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Mzansi Ballet makes history by casting first male dancer as Cinderella

Joshua Williams. Picture: John Botha

Joshua Williams. Picture: John Botha

Published May 31, 2022

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Theatre has a long history of breaking barriers and smashing stereotypes; be it racial, class or gender stereotypes. Creatives around the world have, for many years, managed to find ways to push these boundaries through the expression of art.

Mzansi Ballet has taken it up a notch by casting male dancer Joshu Williams as Cinderella in their latest enthralling production “The Abba Show - A Cinderella Story”, currently staging at The Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino.

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This beautifully crafted ballet showcase is a modern telling of the classic tale of Cinderella, set to the timeless music of Abba featuring world-class choreography by Angela Revie, Xola Willie and Michael Revie.

Speaking to Williams, shortly before the preview opening night, the Cape Town-born star said he was honoured and humbled to be playing the world’s favourite princess Cinderella.

“I would’ve never thought in my wildest dreams that I would get to play a princess, nevertheless be the first male in South Africa to do so,” he shared.

“I think my younger self would’ve been inspired to see a male dancer on pointe and in a tutu and crown.

“And that’s part of why I love doing this role, this is for my younger self but also for all the little boys out there, that they can dream and be anything they want to be and to hopefully inspire a few as well.

“If boys want to wear little dresses, it’s completely fine. Just be yourself and embrace who you are and don’t let anyone tell you differently. If anything, I would like young boys and girls to walk away with confidence from this show because it takes a lot of confidence and courage to be yourself,” he added.

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“I mean, I grew up in Cape Town, and I was in Atlantis for a bit as well, and that’s not the very best place to be yourself, to be expressive and to be flamboyant. So I want them to be comfortable enough to be their true selves.”

Fairy Godmother, played by Cathy Specific, and Cinderella, as performed by Joshua Williams. Picture: John Botha

The 20-year-old star says the role of Cinderella has broadened his perspective of what a male dancer can achieve.

“Playing Cinderella is such an amazing feeling. It comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure because it’s also a well-known character and a much-loved fairytale.

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“And having to do it on pointe... I’ve never danced on pointe like this before in my life, so the past few weeks have been very challenging,” Williams said.

The star says he’s got a newfound respect for female dancers, after dancing en pointe for hours.

“It isn’t easy and the process of learning how to be on pointe and get into character as a female has been an experience but one that has been so humbling and has given me a greater appreciation for the female ballerinas out there.

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“I hope that I can do the role justice and take the audience on this magical journey which entails hardship, wishing, dreaming and love.”

The cast of ‘The Abba Show - A Cinderella Story’. Picture: John Botha

We also caught up with Mzansi Ballet artists director Dirk Badenhorst, who says this production will showcase the power of the arts in ensuring inclusivity in the theatre and our communities.

Badenhorst added: “The function of ballet in South Africa is to be relevant. And so often we are seen as not because we are for only a certain group of people.

“And there were many Cinderellas being created and that are being performed at the moment. So, I asked myself: ‘What would make ours different?’

“And where can we be more inclusive than in the theatre? This is the space where we can create, where you can come dressed in drag or shorts, and it should be okay.

“You could be from Soweto. You could be from Sandhurst but the moment, you set your foot in the theatre. I want us all to just say we are theatre people, South Africans having the best time together.”

He added: “The fact that a coloured man is doing a lead role, a black man is a prince that is politically such a strong statement.

“We have two little girls that are letter deliverers, one white, one black, on pointe. It’s so beautiful to see. And that is why we are doing, what we are doing.”

Badenhorst went on to challenge the South African government to do better for the arts industry.

“We need the government to support this. We can’t do it by ourselves. We have some government officials that are trying very hard and they are often met with resistance in higher circles.

“But we need the private sector, we need the public sector, and we need ourselves to give our bids. And that’s important for the further development of the arts and theatre industry.”

The cast of ‘The Abba Show - A Cinderella Story’. Picture: John Botha

“The Abba Show - A Cinderella Story” is currently showing at Pieter Toerien's Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, until June 19.

The show stars a special guest, the fabulous Cathy Specific, and a cast of world-class dancers that include Angela Revie, Xola Willie, Michael Revie, Aviwe November, Veronica Louw, Tsebang Sipambo and Alison Sischy.

Guests are encouraged to come dressed in their Abba regalia to compete and be crowned on-stage as the best dressed in the ball.

Tickets are available at Computicket from R150.

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