JOHANNES RADEBE UNLEASHES A DAZZLING NEW SHOW FREEDOM UNLEASHED
Strictly Come Dancing fan favourite and TV dancing sensation Johannes Radebe is to make a popular return to Newcastle Theatre Royal (Sun 30 Apr 2023) with a brand-new production Freedom Unleashed.
As he prepares to return to the North East, where hedelighted a sell out house in 2022, Johannes Radebe says audiences are in for a supersized spectacular full of energy and joy. “If you thought the last show was a party, this is going to be even bigger,” promises the Strictly Come Dancing sensation. “It’s going to be great fun and such a joyful night out.”
The show is the follow-up to Radebe’s sell-out 2022 tour Freedom. He laughs. “I want even more confetti, if that’s possible. It’s going to be a real dance extravaganza! There’s such amazing talent in this show and we’re breaking boundaries.”
Johannes will be joined by 12 diverse, world-class dancers and singers as they perform to a mix of African rhythms and party anthems with some ballroom magic thrown in, for a celebration of culture, passion and the freedom to be who you are. “It’s all about celebrating who we are as people,” says the 35-year-old, who hails from South Africa and has lived in the UK since he joined Strictly in 2018. “My freedom is well and truly unleashed in this show because I now live in a country that’s very progressive and I appreciate that more than ever.” Having spoken candidly about the bullying he suffered as a child for being gay in the South African township of Zamdela, he adds: “I’ve never felt that I have to hide who I am here, even though back home that was my story for the longest time. Being over here has allowed me to really flourish.”
The dance numbers include as many nods to his South African roots as possible ranging from pantsula to kizomba via Afrobeats and Latin and Ballroom flavours with a twist. “We’ve changed the narrative,” he explains of the latter, “and it means anyone can dance with anyone. I’m also delving more into my culture but we’ll still be giving audiences what they want in terms of elements they’re familiar with.” The latter includes a big Pride number at the end, with Johannes saying: “I’m going to have lots more sequins and feathers. It’s going to be a proper get-down, with people dancing out of the theatre to Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).”u
Pride is important to the dancer. In 2019, he and fellow professional Graziano Di Prima danced the first same-sex routine on Strictly, then two years later he made the history books by forming the show’s first all-male competitive partnership with TV chef John Waite. They came second and won the British LGBT Award for Media Moment of the Year, with Johannes saying of the honour: “There’s nothing more humbling than being recognised by your peers and your community. It dawned on me just how much my on-screen partnership with John had touched people. He continues on, saying “I am so grateful for him and his courage. I applaud him every single day and I’m a better man because of him. It’s changed my outlook on life and I’ve learned to love myself more because I’ve never before had that kind of friendship – where someone understood everything, sympathised and was compassionate.”
Radebe got the dancing bug when he was seven years old and was especially drawn to Ballroom and Latin. He went on to compete in local competitions and has since won the Professional South African Latin championships twice and the South African Amateur Latin championships three times. At age 21, he worked on the internationally renowned Italian cruise liner Costa and in 2014 became a professional dancer on the South African version of Strictly, followed four years later by a stint on his home country’s debut season of Dancing With The Stars before he was headhunted by the UK Strictly team.
When asked what he most enjoys about being on the BBC’s hugely successful show, he gushes: “Oh my gosh, it’s been a life-changer for me in the most profound way. Ever since I became a part of the Strictly family I’ve felt that I could dream. I’m now in a position where it feels like whatever it is I’ve always wanted do in life I can achieve it.”
Sylvester aside, the soundtrack to the new show will mostly be “Africa meets the Western world”, with Radebe having recently been back to South Africa to source costumes and music. He’s proud of his heritage, saying: “I was influenced by traditional dancing back home, before I did Latin and Ballroom, and I think that’s why I articulate movement the way I do. I dance the way I do because of those influences but I’ve never seen them represented on a theatre stage before. Our stories haven’t been told enough and I take pride in the fact that, through these shows, the world is getting to know who and what made us. I’ve never seen African culture and music used in this way in a beautiful theatre setting, where people can come and see the magic.” He’s thrilled at how the UK has embraced him. “It’s overwhelming. It feels like home now. I honestly feel like it was my fate to come and live amongst such great people in such a great nation.”
His most recent Strictly partner was comedian, actor and writer Ellie Taylor, of whom he says: “She’s an incredible person, very intelligent and very kind. She made my life easier and not once did I wake up with anxiety. She’s phenomenal. She’s a trier and such a hard worker. We laughed and we danced and it never felt like a job.” As for the show’s continuing popularity, he feels: “There’s nothing like watching two people dancing together. The fact viewers of all of ages can sit down on a Saturday evening and experience that is something I still find incredible.”
There’s a big difference between dancing on the TV show and headlining his own tour. “With Strictly, we’re a family and it’s lovely to know you have people to lean on but with my own show I’m at the forefront and I’m the leader. That said, it’s a responsibility that I have thoroughly embraced.” So,what does he most enjoy about it? “It’s about meeting people who love what I love, which of course is dance. There’s a theatre culture in the UK that you don’t find anywhere else in the world. Audiences are really invested in a performance and I also love getting to travel around this beautiful country and discover new places. I know South Africa is beautiful too but there are some equally gorgeous places over here.”
Johannes loves performing on television. “But there’s nothing like live performance in a theatre,” he insists. “Television reaches far and wide and it gives you access to a lot of people but you can’t beat being on stage in a theatre setting. For the audience, it’s escapism; you can forget what’s happening in the world for a couple of hours and be empowered and inspired by what’s happening in front of you. There’s nothing more magical than that.” He grins again. “Then as a performer there’s nothing more magical than seeing people out there smiling and having a great time. There’s nothing as special as sharing joy with an audience.”
Johannes Radebe: Freedom Unleashed plays Newcastle Theatre Royal on Sun 30 Apr 2023. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.
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