Title of Prima Ballerina awarded to Joburg Ballet’s Burnise Silvius – and what the title really means

| November 22, 2013 | 0 Comments
The princess of the night - Prima Ballerina Burnise Silvius, as seen here with Michael Revie

The princess of the night – Prima Ballerina Burnise Silvius, as seen here with Michael Revie in Joburg Ballet’s recent production of Cinderella. Photo by Bill Zurich.

While the term ‘prima ballerina’ refers to the ‘first’ ballerina of a company, it doesn’t go to say that every ballet company has one – usually the highest rank in a company is principal dancer, or at most, senior principal dancer. In fact, to be officially awarded the title of prima ballerina is a rare and special accolade, given only to the most exceptional of principal dancers.

Therefore, the opening night of Joburg Ballet’s season of The Nutcracker, Friday 22 November at the SA State Theatre, is a special occasion indeed as the title of Prima Ballerina of the company is bestowed upon principal dancer Burnise Silvius.

Joburg Ballet CEO Dirk Badenhorst says, “In considering the ways in which we could honour Burnise Silvius for twenty years of magnificent performances and for the continued distinction and prestige she brings to our company, we decided that the supreme accolade would be to name her Prima Ballerina of the company, a first for Joburg Ballet, a rare tribute by any measure and one Burnise Silvius richly deserves.”

“The finest role model…”

The Pretoria-born ballerina started dancing at the age of four and has danced an impressive repertoire of principal roles with companies such as PACT Ballet (which later became The State Theatre Ballet), the Hong Kong Ballet, The South African Ballet Theatre and the National Ballet of Canada.

Iain MacDonald, Artistic Director of Joburg Ballet, says, “Saluting Burnise Silvius with the title Prima Ballerina is a fitting way to honour a great South African artist who continues to give so much to her fellow South Africans. Burnise has danced abroad on many occasion and has been a member of other companies but always she has returned home to share her exquisite dancing with us and to serve as the finest role model any dancer and dance student could possibly have.”

Previous South African dancers to be awarded the title of prima ballerina include Dawn Weller of PACT Ballet – the first South African ballerina to be the subject of a book (Dawn Weller: Portrait of a Ballerina) – and the world-famous Phyllis Spira of CAPAB Ballet (now Cape Town City Ballet).

Here’s an insight into Burnise Silvius’ dancing life with this video by Tanja Bencun.

Absolutely Assoluta (the best of the best of the best)

Did you know that while ‘Prima Ballerina’ is the highest active rank a ballerina can achieve in a company, there is still an even higher title to aim for. In the same way that ‘Prima Ballerina’ is awarded to the most exceptional of principal dancers, the honourary and incredibly prestigious title of ‘Prima Ballerina Assoluta‘ is reserved only for prima ballerinas of the highest international acclaim.

However, the bestowing of this title is such a rare occurrence that only twelve ballerinas in the history of ballet have ever achieved this honour, Phyllis Spira being one, and the Cuban Alicia Alonso another. Interestingly, Burnise Silvius was one of a world-class line-up of dancers who performed for Madame Alonso in a special programme in Johannesburg earlier this year in honour of this inspiring living legend (see the photo gallery here).

Nutcracker magic – Casting details

You can see Burnise Silvius perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy alongside international guest artist Jonhal Fernández as the Nutcracker Prince on Friday 22 November at 7:30pm, Sunday 24 November at 3pm and Sunday 1 December at 11am.

Other Joburg Ballet partnerships to enjoy are:
Shannon Glover and Ramiro Sámon: Saturday 23 November at 11am, Friday 29 November at 7:30pm and Saturday 30 November at 3pm;
Lindé Wessels and Carlos Santos: Saturday 23 November at 3pm and Thursday 28 November at 11am;
Angela Maree and Javier Monier: Wednesday 27 November at 11am and Saturday 30 November at 11am.

Nutcracker Booking details:

Dates and Times:
22 & 29 November 2013 at 7:30pm
23, 24 & 30 November 2013 at 3pm
23, 27, 28 & 30 November 2013 at 11am
Venue: The Opera at the South African State Theatre, Pretoria
Tickets: from R50 to R340 via Computicket.

Special deals and discounts:

  • 10% for block bookings of 10 or more;
  • 15% for pensioners;
  • 20% for Friends of the Ballet;
  • 50% for children aged 4 to 7;
  • 50% off all Opening Night seats (22 November);
  • 50% off all standard ticket prices for the 11am performance on Saturday, 23 November.
  • R50 for school shows on 27 and 28 November at 11am.

P.S. You can follow prima ballerina Burnise Silvius on Twitter here: @Burnerina

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Category: Dance News

About the Author ()

Hi, I'm Robynn, and I'm a student of the potential of the body, the marvels of the mind, and the beauty of it all combined in ballet. As the editor, BodyMindBallet is where I get to learn, to share and to enjoy this wide world of dance - and with every day I gain an ever richer respect for the athleticism of dance and the skill of performance artistry.

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