From the moment they stepped into their first ballet studio at the age of 12, Odwa Makanda and Lwando Dutyulwa had the odds stacked against them. Growing up in poverty-stricken Langa township in Cape Town, South Africa, the idea that they would become professional dancers was far-fetched.
Twelve years after first entering the world of classical ballet, Makanda and Dutyulwa’s perseverance is paying dividends. The talented pair will be in San Jose for the next six months, training at The New Ballet Studio Company and performing in a series of shows for its upcoming season.
For three years, Makanda and Dutyulwa commuted two and a half hours each day to train at the Cape Academy of Performing Artsone of the few ballet schools left standing in the city of Cape Town. In his spare time, Makanda inspired himself by watching YouTube videos of up-and-coming dancers from other parts of the world.
Then, a door opened. This past July, Makanda and Dutyulwa arrived in the heart of downtown San Francisco for the Alonzo King LINES Summer Ballet Program. The visit was sponsored by the Gugulethu Ballet Project, the brainchild of Kristine Elliott, who recognized the pair’s talent and helped them realize their hopes of dancing abroad.
Dalia Rawson, executive director of The New Ballet School, first met Makanda and Dutyulwa that summer. After seeing them dance in a class at The New Ballet School, Rawson soon asked them to be a part of the upcoming season. “They’re incredibly charismatic dancers. You see them dancing in class and immediately want to see more,” Rawson says.
Their first performance will be The San Jose Nutcracker, which opens Dec. 15 at the Hammer Theatre Center. Dutyulwa is cast as the Nutcracker Prince and Makanda will dance the solo role of the Walnut in select performances of this holiday classic with a local twist.
Makando describes the experience as a steppingstone, one that will hopefully lead to more opportunities in the future. “I remember when I first came here, I still couldn’t believe that I was here,” Makando says. “Who knows what may come next?”
The San Jose Nutcracker
Dec 15, 7pm, $20+
Hammer Theatre, San Jose