Get a child in need a pair of shoes for free
When the distinctively muscular Brooklyn Mack walks across a rehearsal studio he is a dead ringer for an Olympian.
That impression is partly true. The 26-year-old American is a gold medalist, not in athletics, but in ballet. In Bulgaria July 2012 the sports star wannabe, who only started ballet class aged 12 because he heard it would improve his American football player skills, took a gold medal at the Varna International Ballet competition.
Talking about Varna in the SA Mzansi Ballet’s home in Braamfontein, the Washington Ballet principal is still visibly awed by this achievement which he shares with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Sylvie Guillem, Patrick Dupond and other ballet icons. “They are all legends,” he says quietly. “It is a huge responsibility and honour I feel, also as an American. I think I am the third male dancer after Fernando Bujones (1974) and Rasta Thomas (who won the junior division in 1996) to win gold at Varna.” He shared the 2012 top honours with the Vienna State Ballet’s Denys Cherevychko.
It’s not that Mack’s trophy chest is bare; it boasts medals and prizes from Jackson, Helsinki, Boston, Korea and other majors on the international competition circuit. It was plainly evident in the ensuing “Inspiring the Youth of South Africa” question-and-answer session with student dancers, after a strenuous rehearsal of Don Quixote, that the articulate dancer is wise beyond his years. The basketball and football mad boy from Elgin, North Carolina, whose life changed after a field trip to see the prophetically titled lifechance, charity ballet gala, has developed into a young artist who has no illusions about the technical and physical demands of his chosen career. But he’s also aware of its symbiotic relationship with creating art.
Within eight years of starting ballet training in Washington DC, with Russian teachers he became a principal dancer with the Orlando Ballet, aged 20. Three years later he joined Washington Ballet. That company led to his first visit to Joburg and Cape Town for the international ballet Galas in 2011. So taken was he with the audience response that he has returned for the SAMB’s Don Quixote in which he is paired as Basilio with Sanmarie Kreuzhuber.
They are not his favourite roles; Siegfried in Swan Lake is. Quite a contradiction for someone, who started out in hip hop and got his first (and hopefully last) bad injury by pushing his body to replicate a Michael Jackson move. When he is on the rehearsal floor, though, Brooklyn Mack’s multifaceted finesse comes seriously into play.
Sitting in the studio was another visiting American dancer, from the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), who is cast as Kitri partnered by Australian guest artist Aaron Smyth. This is none other than Michaela DePrince whose inspirational life story and virtuosity as Gulnare in SA Mzansi Ballet’s Le Corsaire had Joburg audiences abuzz last July. Since then the Sierra Leone born, American raised and trained dancer, has turned 18 and been dancing certain principal roles at DTH which she joined in September.
But she’s about to leave for Europe to pursue her dreams by joining the Dance National Ballet’s junior company.
In October while dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy for De Dutch Don’t Dance Division’s The Nutcracker, in The Hague, she fell in love with Amsterdam and took classes at Dutch National. “They are more accepting than in the US. I could be myself” she says without spelling out exactly why she can’t feel this in her homeland. “I hope I don’t disappear,” she adds pragmatically referring to dancers who go to Europe then vanish from the limelight. “I want to go back to dance with American Ballet Theatre.”
That’s no idle talk. The teenaged artist and human rights activist has a record of achieving her dreams against the worst odds. She will be sharing her history in magnificent company at Lincoln Centre from April 4 at Newsweek and the Daily Beast’s Women in the World Stories + Solutions Summit. Billed as two days of stories and solution to advance women and girls, DePrince’s name appears alongside Meryl Streep, Oprah, Mary Robinson, Tinah Brown and Eva Langoria.
She will be performing a solo, The Fortunate Few, created for her by DTH’s Gehbreal Jackson.
Lucky Cape Town gets to see this work first when, after shedding Kitri’s tutu and fan in Joburg, Michaela DePrince dances at the Fleur du Cap awards at Artscape on Sunday.
• See Mack and Kreuzhuber at The Joburg Theatre on Friday and DePrince and Smyth on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon.