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Woman in Dance to pay tribute to Vicki Karras

Published: 22 January 2014

Woman in Dance, the Vicki Karras Tribute will showcase new and existing works by women dance makers and choreographers, all celebrating this legend. Karras, a former member of the Royal Ballet, head of the Tshwane University of Technology dance and musical theatre department, and a founder of Tshwane Dance Theatre, is thrilled by what she has achieved.

At 17, she won the Adeline Genee Bronze Medal in London and subsequently had a long and varied professional career. With her husband, Hendrik Davel, she performed with London’s Festival Ballet, Walter Gore’s London Ballet, Jack Carter’s London Dance Theatre, and the Royal Ballet. As a soloist with the Royal Ballet, she worked with many teachers and choreographers such as Frederick Ashton, Kenneth Macmillian, Norman Morrice, and Glen Tetley.

Karras and Davel returned to South Africa where their daughter Anitra was born. In 1982, Karras joined the Technikon Pretoria as a part-time lecturer, passing on to her students the knowledge and skills she had acquired in England. In 1988, she became head of department. Under her guidance, the department became the leading training institution of its kind in the country.

One of her many accomplishments was that the department managed to stay ahead of the times, embracing change long before it was required to do so.

“When we were told to get our house in order in the 1990s, we had already been through that process.”

She brought leading professionals from the industry to TUT, so that the students could receive their invaluable guidance.

“These professionals at the top of their craft brought the profession to the students,” explains Karras.

Through their own success, her students bear testimony to her achievements. Hardly a musical is staged that does not have an almost two-thirds representation from TUT, a legacy she is really proud of.

“It’s amazing when you reach that point where the people you have trained can move it forward,” says Karras.

On the dance side, she gave many of the great names in South African dance their first chance to flex their choreographic muscles. They include Robyn Orlin, Sonje Mayo, Debbie Rakusin, and David Matamela, who first initiated the blockbuster African Footprint with the students.

“Many over the years have springboarded from me”, Karras says proudly, and with good reason.

Karras restaged many ballets and contemporary works, most recently Ashton’s Les Patineurs, so that the students could hone their classical skills.

In 2003, Karras founded Tshwane Dance Theatre, with Mandla Mcunu as artistic director.

Many fondly remember Karras as the quintessential lady – someone with impeccable poise and integrity. She currently enjoys retirement, especially the company of her grandson, Cian.

Woman in Dance will showcase new and existing works by women dance makers and choreographers, all paying tribute to Karras. These collaborators include Adele Blank, Robyn Orlin, Debbie Rakusin, Debbie Turner, and many more. At the gala performance, guest speakers will add their special tributes. The gala will be hosted by Esther Nasser, Karras’s successor as artistic director of Tshwane Dance Theatre.

Woman in Dance will be staged at the Arena at the South African State Theatre on Thursday, 13 March (preview); Friday, 14 March (gala performance, per invitation and not open to public); and 15 March 2014 (matinee).

Running time is 80 minutes and there is no interval.

Tickets cost R50. To book, visit www.computicket.com.

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