Zimbabwe and South Africa

The 2nd part of my picture chronicle

The story one hears so often from expatriates, “I only intended to stay for a few months” applied to me. I ended up working in Africa for ten years. Merle Park suggested I went to run the ballet company in what was then Rhodesia. All I knew about that country was that they had produced some excellent dancers (Merle and Desmond Kelly among them) and that there was some kind of civil war going on. This meant that there were few male dancers available, so I started to devise as many all-female ballets that I could – and I swotted up on Les Sylphides.

A farewell card from my Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet colleagues.

I reckoned I would have to make a dancing come-back (aged 34, I had looked forward to resting my tortured body. No such luck!) It was one of the busiest times of my life. We even managed to put on a full length Cinderella. Canvas was unobtainable, so much of the set was hangings made from macramé!

Margaret Barbieri came to dance Giselle (seen above with Donald Macleary as Albrecht and me, yet again, as Hilarion). Alain Dubreil came, too to partner Maggie in my Cinderella.

It was gratifying to be headhunted to move to Pact Ballet in Johannesburg as ballet master. It was while I was with Pact Ballet that I met my future wife Jane who was writing a a book about the two South African companies. Originally from England, she danced as a soloist with Capab Ballet for ten years, but had recently stopped dancing due to a back injury. We were married in 1980 and in 1984 our wonderful son Tim was born.

Much of my time was taken up with teaching, rehearsing and touring but I was able to make several of my own ballets for Pact Ballet. I suppose the most mature ballet I had created to date was Dark Waves, based on a Nabokov story and set to Bartok’s wonderful Concerto for Strings, Percussion and Celeste.

Edgardo Hartley as the Blind Husband and Faye Daniel in my Dark Waves for Pact Ballet
Malcolm Burn as The Lover
Rolene Menachamson and Dawn Weller in my Migrations set to a Piano Quintet by César Franck

My version of Camille was choreographed in the form of memories as she lay dying. Dawn Weller gave truly marvellous performances. The ballet included a long beach scene in which there was a long, long pas de deux. Dawn maintained that I always wrote marathons for her – but we’re still friends! The designer, Peter Cazalet, gave the ballet a Viennese look since I used part of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, no less! The Johannesburg Star headline was: ” Camille: hypnotic spell of passion and pain is a triumph for Killar”.

It was wonderful to work again with Peter. We had been fellow dancers in Western Theatre (later Scottish) Ballet. He was to design numerous ballets for me at Pact Ballet and again in Durban when I moved there to direct a new dance company.

The years in Natal-Kwa Zulu were perhaps the most fulfilling period of my career. Supported by a marvellous administration I brought theatre dance to a huge cross section of people.The following section summarises my years as founder director of Napac Dance Company (the Natal Performing Arts Dance Company). I was fortunate enough to have some wonderful dancers in Napac Dance Company and in the slideshow below you can see a few of them. You can find a more comprehensive account of those years on this link.

The dancers in the pictures above, taken by Val Adamson, are:

  • Mary-Ann de Wet in Jack Carter’s Summer Day
  • Linda Smit and Jan Venter in Balanchine’s Apollo
  • Mark Hawkins and Ayako Yoshikawa in Les Sylphides
  • Joseph Clark with Robin Segel and David Krugel as Tybalt in my Romeo and Juliet for NDC
  • Nicole Verch and Chris Kindo in my Romeo and Juliet.
  • Mary-Ann de Wet and Hugo le Roux with Lesley-Ann Mitchell in my Other People
  • Fiona Sutton, Polly Rorison and Miranda Aitkin as the Punks, with Anton van Niekerk in Robyn Orlin’s Jump
  • Robyn Segel with Mark Hawkins and with Anton van Niekerk in Miraculous Mandarin

I choreographed The Miraculous Mandarin as part of a programme called Adults Only. It turned out be quite a shocker. Mark Hawkins and Robyn Segel were superb in the lead roles, as was the entire cast. The production was filmed for television and later went to Budapest as part of a ‘Festival of Mandarins’.

During my sixth year in Durban I was able to form a Youth Dance Company whose dancers not only augmented the main company when necessary but performed with great vivacity in their own right.


The most ambitious undertaking of my time in South Africa, certainly the most fulfilling, was the planning of two major festivals of dance in the multiple venues at the Playhouse Theatre. I wrote in my introduction to the first Dance Forum: In a country whose people are tragically afflicted by the artificial barriers set up between cultures, we in the arts must do all we can to promote and nurture artistic communication. It was this thought that prompted the idea of bringing dancers and choreographers of different beliefs, disciplines and styles under one roof for a festival of dance.

The two Dance Forums were my proudest achievement at NDC. Dancers, independent choreographers and dance groups from all over the country came together during a two-week Festival. It took over all the venues of the Natal Playhouse and even spilled out onto Smith Street.

With Mandela released from jail, the future of S Africa was looking distinctly happier and far more optimistic, but when our son began junior school we felt it was time to put his future first. It was with great heaviness of hearts that we left Durban for Glasgow, where Galina Samsova had offered me the post of ballet master at Scottish Ballet (she had taken over as artistic director). There, we had only just started unpacking our things from Durban when the offer to become artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet arrived. We were less than a year in Scotland, but New Zealand’s offer was one I could not refuse.