Private Presley – a private chat with Henk Opperman


Henk chats to us
Henk chats to us

Henk Opperman (who dances the role of Elvis Presley in Bovim Ballet’s Private Presley – A Salute To the King currently on at the Mandela at Joburg Theatre) is a enthusiastic up and coming young man who is incredibly fun to sit and chat to, and MORE fun to watch dancing! My friend Alison (who took these gorgeous photos, unless otherwise stated) and I sat with him and Collett Dawson from The Colab Network to talk about Private Presley,  Queen, and many other things besides!

The first thing I thought when I heard about Private Presley was that I’ve never seen Rock ‘n Roll done in a ballet before.  I guess it’s not something that anyone would do and is not the run of the mill Elvis tribute.

Definitely not. Sean (Bovim from Bovim Ballet) is very clever with making his shows very accessible to audiences which makes it nice to take something like Elvis and dancing, because dancing has alienated itself a little bit in this country, people don’t necessarily understand it. So taking a dance and making it accessible with music that people grew up with and is very commercial and sellable works and is also challenging to us as dancers because it’s not really a style that’s been merged in that kind of way yet.

I guess it’s not something you grew up dancing to.

Not at all. And ballet and rock and roll is like fusing two styles and adding something completely different.

You’ve done Queen as well which is probably even more rock and roll. Was this all Sean’s concept?

Yes. Sean took about a year to fully conceptualise and research everything. Because I think for him as a choreographer it’s very important to stay true to the period and the era – like if you’re doing something as Elvis, it’s all such iconic things. It’s not just Elvis.  It’s the 50s, as an era, as a period. Something like that is so specific in its costuming and its music and stylistic aspect of dancing and he wants to stay true to that so he researched a lot of stuff  to make sure it does stay true to itself.

CD:      And the costumes as well. Sean brought in top designers and it’s not men in tights. They also had two seasons in Cape Town which sold out.

That’s one thing that I think puts a lot of people off coming to a ballet, to see men in tights. That’s not everyone’s favourite way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It’s such a colourful show. Just having finished a run, it’s so nice.

Photo credit: Bill Zurich

CD:      And Henk wears the white jump suit.

How long have you been on the go with this?

We’ve been rehearsing this season for about 5 weeks, and before I think Sean took about 7 – 8 weeks to choreograph the production 2 years ago, so it’s quite a grueling process but you want to get as much detail into the choreography and stuff as possible. People are going to want to criticise and say this is not true to what it’s supposed to be.

 Would you call it an Elvis tribute or is it more about the ballet and bringing Elvis into it? Joburg Theatre already had an Elvis tribute with Nathan Belt earlier this year so you’d have to sell it as something different to that.

I think Sean took a very unique angle with the concept of the show in calling it Private Presley. He’s taken a part of Elvis’ life that I don’t assume that a lot people know that much about. It’s about the time when he went to the army and he focuses on Elvis’ story and they’re telling the story of him and his lovers at the time he went to the army. Everyone knows Elvis’ music and as hard as it is to take an artistic language like dancing – Elvis would never have gone and pirouetted across the stage. Realistically speaking what we’re doing is not something that’s very easy to translate a story in. So taking that and something like Elvis’ music – for me as someone who had to portray a character that I can’t necessarily relate to, because I’m only 25 years old and I grew up in Bloem so I didn’t grow up having parents that listened necessarily to Elvis, but his music transcends everything. As his music styles changed, you can feel which period of his life he was going through.

HO 2CD:      The important angle I love about the show is that Sean has captured that inner conflict Elvis had with all the women in his life. So a lot of what Henk does is also about the strong women he had in his life, Juliet Prowse, Natalie Wood, Priscilla Presley and AnnMargret Olsson. You will see Elvis interacting with all these women. As huge a rock star he was, he was a man with inner conflict. He had all these women in his life and he didn’t know how to cope with all of them.

HO:     And I almost feel like that also transcends so hugely in his music. How those people were having influences in his life. Sean researched for a year and was so particular when he was choosing the songs so that it fits in exactly with the story, it’s not just a bunch of songs.

CD:      It’s not an Elvis concert.

HO:     It’s not a tribute, as in like ugh we’re just going to play songs. It makes chronological sense.

I can imagine with the ballet, you can bring a lot more to the performance and get more across to the audience than just a guy standing there singing would be able to do.

When you do something like a drama or a theatrical piece, you can very easily say what you want to translate, where someone that’s just singing, they have a piece of music and you can use your lyrics a bit more. But what we as dancers do is have our own vocabulary – I mean even as dancers we sometimes don’t understand each others languages fully, because your vocabulary is so different.  So I think that is what makes it so challenging for us as performers, trying to translate not by performing at an audience, because there’s nothing worse than having an invasive performance, making someone look at you but for the wrong reasons. You must take someone on a journey. I want to live the experience. Every night when I walk onto stage then I want to for that minute fall in love with the girl again, to make it as honest as possible for the audience to understand.

My website is about people who tweak the golden thread of humanity. You can make people feel. Is that something that you would be trying to get across, to make people feel things?

That’s the beauty for me and the reason – the fact you say that is understanding why I do what I do. For me to walk on the stage doesn’t mean I have to have the perfect line. Those are all things, skills and tools that you’re training yourself with.  It’s a beautiful thing so if you can use that but still have the basic desire to touch someone or make someone feel something, even if it’s anger, at least they felt something watching you. I did my job and what I wanted to do and set out to do as a performer.  I’m not a scientist or doctor, so I’m not saving lives, but I can still save a life by making someone feel better. It can change someone’s day around.

 HO 3Queen at the Ballet, playing Freddie Mercury must have been so much fun.

It was such an honour for me, because as I finished studying Sean gave me the opportunity in 2012. It was so challenging and there were some days that I literally physically went home crying. I was struggling and it was hard. It’s a complex character, but having done it last year again having lived three years of life I could find a lot more to relate to as a person.

What did you take from that experience? I can’t put myself in the picture of playing Freddie Mercury. What that must do to a person.

It’s hard. But I think, also from having played it originally and just having grown a little bit and of the day having lived a little bit more – though I still have a lot to live, but having grown more into my own skin I could find a lot more similarities. That was something that also enriched me in playing his role originally. I think it changed my way of thinking a lot even just for that period of time. It influenced me so much in my general life.

Actually thinking about it, he’s not that different to Elvis. They probably both had conflicts.

HO:     They were so elaborate as people. They were so artistic and creative. It made them who they were but it also destroyed them at the end of the day. It brings me back to the point of what we do is a hard thing. Elvis would never point his toes on a stage, and obviously I want to stay as true to the character as possible, so it’s trying to understand or to just get a  glimpse of why that person did what they did and trying to make that translate through my sort of vocabulary.

How do you research a thing like this?

Video clips, seeing what was documented about them and trying to make it as relatable and as true to what I do. I find it very hard to go research something and plaster on a performance if I don’t experience it. If I can’t honestly live the experience every night, how must someone else feel it – I don’t know what it feels like to be a 30 year old man falling in love with a 14 year old girl. I can’t relate to that so as a performer I need to find ways to make that honest and true. Considering myself a creative person, you start thinking certain ways when you hear people live their lives like that. You start moulding your thoughts around stuff like that. It made him an incredible person and touched lives.

HO 4What were the challenges and highlights of the show in Cape Town, are you expecting it to be different here.

I think all of us as performers have had a chance to grow a lot since we originally did it. There’s a lot of new people in the cast as well, and a lot of cast changes, my role in itself in my relationship with Priscila is completely different to what it is now, as it’s with a totally different girl. It’s finding a new way. Sean’s work is so challenging, because it’s always something new. He’s always constantly reinventing his style and changing it. You train classically and in whatever style you want, but as soon as you start with something new, it’s very new.

You won Kyknet’s ‘Dans, Dans, Dans’ and trained at the Cape Academy for Performing Arts. What made you decide at 18 to go into ballet?

I grew up in Bloemfontein and there dancing as a career is not a thing. But I’ve had the most incredible parents who support what I do. I did Dans, Dans, Dans on Kyknet and it opened up so many doors for me and it actually showed my parents that there is a possibility for me to dance for a living and I had so many knowledgeable people that told me go get training, go get training. You can dance, but go get training. I could have opted out of school and tried to make it in the dancing industry, but I guess I made the right choice and went and got the formal training. I finished matric and went to the academy.  The hype simmered down and I got a chance to sculpt my skill and it’s benefitting me now more than I think anything else would have.

CD:      It was a big deal for Sean to cast an unknown for Queen. We had the whole debate, we can tell you that now, but he was at least known from TV but to go into such a role – it was a big deal.

HO:     Kyknet is doing amazing things for artists.

If you were to say something to a kid maybe Grade 8 or 9 thinking should we try this, what would you say?

 I always say live a fat life. Live a fat life, try everything, and experience things. I wonder how, I wonder if I would like this or if I would like to do that or I think maybe, try it, see. Like maybe it’s not for you then you leave it. If it’s for you then educate yourself in it. Skill yourself in it. We all have a god given list of talents. The one thing that stops each of us is fear or rejection or failing.  Fear of failure is an actual thing. No one wants to not feel good enough but at the end of the day what do you have to lose. You go okay that didn’t work. Next.

Is there anything else you want to get across?

Be ready to be entertained.

Private Presley is on at The Joburg Theatre until 25 October.

Follow Henk on Instagram and on Twitter

Check our full display of pictures here.

Elvis The Show – Nathan Belt


Nathan Belt is an award winning singer, songwriter and musician who has performed across the globe, through out the United States to Europe, Asia and South Africa, honing his own mix of rockabilly, traditional country and the modern sounds of today.  He is also well known as a definitive Elvis Presley impersonator.  I think a good impersonation of someone as well known as Elvis is an art on its own. As the performer, you don’t only have to deliver a good performance. You also have to be believable as that person, so it’s almost like musical theatre, where you’re not only singing, but you’re playing a part. On top of all that, you want to bring something of yourself to the audience, so that they realise that at the end of the day, you’re a committed fan in the same way as some of them are. With all this in mind, to be recognised as the top or one of the top tribute artists in the world is an incredible feat. Proud to present my interview with an out and out professional musician.

Nathan Belt will be bringing Elvis – The Show to us at The Joburg Theatre from 19 Feb. 

Elvis’ career started in the 50s and people still love him today. Generation after generation adores Elvis. Why do we love him so much?

It’s something that seems incomprehensible. His music never gets old and it always feels fresh and new; something that today’s artists strive to recreate where Elvis and the musicians that he worked with just stumbled upon it. Maybe it’s the honesty and sincerity that every chord and note seem to evoke as well? But then again, Elvis himself seems to be timeless, doesn’t he? He was everything to everyone. Good, wholesome, innocent, bad boy, the devil in disguise, a ladies man, an Army man, a Christian boy… he portrayed so many characters within our culture, recorded songs from other languages such as Spanish, German, Italian and so on. Again, it all comes back to his sincerity. His spirit almost seems to transcend the boundaries of time with an enigmatic charisma that we’ve yet to fully understand.



Maybe it was also the innocence of the time? The 50’s was a decade when teens first began seeking to find their own identity and experiencing a new found freedom within music and movies. Television was something new and Elvis was one of the first “rebels” to appear in households across the nation; hence the famous waist down censorship that curiously only occurred during his last appearance on Ed Sullivan in 1958. So many elements converging at one time. Anyone would be remiss to try and recreate what had happened then. Undoubtedly, the combination of all of these things are what makes us love Elvis so much.

I asked Jessa Ritter, who I know to be the biggest Elvis fan EVER what she would like to ask you and she immediately gave me this thought provoking question: “If you could go back in time to have the chance to hang with Elvis… What would you do & say to him?”

I’d just enjoy spending a day with him and view how he would be in everyday life. Maybe sit at the piano with him and jam till the wee hours of the morning as he was so well known for doing with his entourage all those years ago. Since I don’t perform as Elvis full time anymore and I’m focused on my own career as an artist in Nashville, I think the ultimate dream would have been to have Elvis record a song that I wrote. As a songwriter, that would have been an incredible achievement.

Elvis was actually successful in a number of genres – country, rhythm & blues and gospel. Do you have a favorite out of each genre? Do you think he had a favorite genre?

Elvis’ style and sound was a very unique fusion of all the genres you mentioned; especially country music. In fact, when he first started out in the business, he was hoping to be a country singer; only to find that fate would have him be one of the few founding fathers of rock n’ roll. He also had a passion and strong admiration for gospel music its contributors. I believe that if he had lived past 1977, he would have become a successful gospel artist himself. For me, I don’t necessarily have a favorite, but I do favor country and gospel. Something that we undoubtedly have in common.

Elvis and his mom source:

I always felt that Elvis felt things deeply – the loss of his twin and his mom. Would you say this is true and did he bring it out in his music?

 Very true. As I’ve read and studied the life of Elvis, I’ve learned that both the loss of his twin and his mother affected him psychologically and he did indeed pour out those feelings within his music. It would go on to affect most all decisions he made throughout his entire life.

At the time, the world wasn’t always kind to Elvis. His gyrating wasn’t always well received and he was sometimes called demonic. Being that he sang a lot of gospel music, do you think that he was Christian and how did this rejection affect him?

You don’t have to look far to see the strong evidence that attests to him being a Christian and an avid believer in Christ. If you ask any of the friends, singers or band members that surrounded him during that time, they will tell you whole-heartedly that Elvis was saved and actively witnessed to others who he spent time with. Follow this YouTube link and you can hear him witness from the stage to a group of fans, saying “To me there’s only one (King) and that’s Christ.”


As far as the rejection, in the early days of his career he did have a difficult time understanding what all the fussing and complaining was about concerning his music and the way he moved on stage. In his mind, and in his heart, he didn’t believe anything was wrong with what he was doing. He was only moving along with the way the music made him feel inside. He didn’t relate it to anything sexual or sinful at that time and he would explain that to the disc jockeys or reporters who would ask him. As his career progressed, he obviously became more aware of why women would react the way they did to his movements, etc., but he found it to be more comical and humorous than being sinful or dangerous. Movie directors took notice and incorporated his style of dance and moves into the choreography of his films. In his later years, karate became something of a fascination and almost trumped the importance of music in his life. He began bringing his karate moves on stage mixing them in and out of his performances. In Las Vegas, he even performed katas in full karate GI (uniform) to impress his audience while proudly announcing that he had received his 8th degree black belt.

Elvis Presley with Colonel Tom Parker

Tell us about Colonel Tom Parker? Obviously his drive and commitment contributed to Elvis’ success but do you think Elvis’ life might have been different if he had a different manager?

Some may or may not disagree with the following statement. As charismatic, talented and handsome as Elvis was, he would have never achieved the great success that he so humbly accepted had it not been for the one and only, Colonel Tom Parker. Some could also argue that without Sun Records founder/producer, Sam Phillips, Elvis would have never emerged from the depths of Memphis, Tennessee to rise up into stardom as he did. But, without any doubt whatsoever, Colonel Tom Parker was the man who made Elvis Presley a world renowned icon. He was the master-mind behind the marketing, endorsements, TV shows, movies, merchandise… you name it. No one else before him had ever dreamed of doing what the Colonel had done with Elvis. The Colonel single handedly created the world’s very first superstar. There’s no denying that he was conniving in some ways and had a very uncouth way about doing business at times, but he was a genius. So much so that books have been published about his technique and classes have been taught using his management style in mind. One thing is for sure and certain, he loved Elvis and, from the day he took over as manager, there was absolutely no one else he would give the time of day to. Elvis was his only artist from that time on and the only one he’d ever need until the day he died.

 Is there something you would particularly like audiences to take home from the show?

I hope that people take notice that this is not just an average “Elvis Show”. It’s not just some guy dressed up like Elvis singing some Elvis songs, etc. With respect to the producer/director who makes the final decisions within the production, it is my personal intention to present a very heartfelt tribute that evokes a sincere respect for the music and career of this man that we all love and cherish. I’d like people to visibly see and realize that I’m like them; I’m an avid fan who’s admired Elvis since my childhood and maybe they’ll take home a little history lesson or two. My favorite thing is to share little fun facts that some fans may or may not have known. Especially things that may make you admire the man more so than you had before you entered the theatre to see our show.


Is there something of yourself that you bring to the show?

Actually, there is a lot of myself in the performance you see. I sometimes teeter between putting on the suit and not breaking character or being dressed as Elvis would dress but not talking as though I was there and lived out those experiences. I’ve done both throughout my career but I believe people tend to enjoy the latter more.

Unless a script calls for it or you’re involved with some type of Broadway play or theatre production that insists on it, I’ve never fully been comfortable with assuming the role AS Elvis, if that makes any sense? If you ever hearing me refer to myself as Elvis, it’s only because I was directed to do so.

Other than that, I tend to find that Elvis and I have a similar personality and a very similar sense of humor. If you see me laughing and joking around with the band members or crew, that’s unscripted and completely me! The same goes for my interaction with the audience. I never want them to feel as though they’re sitting at home on their couch watching a TV screen. I want them to be involved! I want them to feel entertained. If they’re jumping up and down, dancing and singing, coming up to the stage and visibly enjoying the experience, then I know I’ve done my job.

You’re a young guy yourself… how did you come to love Elvis and to want to pay tribute to him?

In an attempt to make a long story short here, I’ve been a fan of Elvis since my childhood. I first learned about Elvis at the age of 6 while listening to my parents Elvis record collection and the bug took hold of me from then on.

Nathan Belt as Elvis. Source:

As far as the tribute goes, I had always worked and performed as myself while fully focused on my own career as an artist. It wasn’t until 2006 after I took a hiatus from my career as a songwriter in Nashville and moved back to Texas that I began performing professionally as an Elvis tribute artist. I quickly discovered that there was a strong demand for the job and it later took me to long-term contract work with well-respected companies such as Legends In Concert and most recently Showtime Productions. Most importantly, I felt there was a need for a tribute that was done professionally with sincerity and heart. Some guys did it for the money and to feed their own egos; I was doing it because I believed Elvis deserved a better tribute than what some were putting on and it was something that I truly enjoyed as a fan.

Now, I’m proud to have befriended other professionals who also perform in tribute to Elvis and do it the right way for the right reasons. There are some truly GREAT tributes out there who are down to earth guys. Guys that are fans just like I am.

What can we expect from the show?

Professionalism, pure entertainment, excitement, laughter, sincerity, heart… and hopefully, just maybe, you’ll fall in love with Elvis Presley all over again.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or to for the audiences to pay attention to?

I think that just about sums it up. I do enjoy meeting the people after the show during our meet and greet. I love to hear what exactly their favorite part of the show was or what they enjoyed most. Be sure to find me afterwards because I’ll be there to say hello!

You’re an artist in your own right. Tell us more about Nathan Belt and the Buckles

First of all, thank you for asking about this. Another long story, but as I had mentioned previously, I was a Nashville artist/songwriter before I ever began performing as Elvis. In the past few years, I’ve returned to Nashville at the encouragement of my management to re-establish myself as an artist again. Since 2012, I’ve signed a new management agreement, formed an exciting new band with The Buckles, successfully taken on the Nashville music scene with our own mix of rockabilly and country music, continued my songwriting career and have now been reunited with music legend, artist/producer/songwriter, Billy Burnette, who first brought me to Nashville in 1999. After my run of shows here in Johannesburg, I’ll return home where we plan to go into the studio to begin work on our new album project in early April with Billy set as producer.

It’s most certainly an exciting time as I feel that I’m moving forward with the next phase of my life and career. I’ll always be a fan of Elvis Presley and the joys of what performing his music has brought into my life over the years, but there’s nothing more profound than finding yourself and seeing your own personal dreams come to fruition.

If anyone would like to keep up with what we’re doing, they can go to where they’ll find links to the Nathan Belt & The Buckles Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter and more.

Nathan Belt & The Buckles perform Tiger By The Tail

 You’ve been to Joburg before. Is Joburg a fun place to play?

January of 2014 was my first and only time in Johannesburg. I’m very excited about my return and seeing the friends that I made during my previous visit. I loved the city and the people. Everyone was extremely kind and generous to me and the crew I work with. The audiences were thrilling to play to night after night and gave us a very encouragingly warm welcome. I’m very much looking forward to the new show and entertaining all the people there again. Fun is not the correct adjective. SUPERB would be more fitting!

Related post: The Greatest Love of All – Belinda Davids at the Joburg Theatre