Three little girls steal the limelight – and hearts – that night. With pink tutus, curly pigtails, false eyelashes with bright pink tips and ballet shoes, there simply is no competition. Bright young faces full of life – just the image needed to raise awareness, through dance, of cervical cancer, the biggest cancer killer of South African women. It is young girls just a bit older than the three on stage who are now being offered a chance to avoid getting the disease through a three-course vaccine, which, at R1 600, costs too much for the average South African.
Angela Ferguson started Dance for a Cure, a production used to raise money to give orphans the vaccine, after her friend Sharon Humphrey died of cervical cancer two years ago. While working a full-time job, Ferguson got the dance community together, asking them to give of their time for free to put on a one-night show on August 22.
It takes months of preparation and hard work. That night at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City, Ferguson is nervous. Dancers mill around backstage; they are doing a run-through for the first time, six hours before the show. The stress is palpable. Artistic director Martin Schönberg is creating magic on a tight schedule. Many of the artists simply can’t make the run-through in the afternoon and Schönberg has to see the performance in his mind to decide on lighting. His small dog, Liwu, sits quietly in its bag, listening to its owner shouting.
“I don’t like the black background, give him the gold. It’s a much better look for him,” Schönberg tells actor/singer Emmanuel Castis, who nods in agreement. He has been asked to join the production a day before the event, and has to sing two songs. His friend Craig Urbani was supposed to perform, but was called away at the last minute and couldn’t make it. Castis and Urbani have an understanding: they fill in for each other when help is needed.
Castis, who has just launched his CD South of Nowhere, is happy to be there. “I believe you’ve always got to give back,” he says. “It’s tough times for artists; they don’t always get that many paying jobs, but you’ve got to back the women in our society.”
Corporates have sponsored children to go and see the show. Four busloads of orphans fill the top tier of the theatre. They cheer as Castis comes on stage; he is a favourite. As the lights dim and actress Mary-Anne Barlow explains why this cause is so important, a hush descends on the audience. This isn’t just about having fun. There are people involved here, people who have been sick and lives that need to be saved.
Ferguson cries as she remembers her friend. Some of the dancers who are performing knew Humphrey, too. Ballerina Yolandi Olckers, of the SA Ballet Theatre, says this is why performing in Dance for a Cure is so close to her heart. “It’s just such a good cause,” she says. Olckers is one of the dancers who is performing in Giselle, which has started a run at the Joburg Theatre. She spins on stage on points and the audience is silent. The classics have that affect. But it isn’t only about moments of reflection.
The Tap Talk Rhythm Company, high-energy dancers KMAD (who have a show next month), and ballroom dancers Muntu Ngubane and Kabelo Debusi keep spirits alive. “I just can’t explain what it means for all these people to be here giving of their time free of charge,” says Ferguson. More than R250 000 is raised – now 40 girls from the Abraham Kriel Home in Langlaagte will get their second course of injections.
A glorious end for a truly good cause.