Claremont’s dancing queen wows on TV talent show

Oleksii Ishchenko and Michele La Trobe put on another gravity-defying display on SA's Got Talent.

“I’m not joking when I say he stalked me,” quipped Claremont resident and SA’s Got Talent golden buzzer contestant Michele La Trobe, eyeing her dance partner playfully. “Every time I turned around, there he was looking at me. Then one day he told me I had the right height and body shape for our strength act. That was how we met.”

To say Ukraine-born Oleksii Ishchenko, 30, and Michele, 34, are at ease with one another is a gross understatement. In person, they are relaxed and a far cry from the exceptionally focused dance duo who in the past few months have wowed South African television audiences with their storied act. Their astonishing routine, which includes Michele being lifted with one hand among other incredible feats of strength and fitness, has now earned them a coveted spot in the SA’s Got Talent semi-finals on Sunday October 16.

As talented as they are, however, the pair are quick to point out that their success has not come overnight. After that memorable meeting at the Bovim Ballet company, where they were both dancers, Michele eventually “gave in” and partnered with Oleksii , whose resumé includes stints with Ukraine’s biggest dance company as well as the world famous Cirque du Soleil.

“In all my years dancing, I had become a lift specialist. I had a lot of experience in this,” says Michele. “I think what a lot of people don’t realise is that it’s not just the strength of the male partner. The female partner contributes about 50 percent to the strength routine.”

The pair have trained for two years on their act, spending an hour and a half most days on their routine for which they are also booked for corporate work. They describe themselves as a “classical act”, in that their strength routine can be performed to orchestral classical music as well as many other music genres.

It is also very different from more traditional strength routines, given the inclusion of ballet and aerobic movements. In this respect, the dancers say they are “very lucky” to have been afforded the chance to dance to Adele’s Skyfall. “You have to get the rights to certain music, and this can be very expensive. We have asked to perform our routine to certain music, but it is not always possible given issues over rights,” Michele says.

It stands to reason that performing in front of millions on television will bring with it a certain amount of attention. For the pair, this has manifested in various ways. What many might not be aware of is that both continue to carry out their days jobs between SA’s Got Talent shows, although neither career is any less intriguing than what is seen on television. Oleksii, who lives in Somerset West, coaches figure skating and mentors South African representatives in the sport, while Michele is only one or two qualified master sharpeners in the country.

“I am a professional sharpener of hairdressing scissors, with my business, Superior Edge. I spotted a gap in the market, so it is very niche,” she says.

“I think some people still can’t believe it’s me when they see me on TV. Even my domestic worker has to look twice when she sees me.”

For Oleksii, the greatest change has been among the parents of the youngsters he coaches on the ice-rink. “I see the difference in the parents mostly. Parents are now looking at me and saying to their children that they should listen to me, because I know what I am doing,” he quips. Looking to the semi-finals on Sunday October 16, the pair say they are not allowing themselves to get ahead of themselves. “Entering this competition, we knew we had to prepare a different routine for each stage. So even for our semi-final, we’ve practised this routine for months already,” Oleksii says.

Regardless of the final outcome, it has been a wondrous journey for the two Capetonians, one they have relished every step of the way. “A few years ago, I had a run-in with cancer, when I contracted a brain tumour. I was told I would never dance again,” Michele says. “I think doing well in the show, it just shows that you’ve got to enjoy your life as much as possible. We love what we do. I feel stronger and fitter now than I did in my 20s.”