and respect for celebrating the beauty of femininity (the colour pink and pretty heels aren’t going anywhere) and healthy masculinity.

So perhaps Barbie’s stereotypical plastic world is not so fantastic after all. (But the movie definitely is).

Here’s my simple conclusion to the matter - for guys and girls: whether you love Barbie or hate Barbie, you need to go and watch the Barbie movie!

#3 A Book launch

Tony Parks Author  'Vendetta' Book Launch

'Vendetta' by Tony Park at Hyde Park Exclusive Books.

I love book launches. (My most recent experiences have been with Prue Leith, and the Black Mountain duo).

Hearing an author speak about their books, writing processes, content for a narrative, character development, research and inspiration, is much like watching the ballet with a live orchestra. The experience is so much richer. Interviewer, editor and book journalist - Bruce Dennill - also made the entire conversation entertaining and engaging.

I have not read any of Tony Park's 21 crime thrillers, but Andrew has read a few. My connection with Tony Park, however, is watching a webinar interview with him on his approach to writing. Even though he is Australian, he has had an ongoing fascination for southern Africa (where all his novels are set) and spends roughly 6 months a year on African soil - living, travelling, researching, and writing on location. (He lives the African dream of writing most of his novels at the edge of a waterhole).

Engaging with published authors can often feel intimidating, but with Tony Park it was the other way around. He engaged with the audience. Arriving early, he slowly made his way among us, introducing himself and chatting. (Must be his laidback Aussie upbringing).

His passion for writing is contagious, as is his love for South Africa; especially the Kruger National Park. His disarming way of talking about himself and his writing immediately connected with the audience.

When asked about the common appearance of helicopters in his fictional books, he shared that, as a boy, there were two things he wanted to be when he grew up - a writer and a helicopter pilot. So as a writer, his one question in all his books is, “How can I insert a helicopter into this scene.”

As a real life character, Tony Park had the audience completely engrossed.

His stories, his sense of humour, his down-to-earth perspective, his honesty, his humility and his genuine appreciation of his readers, all contributed to an engaging hour and a half. We all walked away not only having our copies of Vendetta signed by the author, but also thinking we were friends.


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