Black Ballerina by Syreeta Hector playing at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) as part of the 2019 SummerWorks Festival, is visual storytelling at its finest.
Syreeta Hector exploits and expands on ballet training in this solo dance performance. She explores the complexities of her Black, Indigenous identity manifesting within the confines of a highly traditional, Eurocentric art form.
Hector’s choreography demonstrates an ingenious command of metaphor through movement. Over the course of what I would describe as a prelude and three movements, there is no talking while Hector uses a variety of metaphors to illustrate her themes.
She transforms her body into that of an octopus accompanied by what may be an Ozzy Man video describing an agitated, trapped octopus underwater. Later, she transforms herself into a music box.
At all times, the metaphors are intrinsically clear. Hector tells a story about finding liberation and constraint through ballet – expanding upon the art form by merging it with the dance traditions of her indigenous and black heritage. This story is also about the limitations of removing colonialism from the performer’s experience of the ballet tradition.
Hector’s dancing is captivating, and I felt like I didn’t blink the entire time she was on stage. For me, the most riveting passages were the solos accompanied by an A Tribe Called Red track and a hip hop track respectively.
Hector’s choreography seamlessly fuses the athleticism, fluidity and gracefulness of ballet, Indigenous and hip hop techniques. She weaves together a piece that joyfully and passionately expresses the richness of her identities.
There was an opportunity to ask questions at a formal Q & A, and informally in the café at The Theatre Centre after the performance, and I had several. Foremost among them had to do with the powder shower at the end of the show’s concluding music box piece.
Hector is doused with a fine mist of baby powder, a significant proportion of which lands in her natural, well-coifed hair. I stared in open-mouthed amazement as this occurred. As a Black woman, I couldn’t believe she was letting her hair get covered in the fine white mist. I remembered my mother’s outrage any time I came home with sand in my hair. This performance will clearly require daily shampooing, which is a 100% no-no for black haircare. What metaphor could possibly be this important, I wondered? Hector had a prompt and well-considered response, and the response completely resonated with my experience of the show while I watched it.
I was also curious as to why the show is called Black Ballerina. Hector is very vocal about her mixed Black and Indigenous heritage and both are clearly represented in the performance. Again, her response was quite thoughtful. She feels that Black ballerina is not a phrase one expects to hear, and the audience is immediately required to question why that is. She is also aware that she is interpreted as Black as she navigates society. Her Indigenous heritage is made invisible by the dominant discourse’s need to assign humans to a clear racial category.
Hector teaches dance at York University. In addition to two more performances of Black Ballerina, she has an upcoming collaborative production at Citadel + Compagnie. Go see Syreeta Hector dance.
This review is a snapshot of the first performance of a work-in-progress. The production is one of several pieces at the festival presented as part of the SummerWorks Lab programming introduced in 2019. The participants in SW Lab are still in the development process and will continue to evolve throughout the festival.
Black Ballerina plays at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
- Sunday August 11th 8:15pm – 9:00pm
- Wednesday August 14th 5:15pm – 6:00pm
- Sunday August 18th 5:30pm – 6:15pm