Kitty Phetla is a ballet dancer from Soweto, South Africa. Born in 1983, she has transformed famous roles with her unique approach to dance. She became the first black ballerina to perform in Anna Pavlova’s “The Dying Swan” in Russia, making the part her own wearing a black tutu and stockings instead of the traditional pink.
The video below was uploaded to YouTube with the caption, “With #CapeTown reservoir levels plummeting to record lows, the #CapeWaterCrisis has become a major concern for the entire country. We’re proud to present our latest #BreakingBallet, a rain dance for the drought-stricken province.” Her rain dance must have worked. As of 2022, Cape Town’s reservoirs have topped 100% for the first time in six years!
Her love for dance started at primary school and her talents nurtured by Martin Schönberg – also dance prodigy himself. Martin would end up coaching Kitty until the age of 25 training her in ballet, Afro-fusion, contemporary dance and Spanish dancing. Her professional dance career began Martin’s ballet theatre called “Ballet Theatre Afrikan” but in 2002 she left to join the Joburg Ballet.
“It was when Martin Schӧnberg discovered me. I was nine. I think he is a genius. I always felt, oh my gosh, I’m so lucky to have Martin.” Her staring role in “The Dying Swan” was such a hit that she had the opportunity to perform in front of Nelson Mandela and the Dutch Royal Family. She earmarked that performance in Amsterdam in 2002 as “The Biggest Day in her Life”.
Many people have preconceptions of what ballet should look like, mainly featuring female dancers in pink tutus. However, it’s much more complex and interesting than that. South Africa’s contemporary dance greats such as Nelisiwq Xaba and Mamela Nyamza have used it for it’s physical conditioning value, considering ballet as the best dance workout available.
Talking about natural ability and talent, Martin said, “She could hear counterpoint nuances in music in a personal way that I could only recognise when she showed me. Her instincts have always been spot on,” From the age of 9, Martin began developing Kitty’s style and skill set, recognising a unique ability at such a young age.
Lots of ballet dancers are known for their petite frame. Kitty, constantly countering people’s preconceptions around ballet is a tall woman with a frame instantly recognisable to millions of people around South Africa and indeed the world. Her talent transcends these stereotypes.
If you want to see more from this very talented ballet dancer from South Africa you can follow her on Instagram or check out some of the videos of her performances on the Joburg Ballet YouTube channel.