Shannon Glover started dancing at the age of four. She later attended the National School of the Arts and was the winner of the South African Adeline Genée Silver Trophy Competition, subsequently representing South Africa at the international Genée Competition in Birmingham, England.
In 2004 she was accepted on to The South African Ballet Theatre’s Graduate Programme and subsequently taken into the company. Her repertoire includes roles in The Sleeping Beauty, La Traviata, Cinderella (Veronica Paeper and Iain MacDonald versions), Coppélia, Carmen, Le Corsaire, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, La Bayadère, The Nutcracker Re-Imagined, Swan Lake, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet.
She has also choreographed a number of works and in 2013 danced in the International Ballet Gala in Honour of Alicia Alonso in Johannesburg.
She danced the title role in Iain MacDonald’s new production of Snow White in October 2017 and in Veronica Paeper’s Carmen for the company at Joburg Theatre in April 2018. Shannon represented South Africa in the BRICS summit hosted in China and performed the grand pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet.
For the 2019 season with Joburg Ballet, she danced the role of the Queen in Snow White at Monte Casino and attended a choreographic residency at the Centre for Ballet and the Arts at New York University. She has returned and choreographed a new work for the company entitled “I Think, Therefore I Am” which will have its world premiere at Joburg Ballet’s season of UNBOUND at Joburg Theatre.
This is an exciting chapter in your life at the moment.
“Choreographing has been something that I have been passionate about for many years. I have dabbled in it here and there for the company. And now to choreograph for something like this, is extraordinary for me and an awesome achievement. It’s a lot of fun branching into something different and not just dancing. I love creating, and I try to create things that feel nice, and not just things that I would think feel nice. So from a dancers aspect, you enjoy every movement. You’re not just getting the steps right, you are portraying the feeling through the steps. So that is why it is so nice coming from a dancers perspective; to be able to choreograph for them. I always have such nice dialogue with the dancers. I feel it is a relationship between us, and at the end of the day I want them to look their best and to feel as comfortable as they can feel.”
You have been dancing with these people for years, how do you assume the role as choreographer, because it is now a different – you have to be a little more assertive.
“I think everyone has such a wonderful working relationship on the floor and there is such a wonderful respect amongst the dancers. I’ve been with the company for so long, so I am their senior, so there is already that respect.”
“I’m extremely experienced when it comes to my art form, so if I give them corrections or guidelines on how to move forward, they often listen to me because I am more experienced. It is not that I have to put my foot down and scream and shout. They are there to listen and learn and improve. That is what we do regularly.”
You have danced in a lot of fairy tale works. this piece is a very different, very Neo Classical. How do you move away from your classical background?
“It is always a challenge because we always do the classics like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake… there is a very specific classical technique that you need. But all of the neo classical or contemporary dancers around the world have a very strong ballet background. You need the strength of a ballet dancer in order to let loose in contemporary and neo classical. It would be a lot harder for a contemporary dancer to do ballet than a ballet dancer to do contemporary. So it is very different and it has been a challenge, especially getting the dancers to release more. In the fairy tales it is very poised and you have specific placements for the head at each count. In neo classical, the head is heavy, and so you have to hold your core a lot more. With contemporary you feel a sense of freedom. It is not so precise and stuck. In ballet everything has to be perfectly in place, whereas with contemporary, you have more leeway – you can get there longer, take it slower… But it is nice to explore these dance forms. We are moving into a different direction.”
You have had the privilege of being able to do workshops overseas, this has helped you a lot. Do you feel South Africa still do have a lot to learn here.
“Talent wise we are on par with the international dancers. What is wonderful about South Africa, is that there are not a lot of female choreographers internationally. They are predominantly male. So it is extraordinary that with this new season, there are two new female choreographers.”
“I will say with the neo classical front, there are major names overseas that we would love to have here, and to get those works would be amazing. Creatively we are moving very differently. That is what is nice about dance it can branch off into different areas; so here we might show more African elements.”
This is a very philosophical piece.
“My piece isn’t necessarily to answer any questions or to prove anything right or wrong. It is used as an amazing thread. What I like about the whole theory, is that there is a lot to it; are aliens controlling us, are there higher powers, is it virtual reality. Many people have different views about mankind. My piece is mainly set in the mind of Descartes. My design is dark and plain, simplistic. If someone was drawing a comic of someone thinking, it is often a cloud and then a light bulb. I wanted to try cerate that on stage. My cloud is a very dark, circular space, and my light bulb would be the light on stage; a spotlight on a certain section onstage, where the dancers dance. So the movement is creating the thought process. It is not telling a story, it is not answering, it is using his theory through dance movements. I want the audience to be able to question a lot at the end, but here is nothing specific that they need to walk out with.”
What drew you to use him as an inspiration?
“During my time in New York, I was lucky that my finace joined me. We often talk about random philosophical topics. We try question things and debate. During one of our chats, I thought that this would be a great creative way to express this. I really like the theory. I used the dark aspect of it more, not really the scientific theory.”
“In New york I was exposed to amazing companies, choreographers.. I had coffee with Jessica Lang and we spoke about how she comes up with her concepts, and her life story and how she sees things. It was such an insightful time. What I loved about her and everyone in New York, is that everyone is willing to share their knowledge and ideas with you. Everyone wants dance to continue and last. There they are willing to share. I got to meet amazing people. They are brilliant at their craft but normal and humble. It was quite incredible for me.”
Are you still going to dance?
“I’m still going to be on stage for a while. I always wanted to be a dancer first. I have a dream and you only have so many years as a dancer, so why would I shorten that time. I can choreograph for ever.”
Why don’t we have enough neo classical pieces here?
“ADT (Academy of Dance Arts) in New York can put on any production and it will be sold out. It is a part of the culture there to go to the theatre. Here, we have certain audiences who come to the ballet to see the classics. We need to change their mindsets and that they need to change with times. Support the new works and new choreographers. It is about educating the audiences about why we move towards a new form of dance. We will always have the classics but we need to include the neo classic pieces.”
We need to get the younger generation in. Theatre isn’t just for one type of person it is for everyone.”
“There are so many. When I was in New York, Justin Peck, is such a star there, he is doing so much. I look up to him. He is so young and they have let him explore his talent. His work is fun. He is so inspiring. Jessica Lang is such an amazing woman overall. She really made me feel confident about what I am doing.”
Unbound will be on at the Joburg Theatre:
Fri 5 July at 19:30 – Half Price: R100, R138, R188, R205, R238
Sat 6 July, Fri 12 July at 19:30; Sat 6 July, Sun 7 July, Sat 13 July, Sun 14 July at 15:00 – Standard Prices: R200, R275, R375, R410, R475
Wed 10 July at 11:00 – All tickets R100
Patrons can also book and pay via the Nedbank app and at selected Pick n Pay stores (full list at www.webtickets.co.za/pnpoutlets.aspx)