The Ballet group that broke down racial barriers

The Johannesburg Youth Ballet’s 40th Anniversary Gala season will be celebrated in style at The Mandela, Joburg Theatre from 14 October to 16 October with Mark Hawkins’ delightfully zany version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream& Other Ballets.

As the Johannesburg Youth Ballet stands poised on the eve of a year - long 40th anniversary celebration, it is only right to reflect on the vision of its founder, Audrey King.

Having received an invitation to take a group of dancers to perform at the International Festival of Youth and Performing Arts in Aberdeen, King, defiant in the face of apartheid laws and draconian political restrictions, selected a group of racially integrated young Johannesburg dancers and prepared them for the Festival in Scotland. She held auditions in 1976 – a year that proved to be a watershed year for the youth of South Africa – and formed the Johannesburg Youth Ballet.

In a box of memorabilia, magnificently yellowed by time, lies a well-folded, safely protected newspaper article from Aberdeen’s Evening Express - dated August 11, 1977. A powerful headline catches the eye “Her ballet group breaks down racial barriers”. She is quoted in the article as saying, “In South Africa we have coloureds, Indians, Africans and whites, I have a very international background myself – I lived in China for 17 years - and I didn’t think it was right for one teacher to take her pupils over to represent the country.”

Despite apartheid, political unrest, and the Soweto riots, surprisingly she met with no opposition at all as she assembled her young company. She strongly believed that all should just live, and let live and that differences should be buried. “I am not politically minded, and so I wasn’t surprised because I didn’t see why there should be any opposition. Many of the Africans travel to rehearsals through trouble spots at some personal risk. The members get on extremely well with each other, thanks to an opportunity they have hitherto been denied”, she is quoted as saying.

One of the pieces performed in Aberdeen was called What are We? “In it I try to convey my belief in life and in humanity, I am trying to say that you, me, we have the power within us to make the world a happier place than it is at this minute. The young are the people who are going to have to live in this world, and if I can engender in a few people in my class this idea I have done something. You can’t change the whole world – you can only throw a pebble in thewater and watch the ripples go out”, she said.

The JYB pebble continues to create ripples and after four decades shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

The Johannesburg Youth Ballet is a story of vision, perseverance and dedication. Names
forever associated with the JYB will be Janet and the late Tony Fogg, artistic directors Pat Durham, the late Rulov Senekal and the former Artistic Director and current Chairperson of the JYB - Jean Beckley - who has guided the JYB with wisdom and grace for 30 years.

On the occasion of its 21st anniversary the company received the following message from the indefatigable King, who was then Professor of Classical Dance and Ballet at the University of Santa Clara, California.

“It makes me very happy to know that what started out as an almost impossible dream of mine during the years of apartheid, has survived so long, and that the Company is still giving young dancers and choreographers an opportunity to present their talents to the public. Thank you for remembering me on this occasion. I only wish I could be with you for at least one performance.”

Audrey King passed away in 2003.

The Johannesburg Youth Ballet is a proud and grateful recipient of National Arts Council
Company funding and extends warm thanks and acknowledgement to the NAC, as well as its media partner, Creative Feel magazine.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream & Other Ballets runs from 14 to 16 October at the Mandela, Joburg Theatre.
Performance times: Friday 14 October – Gala Opening at 19h30; Saturday 15 October and Sunday 16 October at 11h00 and 15h00.

Tickets: R100 – R120.

For tickets call 0861 670 670 or visit (block bookings are available) or at the Joburg Theatre box office
OR online at

Patrons can also book and pay via the Nedbank app and at selected Pick n Pay stores (full list at

For further information please visit or email

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