FROM SOUTH AFRICA WITH LOVE

Photographer: Michael Williams
Director/Cinematographer: Gerry Mendozza
Contributing Editor: Michael Marian
Retouching: 
Becky Siegel
Writer: Mary Ann Lynch

(Interview follows photo series)

INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
STORY BY MARY ANN LYNCH

Meet Siphe November, a South African boy from the farming community of Zolani, Western Cape, South Africa. There year-round job opportunities are limited and life is difficult. Being raised by his single mother, Sylvia, in a household of nine — where he was the youngest of five children — Siphe had no plan to chart a better life. And yet — a ray of hope can present itself anywhere. And so it did, in 2009, when one of his three brothers took him to a performance right in their hometown, sponsored by the non-profit organization Dance for All (DFA). Says Siphe: “That’s when I fell in love with ballet.”

He was seven when he eagerly started weekly lessons with Fiona Sargeant, a British-trained classical ballerina, as his teacher. And Sargeant recognized Siphe’s natural ability and drive immediately; soon she had him tackling not only ballet but also African and Russian traditional dances.

Though Siphe may not have realized it, the door to the professional world of ballet had now opened to him. In 1992, when Phillip Boyd — a principal dancer with the Cape Town City Ballet — had established the organization, he named it Ballet for All (BFA), for his aim was to fill the void of black performers in the South African ballet world. With the addition of contemporary dance, jazz, African dance and other disciplines to the roster, the name changed to DFA. It is their Outreach Program that brings tuition-free instruction to underprivileged communities and remote areas.

Now it’s the spring of 2009, and we’re at a dance show by local children at an elementary school in Montagu, South Africa, a predominantly white town a short distance from Zolani. In the audience are two visitors from Toronto, Kelly Dobbin and Scott Mathison (the Mathison family).  Their five-year-old daughter Ella is taking lessons from Fiona Sargeant, also the event’s organizer. As the group takes the stage and begins, the two visitors are soon drawn to Siphe. They cannot take their eyes off him. And Siphe can do no less than strive for excellence as he dances. His training constantly offers him room to grow, expand his abilities, soar higher. He thrives on the challenge. His energy level radiates out into the audience.

In a May 2010 Mattison family post, they wrote:

“Our family had the fortune of meeting Siphe and his family while traveling throughout southern Africa in 2009. We watched Siphe dance at a Dance for All performance and were captivated by his grace, passion and charming personality.”

His performance and presence had impacted the Toronto couple so deeply that they wanted to help Siphe become the dancer he wanted to be. The doorway to new possibilities was opening wider.

Mattison and his wife spoke with Sargeant and then met with Siphe and his mother, Sylvia. They agreed that Siphe would benefit most from going to Montagu for school, where he could continue ballet training as well as study English. He chose to live in a hostel there, and for the first time, was on his own. What strength of character and determination. What single-mindedness. By this time, Siphe knew that he wanted to leave South Africa, and join a world where possibilities were endless, and he could pursue dance as a career path, dancing his heart out and stirring deep emotion in audiences. And of course, where he could make his family and friends proud.

Meanwhile, once home in Toronto, the Mattison family began making inquiries at the prestigious National Ballet School of Canada regarding opportunities for Siphe. Back in South Africa, Siphe, his mother, and Sargeant made an audition tape and sent it off to NBS. The May 2010 Mattison family post also reported on Siphe’s progress:

“With our help, his talent has been recognized by Canada’s National Ballet School and he had been invited to attend the school’s 2010 summer audition program. After months of planning and crossing fingers for good luck, Siphe will be joining our family on July 1st, 2010. We all hope that he will be accepted at the National Ballet School so that he can continue to live with us until he graduates in 2017.”

Needless to say, when Siphe went for an interview in July 2010, he was accepted into NBS’s professional program.

He had the lead boy’s role as Misha in The Nutcracker from December 2010 to January 2011 in Toronto. Now fifteen, this superb ballet dancer continues as a professional student currently on scholarship at NBS, while living with the Mattison family. Keep Siphe November in your sights: he will be soaring high. He has found his path, and those vital to his path continue to find him. The possibilities are endless.