A slight flutter of hands, a grand jeté (an elegant high jump with legs in a split), or the graceful pirouette (spinning on one foot, with the other raised and touching the knee of the supporting leg) are the sort of ballet moves that leave people awestruck. It is difficult not to revel in the beauty of this art form.
South African ballerina Kitty Phetla is no stranger to wowing audiences around the world, including being the first black ballerina to perform The Dying Swan solo in Amsterdam in 2012. The magical dance was originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for Anna Pavlova in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905.
She was a perfect choice for a new visual collaboration series spearheaded by Three Ships Whisky, which sees it partner with inspirational South Africans. With its pay off line “Made Exceptional. Made Here”, Three Ships Whisky also sees making whisky as an art. Phetla was invited to be part of the series to bring her beautiful art form and story to life.
Phetla’s work ethic and discipline has paid off handsomely. Her multifaceted talents have allowed her to be a respected dancer, choreographer, model and radio host in South Africa. Now her fluid movements grace the James Sedgwick Distillery, home of Three Ships Whisky.
She moves seamlessly amongst the distillery’s copper, wood and steel, the fluidity required to make whisky evident as she glides from the barrel maturation cellar to fermentation and distillation.
Phetla has found that ballet has helped her deal with life’s pressures calmly, and it is that same calm attitude that is required when envisioning a whisky that will only be ready in years to come.
“The aim,” says Meryll Stocks Roos, Three Ships Whisky Marketing Manager, “is to celebratethe South African dreamers, true believers and doers who make the country an exceptional place to live in. It’s about being proud about doing things in South Africa in our own unique way and standing out with our courage and world class ambition.”
Phetla recalls when she was introduced to ballet, it was much more Westernised. She has noticed that ballet has managed to transcend cultures and is now accessible for black communities.
“South Africans love to move and there is a constant rhythm and beat within us,” Phetla says. “As a choreographer, I enjoy combining an African spirit of movement with the classical ballet, embracing their individual rhythm and soul, and blending it all into one creative space. That is pure magic. Almost, I would imagine, as when a whisky is made – equal parts of an excellent base, vision, passion and ultimately magic, in crafting something exceptional.”
Grappling with challenges head-on
Both Phetla and Three Ships Whisky have faced tough circumstances, but have overcome them gallantly.
South Africa wasn’t viewed as a traditional whisky-making country, while as a ballet dancer, Phetla says her height is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
“I have to deal with the struggles of being told that I am too tall to perform a certain sequence, yet I find ways to work around my height to avoid being discouraged,” she says. “I adapt the movement of my body to overcome this obstacle and turn it into my own unique style without being disrespectful to the art form of ballet.”
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