Review: Soulful Messiah (Ballet Creole/Harbourfront Centre NextSteps)

Ballet Creole presents refreshing and engaging tap sequences in Soulful Messiah at Toronto’s Fleck Dance Theatre

I was really excited to go see Ballet Creole’s Soulful Messiah at the Fleck Dance Theatre on Friday night. I have a lot of respect for artistic director Patrick Parson. I was thinking that it would be a great way to start the Christmas season. Sadly, I didn’t find the evening as enjoyable as I had hoped.

Soulful Messiah is a combination of African-Caribean dance, ballet, jazz, contemporary and tap dance. The full-length work is set to Handel’s Messiah – A Soulful Celebration. Parson’s movement is meant to express and compliment the joyous nature of the music.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed this show, but I didn’t feel as much joy while watching as the dancers were expressing. Parson’s dancers are strong, technically proficient performers. As a dancer myself I was very impressed with their physical abilities. I just really struggled to follow the structure of the work.

I tend to love when artists meld different dance disciplines. Dancers who can master this style of work are also people I regard quite highly. On the flip side though, sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. That’s how I felt while watching Soulful Messiah: overwhelmed.

My guest and I both agreed that guest artist David Cox’s tap sequences were by far our favourite part of the show. He was refreshing and engaging. We just weren’t clear as to how he fit into the rest of the show. His role was very contrasting to everything else included in the performance.

Overall, I felt very unclear as to what was going on. The choreography was constantly shifting between styles of movement and energy levels. These shifts were exciting, but I also found them confusing. Enthusiasm and joy are great things to see on stage, but clarity can really help enhance those expressions. I wish Soulful Messiah had been easier for me to find clarity in.

I hope that as Soulful Messiah continues to develop, it can become a more unified body of work. The idea of a contemporary dance Christmas tradition is something I personally find thrilling, and it would be great if Soulful Messiah could grow to become just that kind of experience. Personally though, it currently wasn’t quite there yet for me.