THE TORONTO STAR Thursday November 7, 2002
Messiah with many moves
Ballet Creole launches second season tonight
by Susan Walker
Ballet Creole has been on its toes lately. The company has moved into new quarters, at 375 Dovercourt Rd.; it boasts a slick Website (www.balletcreole.org); and it has launched a second season. Tomorrow and Saturday night, at the Premiere Dance Theatre, Ballet Creole performs Soulful Messiah, a new dance that artistic director Patrick Parson hopes to perpetuate as the company's annual pre-Christmas offering. They also perform a show in the spring. The music is a recording made in 1992 and released as Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. It features and all-star choir, including the voices of Stephanie Mills, Johnny Mathis, Joe Sample, Gladys Knight, Linda Hopkins, and Chaka Khan. There are cuts from Stevie Wonder and Take 6 ("O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings"), Patti Austin ("But Who May Abide"), and Tramaine Hawkins ("And He Shall Purify") among others.
For Parson, the recording represented an opportunity to present a brief history of black dance from the 1930s forward. The choreography, he says, reflects "styles of music from gospel to swing to bebop to rhythm and blues, to hip hop- the whole gamut of black music."
A couple of months ago, Ballet Creole put up its horizontal banner on the fence in front of a former elementary school that also houses the West End Parents Daycare.
The company's expanding professionals, occupies a former gym with a small stage. They're building a second studio on the second floor of the building. For the opening celebrations, Parson put up an outdoor stage in the parking lot at back. New forms of funding, from the Trillium Foundation, Heritage Canada and the Canada Council's capacity-building program, have given the 12-year-old company the means to grow.
The school is important, says Parson, a Trinidad native, because "what we're trying to do is not commonly taught. There are lots of classical dancers, lots of modern dancers, but we need dancers who can go through all the genres. With the school, we can train the kind of dancers we need”.
The company's touring schedule shows them traveling as far away as Washington D.C. Parson expects the company and the school to attract more dancers from outside the country.
He is a certified teacher of a modern dance technique pioneered by the African American choreographer Katherine Dunham.
The "Creole" in the company's name is meant to convey Parson's commitment to mixing backgrounds. Now 44, Parson himself studied traditional dance, classical and modern ballet in Trinidad before coming to Canada 12 years ago to study at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and do a master's degree in dance at York University.
The line-up for Soulful Messiah reflects that commitment. Guest artist Daniela Eiko Thomaz is a modern dancer from Brazil; Ian Huggins is from St. Vincent and dances Latin American, hip-hop and jazz; James Williams specializes in urban dance styles; York graduate Kathleen Pyper is a modern dancer; Kayt Lucas has danced ballet and modern; Canadian-born Lee Anne Charlton was raised in Jamaica and trained in a variety of styles; Trinidadian Neketia Perez specializes in Afro-Caribbean dance. Nicole Pemberton and Merle Gonsalves are the remaining dancers.
The company will also perform a new work about women by Gabby Kamino, The Architecture Of Life.