Passionate and driven about his art, Mlindi Kulashe has already experienced tremendous success in ballet. Through hard work and a series of favorable opportunities, as a teenager, he got the chance travel to England to study ballet. Now a signed professional dancer living in the UK, Mlindi is determined to not lose touch with home. Live recently caught up with Mlindi at the Artscape Theater in between his holiday practice schedule.
Live: Can you please tell us about your background and who Mlindi Kulashe is?
Mlindi: I am 22 years old. I was born and bred in Nyanga, near Crossroads to be exact. I am a dancer, and I started dancing at 10 years old. I joined a male development program which is offered by Cape Town City Ballet Company, and is based at UCT. It was basically a platform for young aspiring dancers from difficult backgrounds, and they were giving us a chance to try out dancing. Since I was young, I’ve always been an entertainer, a storyteller, a dancer, and a singer (or so I thought then). So, automatically, my mom sent me to audition for this, and I got in and I was very lucky to have gotten a scholarship in my first year. So, I joined that school and I have always been training there under Dianne Cheesman. I joined the youth development program when I was 10, and then towards the end of the year they moved me up to the school to start training to become a professional dancer. I did all my exams until I was 17, and then from there on, I went to England.
Live: Why ballet?
Mlindi: I don’t remember making the decision for it to be ballet –I just wanted to be a dancer, I wanted to be on stage. It just so happened that Cape Town City Ballet did classical ballet training and so I was trained in that artform and it sort of became a part of me.
Live: Tell us about how you got the opportunity to go to London.
Mlindi: In 2009, I did an international competition called the Genee International Ballet Competition. I was very lucky that my teacher sent me to Singapore to audition for this and I was at the right standard to compete there and represent South Africa. I went there with 52 dancers from so many different countries. At that time, I was 17 and I don’t think I took dancing seriously because I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to be in the entertainment industry and just wanted to be on stage but I didn’t necessarily take classical ballet seriously. So I went to Singapore and did this competition. I didn’t do well – I didn’t make it to the finals and they literally cut me off after the first round. But, for some odd reason, the artistic director from the English National Ballet School was watching and I think he liked me and saw potential in me and so he contacted my teacher Dianne Cheesman and they offered me a scholarship to train at the English National Ballet School for a year and I managed to stay there for three years and graduated in 2013, and now I am a professional dancer, its crazy.
Live: How did the quality of dancing instruction compare to what you had been taught before?
Mlindi: Coming from Cape Town where I was one of the few boys – black boys, I was definitely treated in a sort of special way. There was one Mlindi, and then so many girls that do classical ballet. So, obviously, I was going to get a lot of leads and I was going to be under the spotlight. Then, I moved to England and I was surrounded by guys from all over the world who are the best from their own cities and we were all in one place and it was just like the best of the best. So, it was very competitive and I think that’s where I started to develop the hunger to be the best that I could be. That’s where I realised that I actually could be a good dancer because I was surrounded by people who fought, people who wanted to be the best. I was never used to being in this type of environment and suddenly here I am, wanting to be in the limelight. It was a big shock, coming from being a big fish in a small pond, and then, boom, England. So, that was interesting. The training was much more intense.
Live: Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you plan to stay in SA or travel abroad?
Mlindi: In the next five years?! I don’t look that far ahead, I am more of a person that lives in the present and I just enjoy what has been given to me right now. I do set goals though and I know where I would like to end up. I just want to be happy and enjoy myself.
Live: Who inspires you?
Mlindi: I would say that there is no one specific person that inspires me. There are a lot of people that inspire me for different reasons. So, I take different characteristics from different artists, and different normal people. I think that makes me a well-rounded person and dancer. Anyone following their heart, chasing their dreams inspires me.
Live: What advice do you have for aspiring dancers?
Mlindi: Follow your heart. Literally. Follow your passion. My mom always says if you follow your heart and do something you love, you are going to succeed in it. If you do something other people want you to do, or what people think you are going to be successful in, you are not going to do well. If it satisfies you, then it’s going to blossom out and you are going to achieve your goals.