It is so important to remain humble and grounded and to understand that you are an artist in a craft, and the world for which you are creating this craft is ever-changing and shifting. Be open-minded and willing to make mistakes as you explore and grow as an artist.

Picture of several dancers in action, their dresses flaring

Dancers in a Ballet Creole production

In this Q&A, Natassia Parson, general manager of Ballet Creole, tells us about the dance company’s upcoming production of Tounkande, presented in honour of Black History Month in February and will be touring in major venues as well as schools. Fusing Afro-Carribean dance aesthetics with European dance traditions, you can experience their performances as part of the free concert series at the Canadian Opera Company on March 5, 2013. Don’t miss it if you are in the area!

Tell us about yourself. What is your interest or involvement in the performing arts?

I grew up in a performing arts family, and the interest started from early on. I have been dancing since the age of four and performing since the age of 10. I majored in dance in high school. Then in my post-secondary education, I deviated from dance and graduated from Seneca College’s Creative Advertising program. I ultimately made the decision to focus on arts management so that I could stimulate my artistic side and my business/marketing side.

Tell us about Ballet Creole. What principles or mandate was it founded on?

Ballet Creole was founded on the principles of “Diversity in Harmony Creating a New Energy.” The idea was to create opportunities for African and Caribbean traditions to interact with European dance traditions and present this “fusion” in professional settings and on professional stages. As a dance organization, we have been active on the dance scene for 23 years, and are composed of a professional dance and touring company (The Company) and a school of performing arts that offers professional and recreational classes (The School).

We have been carving out our own uniquely Canadian dance tradition. Our mandate is as follows:

  • Preserve and perpetuate traditional and contemporary African culture and increase awareness of the rich African culture that exists in Canada.
  • Establish a dynamic, new Canadian artistic tradition based on a fusion of diverse dance and music traditions.
  • Promote multicultural understanding through education and quality entertainment to national and international audiences.

Can you tell us about your upcoming production of Tounkande and give highlights of upcoming projects?

Tounkande, which means “gathering of the people,” is a new production that we will be touring in schools and theatres across Southern Ontario during Black History Month. This bold new work seeks to rediscover West Africa through the power of drum and movement. Originally, the piece was just going to be done for this year, but due to overwhelming response from schools and presenters, we decided that it will become our annual Black History Month presentation, and we hope to take it beyond Ontario to other parts of Canada.

Some other projects we have coming up are our two main productions: our annual Spring Dance Season (this year entitled River) and our annual holiday production, Soulful Messiah. We present in Toronto every year at the Fleck Dance Theatre and recently toured Soulful Messiah, so look out for more touring in Ontario and abroad in 2013.

What do you see as the main challenges for the performing arts in general and dance in particular?

Funding remains the number one challenge within not just the performing arts but the arts in general. Competition for government grants increases as new companies, organizations, and collectives crop up each year, and securing annual operating money is increasingly challenging in this economy.

That being said, as a dance organization that represents a clear visible minority and presents works with African influences, we face another major challenge of combating the preconception that we are a “cultural” group. We strive to be recognized as a professional contemporary dance company rather than be put into the box of a “black” dance company.

Could you share some examples of the kinds of challenges that you have experienced and how they were overcome?

Recently, one of our biggest challenges was in finding a new location to call home. In early 2012 we lost a space that had served as the base for our office and studios for 10 years. Thankfully, we were able to find temporary locations to run our programming and are looking for more permanent options so that we can once again have a “home.”

We were able to land on our feet coming out of the sudden move, thanks to a small but dedicated administrative team and our board of directors. The move helped us in many ways to also start to rebuild and restructure our infrastructure as we move into another decade.

What advice would you give to emerging performing artists?

My words of advice for an emerging performing artist is to always be a student. As an artist, you are constantly learning, whether it is new choreography or from a new experience, or learning to work with a new company. It is so important to remain humble and grounded and to understand that you are an artist in a craft, and the world for which you are creating this craft is ever-changing and shifting. Be open-minded and willing to make mistakes as you explore and grow as an artist.

If this Q & A peaked your interest, check back later for a more in-depth piece with Natassia Parson and Ballet Creole.

In the meantime, here are some links to excerpts of Ballet Creole’s dance productions and a highlight video so you can see their dancers in action:
Holiday production of Soulful Messiah
Spring Season 2012, Ritual