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From page to stage with Joburg Ballet

The global success of the Marvel movie Black Panther placed Africa at the epicentre of contemporary popular culture. Keke Chele spoke to Joburg Ballet’s Senior Soloist Kitty Phetla, who was tasked with turning the short ballet film into a longer and more substantial work that will premiere at Joburg Ballet’s Unbound season at the Joburg Theatre this winter.

Joburg Ballet Wakanda Black Panther South African dance Unbound
Claudia Monja in Wakanda for Joburg Ballet’s Unbound season PHOTO Lauge Sorensen

For centuries, this continent has been eroded and exploited by the forces of colonialism and globalisation. Through the fictional nation of Wakanda, Black Panther gave us a glimpse of how Africa might have prospered had these forces never existed. Although we can never change our past, Black Panther, which became a top-grossing superhero film, showed us how important it is to protect and preserve our African-ness now and for future generations.
     Joburg Ballet jumped at the opportunity to incorporate a Wakanda-inspired episode into their #BreakingBallet series on social media, in partnership with the branding company TBWA/Hunt Lascaris. The bite-sized ballet, which garnered more than 12 000 views online, featured senior dancers of the company, including choreographer Kitty Phetla, as the Dora Milaje warriors, laying down a challenge to any would-be adversaries of African culture.

Joburg Ballet Wakanda Black Panther South African dance Unbound
Monike Cristina in Wakanda for Joburg Ballet’s Unbound season PHOTO Lauge Sorensen

     ‘The process has been rather hard,’ says Phetla, noting that her unique style is often difficult for some dancers to master. ‘I approach choreography from a very organic place, influenced by a European contemporary style of movement that places emphasis on a fluid, almost boneless look. The isolation of ligaments is very essential to my work and that was one of the hardest challenges for the dancers.’
     Another immense challenge for the 2019 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner was translating the blockbuster onto a theatre stage through movement. ‘I hope to create excitement through the sets while the strength of the warriors will be captured through dance. I would like to transport the audience into the world of Wakanda by using a similar colour-scheme and interpreting some of the most iconic scenes through a vocabulary of unique movements. I have constantly reminded the dancers to have no fear of looking ugly because some of my movements are not considered pretty and I love that.’

Joburg Ballet Wakanda Black Panther South African dance Unbound
Ana Paulino in Wakanda for Joburg Ballet’s Unbound season PHOTO Lauge Sorensen

     Working on the project has been filled with mixed emotions for Phetla and her colleagues at Joburg Ballet. The world-class company has a demanding schedule that saw them put on two classical ballets while working on this sleek, neo-classical season. ‘I have had to be smart about how I work with the company and I fed off of their energy in the studio during rehearsals. We all have good and bad days but at the end of the day, we have to deliver,’ she added.
     Joburg Ballet offers a range of affordable ticketing options for Unbound, including half price on opening night and a budget-priced morning matinee with all seats just R100. Bookings are done through Joburg Theatre Box Office, by calling 0861 670 670 or online at or Patrons can also book and pay via the Nedbank app and at selected Pick n Pay stores. This is a season of dance that is not to be missed!

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