Professor Elizabeth Triegaardt has made a career out of her love and passion for dance. A former ballerina, Ms. Triegaardt currently holds the position of Honorary Executive Director of the Cape Town City Ballet, a company she has remained with and stayed fiercely loyal to since graduating from UCT. Her full bio and more information about upcoming Cape Town City Ballet productions will be linked below.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
I had been doing ballet since the age of three thanks to my mother, but when I matriculated, my father said, “No it’s not a career.” At that time the performing arts councils had just been started and my father said, “No, you have to have something to fall back on” because it wasn’t a career at that point. I went to university and I got myself a BSc degree in Maths to fall back on. The minute I graduated I joined, what was then, the CAPAB Ballet Company which is now the Cape Town City Ballet. It’s been 50 years and it’s a lifetime. It’s been a wonderful career in dance.
Did you ever imagine when you were that little three year old going to you first dance class that this would turn into a career?
No, because I did netball at school. I was Victrix Ludorum in my last year of school. I ran the 100 yards in 11 seconds. My record still stands because they changed to metric the next year. I had lots of other interests as well. I wasn’t solely focused on ballet. When I graduated from UCT I was offered a job with CAPAB Ballet Company and I took it.
So you didn’t have a moment per se when you realised “I am really good at this, I’m going to do this.”
No, because at that time the dancers in the company were what you imagine a ballerina to be, sort of short and thin and I was probably taller than the average. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that I was going to be a good company member but I turned out to be ok.
In your career as a dancer what was your favourite role that you played?
I got to do most of the roles where you were the “baddie” except for Sleeping Beauty where I was the Lilac Fairy who was a very benevolent lady. One of my best roles was the Black Swan in Swan Lake, better than the White Swan. My favourite role was that of the elder sister in Transfigured Night, where you get to kill someone. I was good at that.
What do you feel was your biggest challenge as a dancer?
As a dancer, it was to keep myself slim enough for the guys to be able to lift me without any problems.
Do you mind if we elaborate on that a little bit?
Not at all, go right ahead.
Because this is a publication for women, how do you feel, being the Honorary Executive Director of the company, that you are able to encourage women to maintain healthy mentalities?
It is sometimes a problem in that some of the dancers feel they have to be ultra-thin and then they become bulimic and start having health problems. However, you also don’t want the dancer to be overweight. You have to stroke a happy medium. You have to be healthy but you have to have a streamlined physique. The discipline of dance requires a streamlined shape just for the visual impact that you make. It is problematic to balance those two out but we manage it. We are very careful in the company, we guide people and say “listen, you either have to reduce or you can’t get too thin.”
I recently came across the article in Times Live about the company being forced out of UCT and wanted to ask you if you would like to address anything that you feel wasn’t covered.
It is unfortunate that they have seen it as that, as being forced out. We were informed at the end of 2015 that our lease would expire at the end of 2016 after 82 years. The official story is that UCT requires the space for the many dance students that are coming to the department next year and they are also supposedly amalgamating with the drama department and they need that space for rehearsals. It is unfortunate that our leaving coincides with the unrest that has been prevalent at UCT at the moment and we are right next to the Bremnar building so we have had a lot of (unrest) up and down. There have been occasions when one or two of us have been in the office and have been told to leave and it was indicated to us that it wasn’t safe to be there and so the dancers went piecemeal to fetch their belongings out of their lockers and evacuate our premises there. It is unfortunate that that has coincided with the fact that our lease has been on the cards to expire for a year. We are still looking for premises.
Obviously right now in this country, and with what we have witnessed in America recently, it is a very challenging time in the world but yet the arts are always able to transcend…
They always survive and there is nothing like a ballet production or a dance production to restore your faith in music, in movement, in beauty. Just being able to watch Swan Lake or Romeo and Juliet which is what we are rehearsing at the moment, while the music is playing, it is just a way of life that is irreplaceable.
Going off of that, what are your hopes for the company in the future?
I hope that it will be sustainable for the next 82 years. It has been going for 82 and it hasn’t been easy keeping it going. We rely heavily on box office income to survive. The dancers are paid very poorly so I hope that changes in the future and that we are sufficiently able to raise our salaries and survive but I think we will. In fact, I know we will.
It’s come up in a few interviews how the government is lacking in their support of the arts in general. What is one thing you think can be done to ensure that everybody is getting the money that they deserve?
I think perhaps, it’s the same in all government departments, the turnaround time between when you apply for something, and when you actually get help, is so long that eventually you just give up. That could be an improvement. I think they should evaluate each application based on its merit and they should have the knowledge in their own departments of what each individual company that is applying for funding or assistance is about and the history of the company and what it is worth. We’ve been going for 82 years. Are we superior to a company that has been going for two? Possibly not, but we’ve done it for 82 years and we deserve the support.
What is something you are most proud of?
I was head of the department at the UCT Dance School for 22 years also and I managed to get the first degree course in dance passed in this country in 1997 and I was adamant that the three subjects should be classical ballet, African dance and contemporary dance and those are the three practical majors in the degree course, something that I am very pleased about, but also that the Cape Town City Ballet has lasted for 82 years and I think I might have helped a little bit.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
I would say Dulcie Howes because she started this company. She had her uphill battles as well. She kept it going until she was replaced by David Poole in 1970 and she was probably my role model.
Tickets for The Cape Town City Ballet‘s New Years Eve performance of A Stairway to Heaven can be found by clicking here. Tickets for their production of Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, beginning on December 16th can be purchased here and tickets for their production of Romeo and Juliet at Maynardville can be found here. The Cape Town City Ballet can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Special thanks to Elizabeth Triegaardt and Hannah Baker.
Born in Pretoria, Prof Triegaardt matriculated from Hyde Park High School, Johannesburg. In 1966 she graduated with a BSc, majoring in pure Mathematics, from the University of Cape Town. In 1967 she joined CAPAB Ballet Company, working as a Principal Dancer and Principal Ballet Mistress until 1986, when she was appointed as Director of the University of Cape Town Ballet School. She remained a Guest Artist and Guest Repetiteur until 1990, when she retired from the stage.
She created many roles that included the Sphinx in DRIE DIERE (Paeper), Undine in UNDINE (Paeper), Aegina in SPARTACUS (Paeper), Fairy Godmother in CINDERELLA (Paeper), the Ghost of Christmas-to-Come in A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Paeper), Charlie Girl in CONCERTO for CHARLIE (Paeper), Snow Queen in THE NUTCRACKER (Poole), Semiramis in RAYMONDA (Furber and Rodrigues), Tonya in ZHIVAGO (Prokovsky), Hera in ORPHEUS in the UNDERWORLD (Paeper) and the Muse in TALES of HOFFMAN (Paeper).
From 1986 to 2007, she was the Director of the UCT School of Dance, formerly the UCT Ballet School, and introduced both contemporary and African dance majors into the curriculum, as well as having the first university degree program in dance recognised in South Africa.
In 1997 she was appointed Executive Chairman of the Cape Town City Ballet and spearheaded the transformation of the Company into a Section 21 not-for-profit organization, producing world-class ballets for performance throughout South Africa. She resigned her post as Chairman of the Board in February, 2004, but remains the Honorary Executive Director of the Company.
She received the Nederburg prize for her contribution to ballet in 1975 for her role as the Lilac Fairy in The SLEEPING BEAUTY and in 2003, received an award from the Western Cape Premier for Meritorious Service to the Arts in the Province.
In 2009 she was again honoured by the Premier of the Western Cape for her work in the UCT School of Dance and her achievement in having the first degree program in dance recognized by the Dept of Education.
In 2007 she resigned as Head of the Dept of Dance, remaining as a lecturer at Associate Professor level. She retired in December, 2011, after 26 years of service to UCT, and has been elected to the rank of Emeritus Associate Professor. She has broadcast on Fine Music Radio every Sunday evening since 1996 in her programme Invitation to the Dance.
Great interview. You’re still my hero, Prof.
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Wonderful and honest and interesting article Elizabeth! You have done wonders for the ballet for so many years!
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