A professional stage debut is a huge event in the life of any ballerina, but Michaela DePrince’s recent tour of South Africa also marked the end of an extraordinary journey from her childhood as a war orphan in Sierra Leone.
"I got out of a terrible place," says DePrince. "I had no idea I would be here - I’m living my dream every single day."
She was born in Sierra Leone in 1995. Her parents named her Mabinty, but after they both died during the civil war, she was sent to an orphanage, where she became a number.
"They named us from one to 27," she recalls. "One was the favourite child of the orphanage and 27 was the least favourite."
DePrince was number 27, because she suffers from vitiligo, a condition in which patches of skin lose pigmentation. To the “Aunties” who ran the orphanage, it was evidence of the evil spirit within the three-year-old. She still recalls the fierce antagonism of the women.
"They thought of me as a devil’s child. They told me every day how I wasn’t going to get adopted, because nobody would want a devil’s child," she says.