Swan Lake: the South African adaptation

After wowing South African audiences in 2010, Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake is enthralling the rest of the world. Combining traditional ballet with African dance, the performance has been described as fresh, upbeat, innovative, and diverse. It sensitively deals with issues such as homophobia and apartheid’s legacy.

Swan Lake South African version Dudu Masilo’s unique take on Swan Lake deals with social issues such as homophobia and apartheid’s legacy. (Dansens Hus, photos by John Hogg)


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Compiled by Priya Pitamber

A troupe of South African ballet dancers has given a local twist to the Swan Lake story. It was commissioned by, and premièred at the National Arts Festival in South Africa in 2010. Now, the 13-strong dance company is touring the rest of the world, captivating audiences.

Choreographed by Dada Masilo, the ballet combines classical movements with African dance. In Masilo’s take, Prince Siegfried doesn’t fall in love with Odette, who is under a sorcerer’s curse and transforms into a white swan at sunrise every day. He falls for a male black swan, Odile, an attraction that has fatal consequences.

“Homophobia, forced marriages, the legacy of apartheid and the ravages of Aids are evoked with humour, sensitivity and lucid intelligence in a vigorous work of astounding beauty,” reads the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website.

Masilo studied at the Performing Arts Research and Training Studios (Parts) in Brussels from 2005 to 2006. She also trained at the Dance Factory in Johannesburg, and established her reputation as one of South Africa’s most renowned choreographers.

Watch a snippet of the performance here:

Masilo’s Swan Lake is currently touring the US, after touring the UK, to rave reviews.

“Dada Masilo’s new version stands apart from so many others not only for the fresh and fast-paced style that comes with the addition of African dance, comic theatre and carnival, but for her wit and seriousness in handling the original ballet’s themes.” – Judith Mackrell, The Guardian

“The ballet boasts incredible energy, attitude, innovation and diversity rarely seen in a typical ballet, all without sacrificing an engaging story and superb technique. One can’t help but offer a standing ovation to the bravery and ingenuity of a true artist and her incredible team.” – Olga El, Broadway World

“Its politics are simple — against homophobia — and its manner is friendly, even near the start, when it makes fun of ballet conventions with broad narration about ‘surplus girls in the moonlight.'” – Brian Seibert, New York Times

“Masilo’s brilliance lies in her ability to effortlessly weave the threads of so many themes — gender politics, art and artifice, the universality of the broken heart — into such strong and vibrant cloth.” – Natasha Gauthier, Ottawa Citizen

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(Images: Dansens Hus, photos by John Hogg)