By Lincoln DePradine
Theatre arts have always been a vehicle for not just entertainment, but also tackling serious societal issues. And this is reinforced in “Woke’’, which is about to make its stage debut in Toronto.
“Woke’’ is being presented as part of the anniversary celebrations of Ballet Creole, whose choreographer and artistic director is Trinidad-born Patrick Parson.
Since 1990, Ballet Creole has been part of the Canadian arts and culture landscape, creating, preserving and presenting dance pieces that members say “testify to the rich heritage of African and Caribbean cultures as they interface with European traditions’’.
The group’s anniversary event is titled, “Naningo Calling’’. The production, commemorating Ballet Creole’s 30 year in dance, was originally scheduled for 2020 – the year of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – but was postponed.
“Naningo Calling celebrates Ballet Creole’s impact and legacy,’’ Parson said in an interview. “The dance season production endeavours to welcome peers and audiences to revel in the connections the company has made in its 30-year history – from community and local government, to professional stages at home and abroad, and the training of aspiring dancers around the world.’’
Apart from the brand new “Woke’’, the upcoming presentation by Ballet Creole also will feature three other works from the company’s three decades-long repertoire, “showing the positivity of many dances and the cultural expression of the Caribbean in music, song and dance’’, said Parson.
The three artistic pieces are “Breaking Out’’, which was first produced by Parson 2006; the 2018 “Congo Laye’’ by guest choreographer Arsenio Andrade, and a 2004 collaborative work, “Dancing Spirits’’, choreographed by Parson, Brazil-born Newton Moraes and Consuelo Herrero, who is originally from Cuba.
Described as “powerful”, Woke, choreographed by Parson, will be on stage for the first time. Through spoken word, dance and video imagery, he attempts to evoke “awareness, reflection, empowerment, and hope’’.
“Woke’’ has been “inspired by injustice portrayed in recent world events’’, said Parson. “There’s less injustice when you do art,’’ he told The Caribbean Camera.
Parson, asked about the highlight of Ballet Creole’s journey over the past 30 years, said it’s been the diverse, multicultural space Canada affords art performers such as Ballet Creole.
“We, as Diaspora people, are able to voice ourselves artistically. That’s my highlight – that we are able to express ourselves artistically,’’ he said. “We are able to show that the performing arts are a viable, professional career path for a lot of people; and people can actually be artistes and live off of it.’’
“Naningo Calling’’ is this Friday to Sunday, October 27 – 29, at York University’s Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre. There will be a simultaneous livestream of the production on Saturday.