The Cape Town City Ballet has a remarkable history and a strong sense of pride.
The Cape Town City Ballet, as it is known today, was started in 1934 when Dulcie Howes’ dance school was incorporated into the Music Faculty at the University of Cape Town. It was the first dance department to be linked to a tertiary institution. Howes believed that dance education should be institutionalised and that it should be free of the shackles of racial segregation laws of apartheid. Her dream was realised when the first dance diploma course was implemented at UCT in 1941, and then some years after her death the first ballet degree programme was implemented at UCT in 1998.
The history of ballet in South Africa, and the African continent as a whole, has until very recently been linked to the University of Cape Town. The ballet school and dance company with all its various acronyms over time has produced some of the world’s finest dancers, dance historians and dance researchers. Howes’ ballet company brought dance to the most remote corners of the South African countryside as well as Mozambique, the former Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and South West Africa. The company frequently visited the dusty South African platteland, bringing with them refined culture.
However, African ballet was most certainly not limited to the countryside. Dancers from the UCT ballet school and ballet company often ended up at the Royal Ballet in London and at certain points in time over 60% of the Royal Ballet dancers actually came from South Africa! One such dancer was Johaar Mosaval. Mosaval was the first black and the first Muslim to hold the position of principal in a world-renowned company. The ballet school at UCT made some strides towards racial justice as early as the 1940s when Mosaval received his training.
Mosaval comments: “In the early 1940s at the age of 17 I had to attend the University Ballet School for three years. It was very hard because you must remember it was during apartheid and of course I was looked down upon. But that wasn’t going to deter me – I was determined to make a success. I thought, one day I will get to the top by hard work.” Mosaval went on to have a long and fruitful career as a ballet dancer, travelling the world and mixing with European aristocracy.
Despite racial segregation laws no one who danced in the school was arrested for mixing with people of different races. David Poole took over the reins from Howes in 1970. Poole himself was quite a proficient dancer and was employed with Sadler’s Wells as well as the Royal Ballet in England. Poole was classified as coloured before he left for England in 1947 and when he returned to South Africa he was re-classified as white. This would enable him to later lead the CAPAB Ballet Company (now the Cape Town City Ballet) during what was perhaps its most successful time.
Buy the latest DEKAT September/October 2017 issue to read more on The Cape Town City Ballet.