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Ballet with a beat

July 2nd, 2011 · No Comments

By Síle Cleary

Over the past twenty years, Ballet Creole has gone from humble beginnings to carving out a reputation as being the quintessential leader of Afro-Caribbean dance in Canada under the direction of artistic director and founder Patrick Parson.

“When I first arrived in Canada, I tried to seek out a dance company that trained full-time professional dancers in my style of dance but at the time, all I came across were companies who worked only during the weekends or for specific events. So in order for me to dance professionally I had to create my own niche,” said Parson.

Parson, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, was inspired to set up the school after he arrived to Canada in the 1990’s to find that there was no professional dance company fitting to his specific style of dance.

His desire to seek out a professional school of performing arts that encompasses Afro-Caribbean dance eventually led to the fruition of Ballet Creole in 1990.

He attributes his sheer dedication and passion for dancing and performing to his family in Trinidad and Tobago. In particular, his mother, Viola Parson, who was a renowned artistic performer in Trinidad during the 1950s and 1960s, was influential to his career as a professional dancer.

“My mother was named the ‘limbo queen’ in Trinidad and she would tour around Japan and other countries for six months at a time, so my life has always been about dancing.”

As a result of his own upbringing, Parson is aware of the significant role that music and dance can play in the development of children and so he has created classes to meet their needs, including Ballet Creole’s summer camp programme.

The camp, which runs from July 4 to July 15, includes everything from hip-hop dance, to storytelling and drumming, and gives children the opportunity to express themselves artistically as well as to socialize in a multicultural and innovative atmosphere.

In speaking about the camp, Parson said “I believe it is beneficial for children as it connects them to cultural expression, heightens their understanding of socialization and improves their physical and creative health.”

The company’s style incorporates an array of dance forms including classical ballet, African, Caribbean, classical Indian, Irish, popular dance, jazz and hip-hop. Parson plays a pivotal role in the choreography for Ballet Creole and he endeavours to incorporate a fusion of cultures in all of the company’s performances.

Since then the company has progressed immensely and Ballet Creole’s professional group of dancers have performed to sold-out audiences at the Harbourfront’s DuMaurier and Fleck Dance theatres in Toronto, as well as theatres in St. Catharines and Hamilton over the past number of years.

Among the company’s acclaimed performances to date are “the Antagonist,” a collection of new and remounted works by some of Canada’s top choreographers including Parson’s “Trouchka,” which is a dance to Stravinsky’s classical score Petrouchka and “Soulful Messiah,” a culturally infused dance to the Quincy Jones R&B rendition of Handel’s Messiah.

It has not all been smooth sailing for Ballet Creole over the past 20 years though. On occasion, they have been forced to leave their premises and relocate to a new home as a result of noise complaints from local residents.

However, Parson is not easily deterred by this. For him it is all part of the journey. It is likely that he and Ballet Creole will continue to “bounce around” for another 20 years yet.

Tags: Arts · General