Toute Baghai - a little bit of everything
Making Waves alternates with the Long view in this space
by Carol Anderson
"I don't try to do fusion, my life is fusion, I am fusion" says Patrick Parson. Contemporary dance, he continues, is a dynamic culture, which takes thing and grows them. "Fusion", he says, "is essential to growth."
Parson's childhood in Trinidad was a kaleidoscope of cultural influences - African, Chinese, Spanish, Indian - often expressed through music. Dance, he says, was always something he did in childhood, dancing at "the gap", the gate outside his house: "That was me."
Growing up, he studied ballet, considered a prestigious dance form, while influences of traditional dance and music came to him through his village's cultural group. He credits Best Village Festivals" a cultural initiative of some thirty year's duration started by Prime Minister Eric Williams, with sparking Trinidad's creativity in dance trough promoting the presentation of traditional work in competitive performances.
"I was trained in classical ballet, but my expression reflects everyday life," Parson says. He came to Canada in 1988 to broaden his dance knowledge,studying at Ryerson and graduating from the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Modern and traditional dance are both close to the earth,
he notes, and he moves happily in both
worlds. Though Parson has studied in many styles, significantly Graham, Horton and Limon, and recently has been exploring the Katharine Dunham technique, he resists codification. Because of his background in a culture "where things come together", there is a natural inclusiveness to his aesthetic and his way of seeing.
In 1990 Parson started Ballet Creole in response to his own artistic needs and to his conviction that new cross-cultural forms needed a forum in Toronto. "It was the right time," and Ballet Creole enjoyed phenomenal success at its inception, with first performances at WOMAD (World Music and Dance, a Harbourfront festival of the early 1990s) and at the Premiere Dance Theatre.
Since then, his company has both flourished and struggled with the usual financial difficulties. "Dance is young in Canada," he says, and his own passion for choreography, performance and education is unwavering. An accomplished drummer, he is also the musical director of the Creole Musical Ensemble. The Ballet Creole School of performing Arts offers classes in music and dance for all ages.
For Ballet Creole's spring 2002 season, Parson is creating a new work titled Urban Griot, with strands of "toute baghai - a little bit of everything." Gabby Kamino, a long-time friend and collaborator, also creates work for Ballet Creole. Parson says of his choreography, with a smile, "I try to be as brilliant as I can, by learning as much as possible." He credits David Earle, Trish Beatty, Peter Randazzo, Terrill Maguire and Christopher House as important influences; Danny Grossman as a mentor and friend. The work of Garth Fagan and Alvin Ailey and his experience with Astor Johnson also resonate in Parson's choreography. Parson has recently returned from a study sojourn in Trinidad and Cuba, assisted by grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, to expand his horizons and refresh connections to his sources of inspiration. He cites Paula Citron's article in the February 2001 Dance magazine, "Black Dance in Toronto: A New Voice in the Global Village," as highly significant. Before its appearance, he says, "Black dance in Canada was missing from the world news."
Patrick Parson, drummer, educator, choreographer and dancer, began his studies at the Caribbean School of Dance and the Dance Academy of Trinidad and Tobago. He toured internationally with the Astor Johnson Repertory Dance Theatre of Trinidad, performing and teaching. A graduate of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, he also studied at Ryerson. In Toronto, Parson worked with Benoit Lachambre, Dancemakers, the Flaming Dono Drum and Dance Ensemble and with Shula Saltzman. In 1990 he started Ballet Creole to serve his commitment to preserving traditional Caribbean dance and his own choreography. Parson regularly works in the Ontario educational system, giving workshops and lecture demonstrations. He holds an MFA in dance ethnology from York University, where he currently teaches in the dance program. In recognition of his pioneering work, he has received the Entrepreneurial Award of Merit from the African Caribbean Chamber of Commerce and the New Pioneers Award from Skills for change.