A NORTH East dancer who came to the region as a six-year-old refugee from Angola is to star in a homecoming performance at Newcastle's Theatre Royal later this month after overcoming adversity to rise up the ranks of UK theatre.

Benedicta Valentina Mamuini will take on the lead role in family dance theatre production The Lost Happy Endings in the city she now calls home, before ending the UK tour at London's prestigious Sadler’s Wells Theatre in April.

However, for the former Byker Primary School pupil, who is known as Benny by her friends and family, a career in dance wasn't always on the cards.

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Despite having always loved to move to music, spending her spare time imitating YouTube hip hop routines with her friends, Benny didn’t have any formal training until the age of 16.

Most female dancers begin lessons before they even start primary school.

The inspiration for Benny’s dance career came during a dance history lesson at Jesmond Park Academy.

When Benny saw a recording of a performance by African American Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, she looks back at this moment as the one that made her realise that dance could be a career.

The Northern Echo: Benny will be playing the lead role in 'The Lost Happy Endings'. Picture: PUBLIC.Benny will be playing the lead role in 'The Lost Happy Endings'. Picture: PUBLIC.

Benny, who is now a company dancer and dance artist in residence with Newcastle's balletLORENT, said: “It was the first time I had seen a group of black female dancers. They performed a piece called Revelation, based on the struggles of slavery. “I was completely mesmerised – I wanted to be one of them. Until then I had planned to just finish my A Levels and then become a midwife."

After going through the trials and tribulations of starting her future career, Benny went on to complete a degree in dance at Northumbria University, studying contemporary dance and ballet.

She then undertook further study at London Contemporary Dance School, where she completed a postgraduate diploma, and was offered an apprenticeship by balletLORENT and later became one of their company dancers.

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On March 18 and 19, Benny will take the stage at Theatre Royal in front of her parents, three younger siblings, and many of the people who inspired her to dance professionally.

The Lost Happy Endings is narrated by Joanna Lumley and based on a children's book by former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

In the show, when a wicked witch steals all the familiar happy endings from children's fairy tales, causing tears at bedtime all over the world, Jub uses her strength and creativity to rewrite some alternative happily ever after in golden pen on the night sky.

The Northern Echo: Benny didn't have any formal training until the age of 16. Picture: PUIBLIC.Benny didn't have any formal training until the age of 16. Picture: PUIBLIC.

Benny added: “I’ll be honest, that first time, I was a complete wreck! "But as soon as my foot touched that stage, I stepped into the character of Jub, a magical girl with six fingers on each hand, and became immersed. Dancing becomes an almost out of body experience where I cease to exist, and I become the character.

"My family, friends, people I grew up with and my artist family who encouraged me will all be there.”

While Benny’s dance journey has brought her home to a starring role in Newcastle, she is keen to take it much further.

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“I feel that because I came to dance at quite a late age, there’s still so much I must learn,” she added.  

“I’m still discovering who I am and what I can bring to dance. I am an African black woman and I want to go back to my roots and explore where I came from. It’s my natural style, it’s how I move, so I want to explore the fundamentals of that.

“For me, there’s always been a part that’s missing and the part of me that lights up is when I see the African diaspora style. That’s when my soul feels complete.

The Lost Happy Endings is at Theatre Royal, 100 Grey St, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6BR on Friday, March 18, and Saturday, March 19, 2022, at 6pm.

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