Exploring identity through contemporary dance

Syreeta Hector performs Black Ballerina in Winnipeg

Syreeta Hector’s original work Black Ballerina explores the artist’s heritage in relation to her current dance practice.

(David Leyes, Supplied photo)

Historically, dance companies have looked for certain physical qualities: height, weight, body shape and skin colour. Syreeta Hector, a Toronto-based dancer and choreographer, is attempting to bring awareness to this elitism in the ballet world.

Hector’s work Black Ballerina is a culmination of her personal experience and research regarding identity, society and history. The work focuses on Hector’s Mi’kmaq, African American and Acadian heritage, in relation to her current dance practice. Her upcoming show in Winnipeg will be the first time she has performed the piece in Manitoba.

A visual representation of identity that Hector incorporates into the work is the use of a single sneaker and a ballet slipper.

“I hope that I am illustrating the pushes and pulls that one feels between two different identities, but also how ballet and street dance can come together, or if it will ever be together,” Hector says.

Hector speaks about her love of a variety of dance styles, including street dance and ballet. Although Black Ballerina is identified as a contemporary work, she incorporates elements of different styles throughout her piece.

Jolene Bailie is the artistic director of the Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers, which is featuring Hector’s work as a part of their season. Bailie believes choosing contemporary dance as the main style for this specific work makes complete sense.

“One of the beauties of contemporary dance is that, typically, the ideas on stage are coming right out of the creator’s imagination,” Bailie says. “It often includes movement, invention. There aren’t the same codified steps as there are in other dance forms.”

She explains how contemporary dance intertwines with the concept of identity and not fitting a singular style or mould.

“This exploration gets the conversations started and takes us on a journey that will ask us to look inside ourselves,” Bailie says.

“By listening and witnessing these shared stories, we have another perspective to guide our own lives and our own choices and just reflect.”

Black Ballerina has been a work in progress since 2017 and has only become more personal as time goes on.

Hector says it has taken her a long time to be able to be where she is right now, in regard to speaking out about how discouraged she felt as a BIPOC in the world of classical ballet.

“I started this project for me,” Hector says. “I am less scared to say my real opinions and truths now. I would just rather be brave.”

Black Ballerina is a 40-minute solo work that has been performed internationally and livestreamed due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Black Ballerina will be performed at the Rachel Browne Theatre on Nov. 26, 27 and 28 at 8 p.m. and on Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. There will be an artist talk following the final performance. Tickets are available at eventbrite.ca.

Published in Volume 76, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 12, 2021)

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