The Chairman of SABT’s Board of Directors, Cedric Ntumba, invited me to join him for the grand opening of The Nutcracker at the State Theatre in Pretoria this past weekend. Every Christmastime, this popular two-act ballet is performed all around the world. SABT’s performance was spectacular – with a noticeable difference – with the presence of young black dancers on stage.
Not so long ago, ballet was predominantly a white artist’s domain and it was extremely rare to see black perform
ers dancing classical ballets. One had to wonder if the cultural barriers have finally been lifted and that all the people of South Africa have a new and an exciting opportunity to showcase their hidden talents. What used to be regarded as a white-man-only territory, like classical ballet, is showing signs of the integration of creativity between white and black people.
It started at the Board level two years ago when Cedric Ntumba, a chartered accountant, was asked to join SABT’s Board. He is now in charge of fund accounts with Capital Works, but doesn’t particularly like the title “investment banker.” Instead, I call him a Renaissance man, a man who understands how difficult a dancer’s job is and how vitally important culture is to both black and white communities in South Africa.
Mr. Ntumba has led many changes. SABT was forced to reduce its size during the recession, but new corporate supporters have been attracted. And SABT’s Outreach Programme has become active in the townships of Soweto, Alexandra, Katlehong and Melville.
More than 250 dancers are being taught afternoon ballet classes. Students, aged five to sixteen, learn movement, body, spatial and language skills through their regular ballet training. The SABT aims to select talented students for further training at the Academy and finally, for employment with the Company.
The students are encouraged to develop a new South African dance identity, incorporating the ballet technique and their own movement vocabulary. Ballet students receive free transport to and from classes and rehearsal. The dancers from the Outreach programmes regularly participate in the professional Company’s major productions.
And indeed, a number of these dance students are on stage now, in a variety of roles, in the company’s current production of The Nutcracker. The performances will continue through December 19th.
With South Africa growing and changing so rapidly, we have to wonder what more can we do as a country to encourage young black artists – and audience members — to play more active roles in what was regarded as a whites-only culture and is now an all-person’s culture.
For more information, visit the website at www.saballettheatre.co.za.
About the Author: Ingrid Pearce is a freelance writer, who has a passion for Africa and writing about African culture. She hopes to write a book someday on Love, Life and Everything Else.