One of only a handful of black ballerinas in the world, Kitty Phetla, has broken all barriers in becoming a respected dancer, choreographer, model and radio host in South Africa. Recently she has been recognised with the 2019 Standard Bank Young Artist award for dance. Watch as her fluid movements grace the James Sedgwick Distillery, where she elegantly floats amongst 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 with inspirational South Africans.
Since making an exceptional whisky is an art, Kitty was invited to the distillery to bring her beautiful art form and inspiring life story to the Home of South African Whisky underpinning the Three Ships Whisky brand message of “Made Exceptional. Made Here” to life.
She grew up in Alexandra in Johannesburg and through hard work and discipline she has created a stellar career for herself with one of her most memorable roles as the first black ballerina to dance “The Dying Swan” in Russia in 2012. Originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for Anna Pavlova in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905, this historic experience transformed her personal and professional journey and allowed her to make this timeless classical choreography her own.
“Ballet was at the time of my introduction so Westernised, yet it’s an art form that has now transcended cultures and is tangible for black communities. South Africans love to move and there is a constant rhythm and beat within us. As a choreographer I enjoy combining an African spirit of movement with Western 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.”
Moving seamlessly amongst the distillery’s copper, wood and steel, the fluidity required to make whisky is evident as she glides flawlessly from the barrel maturation cellar to fermentation and distillation. The same calmness of mind required when envisioning a whisky that will only be ready in years to come, Kitty finds in her ballet which she says has helped her manage many things, to calm herself and to deal with the pressures of life.
“Dancing is a beautiful conversation and whilst you dance you expose your inner self. And at the heart of this conversation is 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.”
Kitty’s determination and resilience naturally echo the Three Ships Whisky underpinning message of Made to be Exceptional. Made Here . The new collaboration series will see a number of inspirational and tenacious people of South Africa being featured across the brand’s media platforms, with Kitty’s life story as the first to be released.
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 possible to make whisky. “The aim is to celebrate the South African dreamers, true believers and doers who make the
country an exceptional place to live in with a sense of pride. 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.”
It was not only Kitty’s exceptional success but also the way that she deals with obstacles that caught the attention of the brand. Three Ships Whisky, first launched in 1977, has since inception grown to an internationally award-winning brand despite having a number of challenges to manage during those first few years of starting-up.
“My height is both an advantage and disadvantage, yet it sets me apart,” says Kitty. “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 strive towards perfection.” Master distiller Andy Watts, has created many firsts for the South African Whisky Industry with Three Ships Whisky and defied the odds that making whisky was reserved for only a select few countries. At Africa’s only commercial whisky distillery, Andy crafts whiskies that not only make South Africans proud but also take the spotlight at international whisky competitions.