It’s a typical winter’s Friday in Johannesburg. The sun is out and warm, but the persistent breeze is keeping the temperatures low. Inside an otherwise unremarkable building in the heart of Braamfontein, a company of dancers are sweating with exertion as they rehearse for the opening night of Joburg Ballet’s Big City, Big Dreams.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to arabesque today,” the instructor says as the classical class comes to an end. Some dancers move off the floor to grab a sweat towel or water bottle, while a handful stay and keep rehearsing as the piano music plays on. Three in particular practice pirouettes, one woman in pointe shoes does about seven in a row, while two men spin around in flawless circles.
One of these is dancers is Mahlatse Sachane, a 20-year old from Alexandra township, who has been cast as one of the male leads for Big City, Big Dreams. He’s tall and energetic, all limbs and muscle with a brilliant, perfect smile as he recounts his journey to becoming a ballet dancer.
“I joined Johannesburg Youth Ballet when I was 9. It’s something I had no clue on and then along the way I just fell in love with it,” he enthuses as he describes his passion. “As a kid, you know we had those days where at school you had to dress up as a career, and for me, I was a businessman, and I came in tights. I want to be both a ballet dancer and a businessman.”
It’s interesting that he says this, and strangely ironic too- as the storyline of Big City, Big Dreams, in which he plays the male lead, is all about a young man learning to climb the corporate ladder, that is, until he falls in love with dance.
What is unique about this production is that Joburg Ballet has collaborated with Vuyani Dance Theatre and Moving Into Dance Mophatong to create this world premiere. Mahlatse says he has enjoyed the experience of working with other companies, and it’s something he hopes to do more of in the future. “I want to acquire knowledge from different people, meet different people, adopt different cultures, learn new things. And I feel that because ballet is a universal language, it provides that in a way. As long as you’re opening your mind to new possibilities then nothing can limit you.”
And it seems that nothing has limited him, yet. He’s been following his passion for dancing for 11 years, and is doing his Bachelors in Business via correspondence. “If you love something, just follow it you know. The road to it won’t be easy, nothing is. But along the way you realize that there are certain people that are willing to help if you ask for it.”
This principle applies to collaborating on Big City, Big Dreams too, where dancers from three companies, each with a different style, have had to come together to tell the same story. “What’s fun about this kind of production is that not everyone knows how to do everything. When it comes to moving in a different way, other people know how to and you need to learn from them, ask them ‘How do you move like that?’”
Growing up in Alexandra taught Mahlatse a lot about diversity, and he can speak five languages which he picked up in the township. He says that this is something audiences can look forward to taking away from Big City, Big Dreams. “It doesn’t just represent one art form, that’s the major thing. South Africa is so diverse, so why do we need to focus on one aspect of dance?”
The number of hours and hard work that has gone into creating this production is visible as the dancers around us pirouette and practice their routines. It’s a regular 9-5 job, says Mahlatse, and it was a challenge for the choreographers to execute this kind of a show. “I clap hands for my choreographers, they’ve done an amazing job, I mean just imagine working with three different companies that have different styles, and then you have to make them look the same,” he says.
But at the end of the day, for Mahlatse, the hard work is worth it. “It’s because we love dancing, that’s what it always comes down to, you know. Ballet isn’t just something that anyone can do. You need to be passionate about it. Dance is basically all about moving in a certain way that you’re going to end up showing people how you feel.”
Be sure to catch Mahlatse in Big City, Big Dreams, opening on 28 July 2017- 6 August 2017. Edgars Club members get tickets from just R144. Head over here for more information