Bay brothers star in New York showbiz

Ray Hartle

BASED in New York, Warren and Christopher Adams are at the top of their careers as choreographer and dancer respectively, but the brothers never forget where it all started for them – the Gelvandale Toynbee Club ballet school in Port Elizabeth.

Warren is making headlines as the choreographer on Motown: The Musical, a hit musical which opened to sell-out audiences on Broadway.

Last week, on a working holiday to South Africa to conduct workshops and spend time with their parents, the brothers visited the Toynbee ballet school to encourage young dancers with gifts of shoes from friends and colleagues in the Big Apple.

The ballet school, now located at the St Thomas Senior Secondary School, is still taught by Gwen-Mary Wells, the teacher who first took them through their paces as young boys.

“This is really lovely. Shoes wear out quite quickly and they’re not cheap. It’s a great gift and we really appreciate it. Warren and Christopher always do things like that,” Wells said.

She remembers teaching the boys up to advanced level two, saying they danced in all the local festivals and won numerous bursaries.

Their training and careers have followed similar paths since the Toynbee Club, including scholarships to the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London.

Warren, 36, left the Toynbee Club 19 years ago on a dance scholarship to England. Younger brother Christopher, 30, followed a few years later.

Warren is a graduate of Brunel University. He has choreographed, among others, the staged musical version of Toy Story and the hit movie Julie and Julia with Meryl Streep.

Now he is the choreographer on Motown: The Musical, which chronicles the emergence of the music genre regarded as “the soundtrack of America” and which made Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson household names around the world.

Reviewers have described the production as a “hit machine” and “a celebration of music that transformed America”.

Christopher has performed with the South African Ballet, in productions with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and at the Metropolitan Opera, both in New York. Although the brothers have always been keen to collaborate on projects in South Africa, it is Warren’s involvement in Motown which is likely to open the doors to future opportunities at home.

Warren said the show’s success was an anomaly in the entertainment business.

“Most shows don’t open like that. If you put up a Broadway show you hope you get half of the response that Motown has achieved.

“I’m very happy and honoured to be part of that and I hope it runs forever and goes around the world.

“Motown is probably the most iconic sound in the US or globally. People hear the intro to My Girl and they go nuts, wherever they are from. It’s the kind of show where anyone from the age of 100 down to 15 knows that music, so it has huge appeal to audiences,” Warren said.

Following their workshops in Cape Town, Christopher said while the level of talent among local dancers was “phenomenal”, local productions should “engage the general population” and use “our rich culture” and “stories about everyday lives”.

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