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Dada Masilo: Turning Stereotypes On Their Heads

PARIS, FRANCE -- South African Choreographer Dada Masilo (as seen in photo 1) is still in her twenties but is already attracting the attention of international dance critics. Her fusion of African dance and classical ballet has courted controversy and raised some eyebrows, as well as winning her a number of awards. These awards include the 2006 Gauteng Arts and Culture MEC award for the Most Promising Female Dancer of Contemporary Style. She was also awarded the Stand Bank Young Artist Award for Dance in 2008. She trained at the Dance Factory in Johannesburg, where her mentor was Suzette le seuer, the Director of the Dance Factory. Dada Masilo is currently their Artist in Residence.

She was born in Johannesburg in the township of Soweto, and was no doubt influenced by her surroundings. Her work addresses taboos such as racism and homosexuality, “forcing” her audience to address these issues whether she likes it or not. In Europe and the United States where homosexuality is no longer a taboo, it is easy to forget that in the majority of African countries homosexuality is prohibited by the law, and can be punished by a prison sentence. South Africa is in fact the only African Country where same sex marriages are legal, and discrimination based on sexual orientation banned. It would seem only fitting then that it is a South African dancer who is attempting through dance to break prejudices which are rife in African society.

On the October 17, 2012, Dada Masilo’s production of Swan Lake will open in Paris at the Theatre Claude Levi Strauss at the Musée du Quai Branly. There will be ten performances of Dada Masilo’s modern interpretation of Swan Lake (as seen in photos 2 - 5), until October 28, 2012.  In her production of Swan Lake, Prince Siegfried is transformed by Dada Masilo into a homosexual Prince.It is set in a country ravaged by Aids and homophobia. Tchaikovsky’s music does not escape the Dada Masilo touch either, and the production includes music from the American Composer Steve Reich, and the Estonian Classic Composer Arvo Part.

Swan Lake has played an important role in Dada Masilo’s artistic journey. Swan Lake was the first ballet that she saw at eleven years of age, and she has said that even at this young age she promised herself that she would create her own production of this classical ballet.  Other classical ballets that she has produced include Carmen, Romeo and Juliet and the Bitter End of Rosemary which is based on the story of Ophelia, William Shakespeare’s tragic heroine in Hamlet.

Dada Masilo says that her approach is ‘to show that contemporary African Dance and ballet can co-exist.’ She is attracted to the heroines of classical ballets and literature. Fans of classical ballet hate her work but those who believe that dance in whatever form is about breaking preconceived, and pushing through the barriers of stereotypes will love it!

Photo 1: courtesy of Suzy Bernstein

Photos 2-5: courtesy of John Hogg