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Watch renowned ballerina and choreographer Kitty Phetla dance in a whisky distillery

Kitty Phetla features as one of Three Ships Whisky’s inspirational South Africans in new visual collaboration series

09 November 2018 - 14:52
Image: Supplied/Three Ships Whisky

Kitty Phetla, one of only a handful of black ballerinas in the world, has broken all barriers to become a respected dancer, choreographer, model and radio host in SA.

Her fluid movements now also grace the James Sedgwick Distillery, where she elegantly floats among the copper pot stills and barrels, becoming one with the angel’s share in the first of a new visual collaboration series by Three Ships Whisky featuring inspirational South Africans.

Since making an exceptional whisky is an art, Phetla was invited to the distillery to bring her beautiful art form and inspiring life story to the home of South African whisky and help bring the Three Ships brand message of “Made exceptional. Made here” to life.

The new collaboration series will feature a number of inspirational and tenacious people in South Africa across the brand’s media platforms, with Phetla’s life story – showing resilience and determination – the first to be released.  

Phetla grew up in Alexandra in Johannesburg. Through hard work and discipline, she has created a stellar career, with her most famous role her performance as the first black ballerina to dance Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova’s famous solo, The Dying Swan, in Amsterdam in 2012. The role transformed her journey and allowed her to make it her own.

“At the time of my introduction to ballet, it was so Westernised, yet it’s an art form that has now transcended cultures and is tangible for the black community. South Africans love to move and there is a constant rhythm and beat within us,” says Phetla.

“As a choreographer, I am able to fuse the ethnic with the classical, the rhythm and soul, and blend 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.”

Image: Supplied/Three Ships Whisky

Moving amongst the distillery’s copper, wood and steel, Phetla glides flawlessly from the barrel maturation cellar to fermentation and distillation – bringing to life the fluidity required to make whisky. Envision a whisky that will only be ready in years to come requires a calmness of mind, and Phetla says ballet has helped her to calm herself and deal with the pressures of life.

“Dancing is a beautiful conversation, and while you dance, you expose your inner self. And at the heart of this conversation is the perfection of the art form. It’s theatrical, a magic of the mind, and I judge myself daily in pursuit of perfection. There is no space for mistakes – it changes the entire composition of the performance. Practice is a very humbling experience for me. I am constantly aware of the faults I make, yet it’s an incredible conversation that I have during that time with myself.”  

Meryll Stocks Roos, Three Ships Whisky marketing manager, says the series will bring across the essence of the brand’s globally awarded success, coming from a country that in the traditional sense was never deemed able to make whisky.

“The aim is to applaud the South African dreamers, true believers and doers who make the country an extraordinary place to live in with a sense of pride. It’s about being proud of doing things in SA in our own unique way and standing out with our courage and world-class ambition.”

It was not only Phetla’s exceptional success that caught the attention of the brand, but also the way that she deals with obstacles. Launched in 1977, Three Ships Whisky has grown to become an internationally award-winning brand despite having a number of challenges to manage during those first few years of starting up, much like the renowned ballerina.

“My height is both an advantage and disadvantage, yet it sets me apart,” says Phetla. “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. 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.

“Mental preparation is imperative before a performance. And although passion is imperative, you have to be mentally prepared to craft. As a dancer, you are in constant competition with yourself and it’s within this that I find the exceptional by dealing daily with defeat, lifting myself up each time and constantly striving towards perfection.”

Master distiller Andy Watts has created many firsts for the local industry with Three Ships Whisky and defied the belief that making whisky was reserved for a select few countries. At Africa’s only commercial whisky distillery, Watts crafts whiskies that not only make South Africans proud but also steal the spotlight at international whisky competitions.

Watch the video

This article was paid for by Three Ships Whisky.