Ballet Stars Night

By Selam Tarekegn, July 01, 2019

When I received an invitation to attend Ballet Stars Gala hosted at the National Theatre on 18 June, I didn’t take it seriously. “C’mon,” I said, “With an art as remote to the typical Ethiopian artistic expression and the very limited to no promotion due to the mostly nonsense internet blackout (allegedly a move to prevent students from stealing test answers), this event was destined to fail.” In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go if it were not for an insisting colleague who was part of the organizing team.

I got to the venue, the National Theatre half an hour earlier than the scheduled start of the event. The hall looked empty except for a few members of the organizing team. With such limited early turnout I was sure that this would be my I-told-you-so moment. I chose a seat at the far corner of the hall so that it would be easy to sneak out, just in case.

Waiting for the evening to kick off, I started looking around the hall and wondering how deteriorated its current state looks. The National Theatre which, once was home to some of the most influential people in Ethiopia’s art, has now turned into something of a national embarrassment. Worn out, cracking seats; small, shabby stage and old school, disturbing light and sound systems clearly narrate not the theatre’s decades-long history but also the journey we have had as a society. The once graceful national hall, with a special seat for HIM Hailesilassie, is only a shadow of its rich history.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the show starts in about ten minutes,” said a voice behind the stage, and I woke up from my inner thoughts to find a hall full of people. Well, I was wrong all along. In some way, just not through online advertising, people had heard about the event, and now they were flocking into the hall. The excited flow of people did not stop until there were no more seats. It was an excited look. Children running around, people exchanging smiles and greetings, journalists setting up their cameras; the hall which had seemed empty and lifeless just a little while ago was now full of life and ready to go.

The night started with a speech by Yasser Bagersh, founder of Cactus Communications, who thanked the partner and sponsors of the event including the US Embassy, Heineken Ethiopia and the Australian Embassy. Next came Zoe Cavedon, Australian ballet performer and leader of the ballet team. Narrating how the Ballet Stars Gala came to happen here in Addis, Zoe recalled, “I happened to visit Ethiopia a few years back, and I decided to organize a Ballet event here in Addis.” Underlining the charitable mission of the event, she added, “It is important to me to give back to community and even more important is utilizing something like that has given me so much joy as a means to raise money for a cause that can help people who need it most.’’

Several world-class ballet dancers from countries including Australia, South Africa and USA performed at the event. And with Solo and duo performance as well as a circus show, it was a graceful evening with near-perfect, if not perfect performances, and remarks like ‘woah!’, ‘uh!’ and ‘oh!’ were all around the room. Another thing I wasn’t very right about was the stage. Whether I am a bad judge of stages, or the performers were really, really good, I am not sure, but they were doing everything they wanted on it, even attitude (it doesn’t mean what you think it means). I am not much of an expert in Ballet, but I could tell it was a great performance for everyone.

Well, I stayed longer than I thought I would. Happily. Of course, my far corner seat didn’t pass as useless as I had to visit the men’s room a couple of times (cold weather). Well, unlike most nights when you visit the restrooms during a rest on the regular nights, when the bathrooms embrace you with the usual odor from miles away, tonight, even that wasn’t there. They were clean. It was one of those unexpectedly great nights.

The Ballet Stars Gala started in 2016 as a charitable event. Proceeds from the first event went to Our Father’s Kitchen a feeding program that feeds and supports children in need. The second event in 2017 went to an organization that supports vulnerable children in Shashemene. The event took a break in 2018 and came back this year; now aiming to support Children’s Heart Fund of Ethiopia.

Photo: Courtesy of Heineken