Published in Private Edition 24:
There are two kinds of rugby players: those whose job it is to maintain ball possession until their team scores and those who have to convert that effort into points. Cape Town City Ballet (CTCB) soloist Ivan Boonzaaier, now 24, was one of the former – a forward trained to hunt with his pack for prey (the ball). Described as the ‘biggest and strongest players in the team’, and with speed on their side too, forwards are likely to make more tackles and stay closer to the ball than all their teammates, bar the scrumhalf. It’s a handy skill set to have for throwing, lifting and catching a ballerina.
Ivan is the second youngest son in a family of five boys and a girl. Their mother enrolled all of them in dance classes until matric. Neither parent had personal experience with the art form, but saw it as the solution to build confidence and overcome the shyness their children shared. Ivan attended modern and tap-dance classes in Johannesburg until he was redirected to ballet and contemporary dance. On weekends, they went shooting.
Ivan’s father works part-time as range officer at Blue Gum Valley Shooting Range in Bronkhorstspruit, where Ivan first had the opportunity to ‘shoot clays’. He could shoot with a BB gun by the time he was 13, and graduated to using a shotgun for clay-pigeon shooting at age 16. ‘I always wanted to be able to shout “pull” and shoot that disk,’ says Ivan. At
120km/hr – flying straight at you or crosswise (the more difficult of the two) – it’s no easy feat. ‘It’s more fun than shooting a stationery target. Also, the shotgun is bigger and makes you feel more Rambo.’ Whether he’s at the shooting range or hunting on a friend’s farm, however, he says he’s still the same person in the ballet studio – ‘only more relaxed outdoors’.
His favourite firearm? Ivan normally favours Beretta, but he loves his dad’s old Astra single-barrel shotgun for hunting and target shooting. ‘The longer the barrel, the more accurate and the further you can shoot. This one used to belong to my grandfather; he sold it to my father for R50. It has great sentimental value.’
He follows ethical practices when hunting for game in Vosburg or Cradock and, as a member of the Bushveld Conservation Bureau, helps eradicate ‘problem animals’ on farms when necessary.
Those who protest at the mere thought of a man and a gun in the bush are reminded that many of them eat chickens and cows every day. ‘I join a hunt for one or two buck (there are thousands of them) to make biltong,’ he says.
Sometimes he’s called on to cull pigeons (the only bird that can be shot legally) if they’re doing damage to sown grain crops. Working with the Bureau eliminates a farmer’s recourse to poison, gin traps or snares,
so their work helps reduce damage to the environment. They’re also able to advise farmers of any signs of poaching, sick or injured livestock, damaged farm equipment or fences noted during their search.
Hunting dogs are used to retrieve the birds or track animals in the bush, which minimises human impact on the surroundings. Ivan’s two-year-old tri-coloured border collie is proving to be a surprisingly adept member of the Boonzaaier pack.
Recuperating at home after surgery for a torn cartilage that will keep him off stage for three months, Ivan still manages some shooting practice – kneeling. Are there synergies between the two worlds? Both require strict discipline, he says. ‘At the range or on a hunt, you have to be on high alert all the time. Safety is the priority and there are many rules to follow. What I like about being in the dance studio is it’s a day job that I’m passionate about, and it’s fun all the time.’
Ivan is the only young Boonzaaier to pursue dance as a career. On a break from studying electrical engineering, he was spotted at a spring ballet camp by CTCB artistic director Robin van Wyk, and at age 19 found himself paired up with Laura Bösenberg, now senior principal ballerina at CTCB, for a season of Poetry in Motion. And something clicked. His Romeo to her Juliet in last year’s Pas de Deux season was one of his most impressive performances yet. ‘He’s really strong so I trust him; he can throw me around and I’m not scared that I’m going to fall,’ says Laura. ‘We work well together.’
Ivan doesn’t stress about performance, unless he has to produce some challenging tours en l’air or pirouettes in a solo. ‘The minute I’m with someone else, I just go out and enjoy it. I appreciate feedback from the audience but sometimes I forget they’re there, I get so involved in playing my part.’
He works on his athleticism and finesse the old-fashioned way. ‘I work out at the ballet (no artificial weights), cycle 60km twice a week, walk my dogs daily and do extra stretching at night. I drink water all day to hydrate in class, so I don’t alter routine for the stage.’
Last year he completed the 109km Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour on a mountain bike sub five hours in a seven-hour time limit. He didn’t train; he simply went online to discover more about successful finishers.
Excellent hand-eye coordination, grace, strength, stamina and a strategic game plan – it’s a slam-dunk formula if you’re a team player, although, for the sake of a bit of grace on the field, one or two provincial coaches might think of putting their boys on the stage for a season.