Ballet Creole performs at River Run Centre
Not all ballets are classical affairs, with an audience hushed as dancers in tights and leotards move delicately to the sounds of a classical orchestra.
On Feb. 17 at the River Run Centre, Guelph got a taste of a different type of ballet – the kind that gets your feet tapping, your hands clapping, and even got The Ontarion’s reporter and photographer up on stage. The “Heart of Cuba” performed by the Ballet Creole company brought a taste of the island to a snowy Canadian winter as part of the Guelph Mercury Family Series.
“I wanted to show the dancing of Cuba on the main stage,” Patrick Parson, founder of Ballet Creole, told the audience.
“Ballet” is a particular type of dance with origins in France’s courts dating back to the 1500s and 1600s, while “Creole” is a term that means “native to the locality” and refers to people born and raised in the Caribbean, but of mixed European and African descent. The two terms that make up the name of the company aptly described the River Run performance.
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“I ventured to pioneer a company that would take people like me – black dancers – on the main stage doing our traditional dance and modern and contemporary dance,” said Parson in an interview. Starting Ballet Creole in 1990, the founder decided to focus the company’s latest subset on Cuba after returning from the island to Toronto.
“I noticed that there are Cubans here with the music, but not dance itself as a whole production.”
In its second year of touring, the ballet infused the auditorium with the rhythms of Cuba through acrobatic dance and drumming. The four-member band used various drums to create different beats to accompany their chanting and singing. At first, the music seemed not very relatable to a majority of the audience, especially those of the younger generation. However, the dancers in colourful costumes inspired the viewer to get lost in the movements and try to discover the story behind the energetic dance.
“I keep delving deeper into the music and every year discover something new that allows me to refine or develop the choreography,” Parson said in the production pamphlet. The founder made special mention of his colleague Yuhala Garcia, a Cuban-born performer, who was very instrumental in the creation of the choreography.
The four dancers moved through the aisles of the audience during the second song, showing both the fluidity and complexities of the dances up close and personal. Their hip-moving, shoulder-shaking, and skirt-flapping techniques brought vibrancy to the stage.
“We try to show the heartfelt expressions of Cuban people,” said Parson. “We have Cuban dancers and musicians to keep the traditions intact.”
Parson, on stage as part of the band, greatly encouraged audience participation. Nearing the end, kids and parents alike joined the performers on stage, and through moves inspired by Spanish flamenco and African dance, they were transported to the sunny island nation, if only for a moment.
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