Mark Hawkins. Photo by Robert Hamilton

“As an Alumnus of JYB (I was part of the company in 1979 and 1980), I rekindled my association with JYB six years ago after relocating to Johannesburg. Since then, creating a new work for the Company and becoming more involved in JYB’s fresh new vision and artistic plans and working with the Committee and previous artistic director, Kate Martin, we have tried to take the company forward to embrace the changes of arts policies in the country and in the world of ballet.

This unique youth company has stayed the course through all weathers – providing young dancers with the opportunity of dancing in a professionally run youth company and guiding many a young dancer into tertiary training institutions and into the profession.

Audrey King founded the Johannesburg Youth Ballet, fondly referred to as the JYB, in 1976 in response to an invitation to take a group of young dancers from Johannesburg to the International Festival of Youth Orchestras and Performing Arts in Aberdeen Scotland. Flouting the political laws of the time the JYB became one of the first integrated youth groups to represent South Africa abroad. 2016 will be an exciting year for this innovative youth company as it prepares to celebrate its 40th Anniversary.

This year, I was asked to take the company into its 40th Anniversary Celebratory year.

My over-arching responsibility for this celebratory JYB season is the artistic direction and over-all production, ensuring that all artistic elements are delivered at the finest level, working with a management committee bolstered by a team of committed volunteers. It is a complete team effort and commitment.

I am passionate about nurturing youth dance and the art of ballet…it is where my creativity was birthed. The rewards are in seeing young dancers soar, audiences growing and a rich and vibrant sector of passionate dance organisations feeding the sector with possibilities.

Working with international set and costume designer, Andrew Botha, is once again a great pleasure and joy. Andrew and I have worked together on many projects: Andrew having designed all my full-length ballets in the past. He is a great lover of ballet and he has brought to this production his great knowledge, expertise and creative mind whilst also keeping in mind the various financial constraints that we have had to consider along the way. He has provided a magical, yet beautiful environment in which to tell the story. The ‘magic of theatre’ is what first got me to fall in love with what I do at a very young age and it has been the premise of all of my work since then. I think that Andrew’s world, which he has created, will definitely do this. But all is very well having a magnificent creative team…. we have to then add the dancers!

Over the years with JYB, there has been a massive shift in my approach to working with children. It is honestly incredibly soul satisfying. The dancers all work with their various teachers and in various disciplines, so it is not about trying to change what they have learnt, or rather, are busy learning, but rather to help them to understand why they are learning the things they are learning. We at JYB want to give them the knowledge that has taken us years to assemble and perfect: the enjoyment of performance… dancing from the heart and soul rather than only technically correct… sheer enjoyment…. characterisation within a story-ballet, working in a group of dancers (no ego and not selfish)… commitment…. the use of props and, working within a set, and in costumes designed by one of the top theatre designers in the industry plus, the enhancement of professional lighting designer Nicholas Michaletos and rehearsed by professional dancers ad teachers.

Turn out and technique is always most necessary, but combine that with emotion, honesty, passion and the art of being able to tell a story, and there we will discover the true star! I just love the immediate, and completely honest, response from young people… they will not let you get away with anything that is not honest!”