Review: Soulful Messiah (Ballet Creole)

Ballet Creo;e's production of Soulful Messiah at harbourfront

Soulful Messiah Lights up the Harbourfront Stage: “Passionate, Joyful and Uplifting”

Ballet Creole’s Soulful Messiah opened at Harbourfront as part of the NextSteps dance series last night. What a wonderful way to start winter and the holiday season. Passionate, joyful, and uplifting, it left me feeling happy, a great way to feel.

Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, the 1992 Grammy Award winning compilation album, was the inspiration for choreographer Patrick Parson. He’s worked on the ballet for almost 20 years adding new segments over time.

The music is an interpretation of Handel’s Messiah using African American musical genres – spirituals, blues, soul, ragtime, big band, jazz, R & B, and hip hop; definitely not your usual Messiah, but Soulful Messiah isn’t your usual holiday ballet. The dancing all has it’s roots in African American dance. It’s world music in the best sense.

Parson’s ballet includes some Christian religious symbol but it isn’t a religious piece like a traditional Messiah. It’s emotional and spiritual, portraying hope, grief, sadness, expectation, and joy. The second act is exuberantly joyful. The eight dancers wear white and red, instead of the black and red they wear in the first act, and they literally soar.

The range of the dance forms and the dancers’ talent is impressive; ballet one minute, hip hip the next, with a bit of jazz connecting them. These are very talented dancers.

I feel a bit nit-picky saying this but they don’t always manage to synchronize their movements. There were a couple of places early on where it broke the mood for me and I found myself very aware of it for the rest of the ballet. It took some of my attention away from the work as a whole.

The ballet is performed on a bare stage. The set is really Brad Trenaman’s lighting. This is the first performance I’ve ever seen where I thought that the lighting should get a performer credit. There were times when it was front and centre as part of the dances.

I’m a fool for tap so I have to admit that my favourite part of the ballet was David Cox’s brilliant tap dancing. That man loves to dance and it shows.

My favourite parts of the evening were the multiracial dancers and audience. It felt like a true reflection of the city, something that seems to be missing in theatre.

Dance intimidates me a bit. I find it difficult to write about something that is, to me, so visual and that I really don’t know much about. I have to remind myself that there’s no test at the end and that I’m never going to appreciate the nuances if I avoid going. And the truth is, it wasn’t intimidating at all once I got there.

If you aren’t sure about dance see Soulful Messiah, it’s a good place to start.

Of course you may have to wait until next year. There are only two more performances, both today.

Details:

  • Soulful Messiah is playing at the Fleck Dance Centre ( 207 Queen’s Quay West) until November 29th
  • Performances at 2 pm and 8 pm today
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-973-4000, and at the box office
  • Ticket prices range from $25 to $45

Photo of the cast of Soulful Messiah