Forefront: 4 people dance on stage with arms lifted. Background: two people play drums.

The Eclectic Ballet Creole

September 18, 2020

For the past 10-years Culture Days has worked in partnership with the Toronto Public Library to showcase the many forms of arts and culture programming found across the city. This year we will be featuring five artistic programs as part of Culture Days @ Toronto Public Library.

 Ballet Creole’s Patrick Parson and one of his principal dancers, Yuhala Garcia, are among our featured artists for Culture Days @ Toronto Public Library. I sat down with them recently to try and wrap my head around Ballet Creole and understand their personal connections with the practice.

You can’t quite put your finger on Ballet Creole. It’s fluid, a shapeshifter transforming with every new person, place, and practice it comes into contact with. Ever in flux, but always captivating, its thrived for thirty years under the guiding hand of its founder Patrick Parson.

Ballet Creole started in 1990, when Patrick Parson, a professional dancer hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, looked around the Toronto dance scene and felt something was missing. Toronto was becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse every day, but that wasn’t necessarily reflected in the “mainstream” performing arts, despite popular demand for a fresh approach.

Patrick: “I looked around and I didn’t see anyone like me on stage. There was no dance company that was putting our work into the mainstream theatres. There was nothing drawing on the experience of people from the diaspora doing dances that drew from culturally diverse, folkloric tradition, on the level of the National Ballet or the Symphony.”

Patrick recognized the opportunity when he saw it, and seized the initiative. Working on “pure passion and drive,” Patrick brought together dancers who “wanted to learn something different,” forming the basis for Ballet Creole. The name itself, “Ballet Creole,” would come a little later, when Patrick says it came to him “like in a dream,” embodying the notion of different cultures coming together to create something new. At its core, Ballet Creole brings together African, Caribbean, and Western dancing traditions, but remains open to every new influence in comes across.

And Ballet Creole is new, but it’s also very familiar. You may not know what you’re getting into when you go to watch a Ballet Creole performance, but you will always find something familiar.

Yuhala: “We touch so many particular styles of dance from hip-hop to jazz to modern and more. We draw on the folklore and tradition from many countries. Ballet Creole, even though it touches cultures from Africa, the Caribbean and so many other places, but it still has its own spice. People can come to a show and when they see it they go ‘Oh! I’ve seen Ballet Creole before.’”

Ballet Creole’s roots are very much in the Caribbean, and it’s there that the collision of cultures began to create means for expression through movement.

Patrick: “You already had the Spanish and the African influences there in the Caribbean, and we must not forget the Indigenous people who were there as well. All of these traditions from across the Caribbean islands came with people who were travelling to and from Cuba, Haiti, etc. So many different peoples came together bringing their rhythmic structures, body aesthetics, and flow to create a new kind of language. It’s the vocabulary of the people.”

It’s a universal language, allowing dancer and spectator to communicate in a deeply profound way. It’s also a language that enriches the experiences of its practitioners. For both Patrick and Yuhala, the practice of Ballet Creole certainly changed them for the better.

Yuhala“It’s helped me grow as a friend, a dancer, a mother, a teacher… And it always makes you shine. No matter your training, when you do Ballet Creole, it’s like you’re dusting yourself off and doing something fresh.”

Patrick“I got to see myself on stage, not knowing how it would lead to my growth into a composer, a historian, a choreographer, and an academic. And I’m still learning after 30 years!”

Both Patrick and Yuhala clearly feel Ballet Creole has made a significant difference in their lives, and from our discussion, it became apparent that they felt that from their earliest days practicing it.

Yuhala“I will always remember the first time I went on stage with Ballet Creole. It was my first time performing outside of Cuba, and my first time connecting with so many people outside of Cuba. It was an incredible experience.”

Patrick“I remember when we were hired by the Harbourfront Centre to do a performance outside. I went backstage to get ready and when I came back out there were so many people that it was like Woodstock! I felt like I needed a bodyguard because people were so excited that they were swarming us. That was the same year we founded Ballet Creole!”

Future Programming

Performers from Ballet Creole will combine structured contemporary dance technique with the physicality of traditional movements derived from the African Diaspora. Discover the dance traditions and their surrounding folklore through a live demonstration, movement tutorial, and a Q&A with the performers.

Save the Date: Oct 1st, 6-7 pm
Learn more about this program here. 

About the Artist

Ballet Creole was founded in 1990 by Patrick Parson, a Trinidadian-born dancer, choreographer, drummer and educator. The company is committed to creating a dance legacy in Canada through performance and educational projects. Ballet Creole’s versatile dancers and musicians perform traditional and contemporary dance and music from around the world, with a particular emphasis on the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.

This program is supported by the Ontario Arts Council