Nicolette Moses is the Associate Producer and Planning Manager for the Baxter Theatre, a position she has held since 2010. She is a trained classical ballet and contemporary dancer who graduated from the UCT School of Dance. Following a sojourn abroad, Nicolette joined the Jazzart Dance Theatre, which she managed before joining CAPAB as head of the Audience Development department. In the transition from CAPAB to Artscape, Nicolette worked as Project Manager and then Artistic Manager until 2001. During her time at Artscape, she also worked extensively with the Nederlands Dance Theater. She was appointed as Project Manager at the Baxter Theatre Centre in 2003, and shortly thereafter started heading up the annual Baxter Dance Festival. Now in its 14th year, we sat down with Nicolette to chat about this year’s festival.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
My parents loved the theatre. Back in the dark days of apartheid, we used to twiddle off to The Space Theatre and I would be the little girl in a pink dressing gown with a white satin bunny on it and a blanket in the corner by the stage, sitting through all of it. On a Sunday morning, dad would play four hours of Dvořák, which apparently I used to sit glued to the speaker and sit through all of that. My mother then walked me past a dance class one day when I was four and that was the start of my love for dance. I started off with Ivy MacDonald who was also the teacher of Christopher Kindo, Vincent Hantam and Jack Wyngaard. We all were in class together. They went on to do their thing and my parents were quite instrumental, at the time, in assisting with getting Vincent to go to the UK to further his dance career. Dance has always been a very big part of my life. I did the bulk of my classical training at the School of Dance with Mignon Furman. That was my stomping ground. I had David Poole spit at my feet. I was told when I matriculated that I had to go do something academic. I ended up majoring in Food Science with my major being microbiology and biochemistry. That’s what I studied but throughout all of that, I carried on dancing. I would put things in the autoclave in the lab and then dash off to go and do a class and come back and carry on with my experiment. When I injured my back, I had a choice, I could let go of it completely or carry on and be as near to the art form as I could. From being a stage manager for Jazzart, I ended up managing the company and then moved from there to CAPAB at the Nico Malan and because I was in audience development, people would refer to it as the “Nicky Malan.” With the change over from CAPAB to Artscape, there was a bit of a gap which I was happy to fill as project manager and from that, I then became the artistic manager for Artscape which was very interesting. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times but most of all, it gave me an opportunity to meet and work with a range of [artists]. I kind of see myself as a rare animal where I have a very broad rage of experience of theatre in general, not just dance although dance is my first love. At that time, I was very fortunate to work quite closely with the Nederlands Dans Company, which I subsequently spent some time in the Netherlands working with them.
Before eventually moving on to the Baxter?
That was my stint with the Netherlands and NDT, Birmingham Royal Ballet, a host of countries. There was then a change in the way [that] Artscape was staffed, which I didn’t entirely agree with, however, I kinda felt like maybe I had served my purpose and it was time to move on. I also then desperately needed a break from theatre because, at the time, I couldn’t believe that something I loved so much, could break my heart so badly. It was nearly the beginning of the end of my career in theatre. I took a break and I went and did other things for about a year and Mannie [Manim] called me one day out of the blue and said, “We’ve got this vacancy, I want you to come to the Baxter. Come and see me.” I said, “Look, I’m on the beach. I’m not dressed for an interview.” I arrived here in my beach togs and had a chat with him. It was a half day project management [position] when I started. And then, when Lara [Foot] started at the Baxter and was eventually appointed as Director and CEO, I arrived to work one morning and suddenly everything had changed. I was appointed as Associate Producer for the Baxter which means that everything that happens in this building, comes across my desk. It’s hell of a busy, hell of a challenging. No two days are the same.
Did you find it to be an easy transition going from being a dancer into the more behind the scenes side of things?
No, simply because I was forced to end my dance career at a point where I had kind of done everything. I was over 30, it was time to move on. One’s body can only take so much. At that point I had torn all the ligaments in my neck, I had injured my thoracic spine and ripped my Achilles in two places. I had worked with such amazing people and I needed a change. There was no way in god’s green earth that I was going to go back and work in a laboratory. Bacteria don’t talk.
How do you feel your dance career and training has lent itself to what you do now?
Dance, especially the classical ballet, gives you the discipline and the staying power and because you have the strength of movement that you developed through the classical, you can go wherever you want with contemporary. Because I had studied in the sciences, I can use both sides of my brain which is useful especially when you are juggling schedules. Being able to work with people is a different means of communication. I’m very pro the non-verbal communication of dance but I’m also very pro being able to communicate with people and being able to get a point across.
What do you find to be the biggest misconception that people have about associate producers?
That you can make magic. You can’t always make magic. Although, I must say, being an Associate Producer and also being the Planning Manager at the Baxter is talking to people and being resourceful. You are able to do a hell of a lot with very little. Working as planning manager, I’ve learned to have to balance things. You do the experimental stuff in order to do the love projects, which is tough if it is not the great box office hit. It’s not necessarily the greatest success financially but artistically, some of the projects are just incredibly beautiful and because there is no money, it doesn’t mean we mustn’t do them. We must still do them. There is a place for everything.
I feel like that must be difficult when you have a project that you are passionate about which isn’t met with the kind of response that you would like. How do you deal with that?
You do, because the people you work with. It’s about the people. I look at a production like Marat/Sade for example, biggest cast, not the easiest script, it’s an insane story set in an insane asylum but I worked with the most amazing, beautifully talented people. It was one of the firsts for me where I worked with a cast where there was not one ego in the room. There was not one disagreement artistically or otherwise. It was one of those productions that Lara and I had been wanting to do for the longest time and when Jaco Bouwer expressed an interest in doing it, we were like, “We have to do it!” “But there’s no money.” “Come on, we just have to do it.” Then the cast grew and grew and we got a bit nervous at one point but it was great. Artistically it was awesome. It didn’t make money but it got the acclaim that we were looking for and that it deserved.
That production went on to be awarded a Fleur du Cap Theatre Award. What was that moment like? How did it feel to receive that recognition?
It wasn’t for me. It was for the company. It was a bit of a shock because everything was going to What Remains and then I heard my name and I was like, “What?” I hadn’t prepared what to say and there was Lara giving the award. It was so surreal in a way but also great to finally get some kind of acknowledgement for work done. The award does belong to the production but I donned my frock and walked up there in my heels. It was an interesting experience receiving the award.
Do you have a favourite production that you’ve worked on?
Two stand out for me. Into The Woods, which I did at Artscape. We had two sign language interpreters on either side of the stage and we did five performances to a completely deaf audience. I would look at these two sign language interpreters who were exhausted. They were dripping sweat every night because it’s one of those very pacy musicals. The treat also of working with people like David Matheson, bless him. The second one was, when all the companies were disbanded, my thing was, “It’s all about the survival of dance as an art form. Can we do something together as Jazzart and the ballet company?” I brought a choreographer, Patrick Delcroix who was then with NDT. We got him out here and he auditioned dancers from the ballet company and [we] said, “You can take five from each and create a work.” We did that and each of the companies could do a piece of their repertoire and that was the season and it was called Beyond the Borders and it was awesome. I have a thought of what I want to do next year because next year will be the 15th year of the Baxter Dance Festival. I’m always inspired by how vibrant the dance scene is in Cape Town. There is so much going on here. The dance fraternity is inclined to work in isolated pockets and that’s also why the dance festival is so special because it forces people to work together and see each other’s work. One of the things that I’ve always pushed for is, before each evening performance, at 6pm everyone is in class. Everyone who is performing in the main programme that night, they’ve got to do class together and warm up together. We get a different teacher in there every night and it kind of forces people to have a sort of fusion. That is healthy.
How did the Baxter Dance Festival come about?
There was some money, when the Baxter still got some money from the lotteries, and one of the projects that they had applied for was a dance festival. I got wind of this and was like, “You do realise that I’m a dance trained person? Give it to me for a year or two, if you don’t like what I’m doing, by all means get someone else.” Here we are 14 years later of the Baxter Dance Festival. It started out as a four day festival and we are now 10 days. The interest in the festival has grown by leaps and bounds. We’ve had people who have come through the process and been with the festival since the beginning and have just gone on to do major amazing things. It’s been quite a journey in this festival. It initially also had a film component which was separate because being one person, I couldn’t run two concurrently. I got to work with Janine Dijkmeijer who is now managing NDT. I would annually take a trip to Amsterdam, check out the dance films and then ask them to come here. That happened for about five or six years and then the dance festival, as an entity, grew and I actually couldn’t afford the time and the head space to have both so I had to choose. It would appear that my life seems to be a cycle of choices of what to do and what not to do. As it is at the moment, I commission a work annually. I’ve never been unhappy with the choices I’ve made in terms of who has been commissioned. It’s been an interesting selection over the years. There have also been years where no one’s application has really appealed to me and I haven’t commissioned work because I stand firmly at just because the option exists, doesn’t mean that we have to take it. I’m not going to commission a work for the sake of commissioning a work. I’d rather do without and program things differently, which I have done a couple of times.
What are your hopes for the Dance Festival going forward?
My hopes for it going forward is that if I’m no longer here, that someone will carry on the legacy and just keep doing it because it’s a much needed platform. It gives a lot of people something to work towards and I’m particularly excited about this year’s festival because of Junaid [Sendi] and the artists who are coming from Ethiopia. Junaid is the 2004 Rolex Protégé so that is going to be very exciting. Also Mbulelo Ndabeni is coming back to Cape Town for the first time in 10 years to perform which is pretty special. And then we’ve got the usual suspects but there is also Garage coming from Okiep and also works that have had a once off performance to then be on the professional stage with proper lighting and sound. Very often, works are created and there is no way to present them. Staging a production is a costly exercise. With the dance festival, create the work and present it. We do all the rest. It’s a whole packaged deal, all the technical and the marketing and PR. All I’m interested in is that you create the work and perform it and that you focus on dance because at the end of the day, it’s about the survival of dance as an art form. That’s all I’m really interested in. I’m very fortunate to have Nathan Bartman and Ciara Baldwin as commissioners of the dance festival this year. They are very hard at work creating their piece. I think we are in for a treat. Junaid and Addisu [Demissie] are going to be running some dance classes. As I mentioned earlier, people are inclined to work in a very insular way and don’t always leave themselves open to being taught or influenced by any outside forces. This really does force people to look at it and look at how they work and experience other people’s work.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Mavis Taylor, Lara Foot, Joan Brickhill, Janet Suzman. Janice Honeyman, definitely. My all-time fave. Gcina Mhlope. Thoko Ntshinga would definitely be one of them and then someone who has really persevered is Shaleen Surtie Richards. I really do take my hat off to Debbie Turner and people like Abeedah Medell who have worked tirelessly without thanks.