Ballet with a South African twist: Dada Masilo


Creating waves in the genre of ballet and contemporary dance, South Africa’s Dada Masilo upturns ideas of African masculinity, sexuality, and traditional ballet form with her revolutionary dance pieces.

Most known for her take on perhaps the most renowned ballet productions “Swan Lake”, Masilo took the classic Tchaikovsky ballet and had Odile, one of the female leads, played by Boyside Dikobe – a male friend of Masilo’s.

“It didn’t start with me going in and wanting to turn things upside down,” Masilo says of “Swan Lake.” “I didn’t want to make a big issue about the homosexuality.”

Nevertheless the subject choices she has integrated into her pieces are interesting given that she grew up in South Africa, where gender roles and sexuality are still enforced in society today.Masilo was born into poverty in Soweto and at a very young age she was “discovered” when her dance troup eperformed at the Dance Factory school in Johannesberg. The director of the Factory recognized and nurtured Masilo’s talent and originality, and in 2005 she received Gauteng MEC Award for Most Promising Female Dancer in a Contemporary Style. Her successes continued, in 2008 she received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Dance and created (assisted by PJ Sabbagha and Gregory Maqoma) her “Romeo and Juliet” which was lauded at the 2008 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and at the Arts Alive International Festival in Johannesburg. This success was repeated in 2009 with stagings of her Carmen at the same festivals.

Dada Masilo

In the same year, she created “Unravelling Carmen”, commissioned by the FNB Dance Umbrella, restaged Romeo and Julietat the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town and toured with BACK to Mexico and Tanzania. During 2010, Dada created “Swan Lake” which previewed at The Dance Factory in June, before it premiered at the National Arts Festival – 5 performances, 5 standing ovations. Swan Lake opened the 2010 Johannesburg Arts Alive Festival during September, prior to 4 performances for the Sasol Schools Festival and 2 performances at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival.

According to CNN, Masilo acknowledges that her willingness to turn traditional gender and sexual stereotypes on their heads would be strictly off-limits in most countries on the continent, but insists that controversy is not the goal of her work.

She usually fuses ballet and contemporary dance. “My approach is to show that contemporary African dance and ballet can co-exist,” she explains. “It is about finding an innovative way of fusing the two. I believe that we need to collapse barriers that exist between them because they are restrictions. And as dancers we don’t need restrictions.”

For 2012, Dada has been working on perfecting her latest production, Death and the Maidens. Masilo says her out-of-the-box but fluid and distinct style is motivated by a passion to push herself. “I like to challenge myself. Many choreographers get into the pattern of using the same steps to different music. I think that is lazy choreography. It should change all the time.”