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Johannesburg Youth Ballet Honours Founder Audrey King

To celebrate the 40th anniversary, the Johannesburg Youth Ballet presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Other Ballets at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre

The Johannesburg Youth Ballet reflect on the vision of its founder, Audrey King. Having marked a year-long 40th anniversary celebration with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Other Ballets.

Having received an invitation to take a group of dancers to perform at the International Festival of Youth Orchestras and Performing Arts in Aberdeen, now known as the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, Audrey King, defiant in the face of apartheid laws and draconian political restrictions, selected a group of racially integrated young Johannesburg dancers and prepared them for the Festival in Scotland. She auditioned her members in 1976 – a year that proved to be a watershed year for the youth of South Africa – and formed the Johannesburg Youth Ballet or, as it is fondly known, the JYB.

In a box of memorabilia, magnificently yellowed by time, lies a well-folded safely protected newspaper article from Aberdeen’s Evening Express – dated 11 August 1977. A powerful headline catches the eye ‘Her ballet group breaks down racial barriers’. She is quoted in the article as saying, ‘In South Africa we have coloureds, Indians, Africans and whites, I have a very international background myself – I lived in China for 17 years – and I didn’t think it was right for one teacher to take her pupils over to represent the country.’

Evening Express article, 1977

Despite apartheid, political unrest, and the Soweto riots, surprisingly she met with no opposition at all as she assembled her young company. She strongly believed that all should just live and let live, and that differences should be buried.

‘I am not politically minded, and so I wasn’t surprised because I didn’t see why there should be any opposition. Many of the Africans travel to rehearsals through trouble spots at some personal risk. The members get on extremely well with each other, thanks to an opportunity they have hitherto been denied,’ she is quoted as saying.

One of the pieces performed in Aberdeen was called What are We? ‘In it I try to convey my belief in life and in humanity, I am trying to say that you, me, we have the power within us to make the world a happier place than it is at this minute. The young are the people who are going to have to live in this world, and if I can engender in a few people in my class this idea, I have done something. You can’t change the whole world – you can only throw a pebble in the water and watch the ripples go out,’ she said.

The JYB pebble continues to create ripples and, after four decades, shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. The Johannesburg Youth Ballet is a story of vision, perseverance and dedication. Names forever associated with the JYB will be Janet and the late Tony Fogg, artistic directors Pat Durham, the late Rulov Senekal and former Artistic Director and current Chairperson of the JYB, Jean Beckley, who has guided the JYB with wisdom and grace for 30 years.

With funding from the National Arts Council, the JYB has secured the services of dance writers Adrienne Sichel and Tammy Ballantyne to archive the extraordinary story of the JYB as part of the fortieth anniversary celebrations. The management has gathered old programmes, newspaper clips, photographs and videos to ensure that the story is safely told. There are also the inevitable gaps that need to be filled. It is hoped that members from the founding years (1976 – 1985) in particular will come forward to share their memories.

On the occasion of the twenty-first anniversary of the JYB, the company received the following message from the indefatigable Audrey King, who was then Professor of Classical Dance and Ballet at the University of Santa Clara, California. Audrey King passed away in 2003.

It makes me very happy to know that what started out as an almost impossible dream of mine during the years of apartheid, has survived so long, and that the Company is still giving young dancers and choreographers an opportunity to present their talents to the public. Thank you for remembering me on this occasion. I only wish I could be with you for at least one performance.

To celebrate the fortieth anniversary, the JYB will present A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Other Ballets at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre from 14 to 16 October. Choreographed by JYB Artistic Director, Mark Hawkins, the work has been described as a ‘froth of classical dance and comedy.’

For more information on the Johannesburg Youth Ballet, please visit their website on

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