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Giving Black Dance a Voice

26 Nov 2005

An Interview with Patrick Parson, Artistic Director of Ballet Creole

“We need to accept ourselves more in the community. Because you know we have this thing: “Oh I see ‘dem already”. But then a foreign company comes, no matter if they come every year, they’ll go back and see them. ... But the Caucasian people, they will go and see the Nutcracker every single year. And some of our own folks will go out and see the Nutcracker every single year. But when its comes to see our own … “we see ‘dem already.” So it’s a mentality thing. So I educate, I entertain. That’s what my life’s path is about. To bring people to their own and share artistic endeavours through seeing or expressing.”
- Patrick Parson, Artistic Director, Ballet Creole

Speaking to Toronto''s Ballet Creole artistic director, Patrick Parson, over the phone ahead of the upcoming run of Glorious Soulful Messiah, I encountered a pioneer of this city's dance community. Moving to Toronto from his native Trinidad back in September of 1988, Parson has been instrumental in setting up the framework for what today is considered a vibrant Afro-Caribbean dance scene in Toronto -- counting several major dance companies (such as COBA, Dance Caribe, Canboulay Dance Theatre, and of course Ballet Creole).

The landscape was dramatically different in the late '80s and early '90s. “Afro-Caribbean dance was not seen as professional dance then. They were mostly doing community gigs” says Patrick Parson. His goal was to help facilitate the creation of a professional institutional structure for the Afro-Caribbean dance community. To that end, Ballet Creole was born in 1990.

Ballet Creole offers a widely international body a students the chance to gain professional post-secondary dance training right here in Toronto. Most of the students are from various countries such as Cuba, the Seychelles, Jamaica, Honduras, Mexico, Trinidad, St-Lucia, Barbados, and more. Quoting Parson: "Instead of going to New York to train at the Alvin Ailey school, they can do it right here. It’s so wonderful to go into a studio and see your own kind working in a professional manner." Indeed, Ballet Creole''s cultural diversity is one of the school's great strengths which Patrick Parson is proud of. As Parson goes on to say: "With some of the schools here, it’s like 99.5% Caucasian and you’ll see ... between one to about six black students in the dance school. They become like a token. But here, the majority is of African-descent. Either Latino, Caribbean, that’s the focus here."

But despite such a strong commitment to providing a sustainable forum and framework for Afro-Caribbean dance, it has often been a struggle to get the community out consistently to the shows -- particularly in the early years. “Well, I can tell you in the first five years, the whole audience was Caucasian. You could count the Caribbean or African people in the audience. After the first five years there’s a big change. Because people started to hold their own. That’s the next step" says Parson.

In their effort to encourage that next step, Ballet Creole strongly believes in attracting the youth by exposing them to dance from a very young age. Parson believes in having his company's core dancers routinely involved in performing in schools. "That’s where I focus the company and they perform every single day up to five days a week. And they go into the schools. That’s our audience. We go from kindergarten all the way up to high schools and to university. We do approximately two shows every day. Everyday in the school year. You know how much students we're reaching out to if you think about it."

Patrick Parson is optimistic about the future of Afro-Caribbean dance in general and about the prospects of individual dancers developing as professionals within the city. "The dance scene is booming now" he says. "There’s a lot of people from the diaspora that are training at Ryerson, York and elsewhere and they are looking for jobs.” Patrick Parson is aware that Ballet Creole serves as an inspiration for community dance companies looking to stage larger productions. He enjoys the good rapport he shares with them. Parson has also been teaching at York University for over ten years in various departments. From dance in the Fine Arts department to his current post in the Kinesiology department where he has been for the past five years --- applying dance to the science of movement.

Ballet Creole's upcoming performance is their third year run of Glorious Soulful Messiah at the Premiere Dance Theatre (235 Queens Quay West) from December 16th to 18th. It is a soulful rendition of Handel's Messiah based on a CD compilation entitled Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. "All the music goes way back from the ‘20s until now. From the blues, the swing, the traditional minstrel music, all of that is in this album" says Parson.

Don''t miss your chance to see the show! It was sold out last year.

Ballet Creole presents ''Glorious Soulful Messiah'', Friday December 16th & Saturday December 17th @ 8PM and Sunday December 18th @ 3PM at Premiere Dance Theatre (235 Queens Quay West)

Imagine the wondrous sounds of Handel’s Messiah sung by the spine-tingling voices of Aretha Franklin, The Boys Choir of Harlem, Patti Austin, Take 6, Gladys Knight, and more…coupled with the driving dance moves of the Ballet Creole cast of dancers. Celebrate the festive season with an intriguing, uplifting performance. Sold out last year! To purchase tickets call 416.973.4000 or visit our website at www.balletcreole.org

Ticket Prices:
Early Bird Prices Adult: $19.00 - $30.00

Student/Senior: $16.00 - $23.00
Regular Prices: Adult: $21.00 - $35.00
Student/Senior: $16.00 - $23.00

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