A Canadian ballet company is celebrating Black choreographers in Toronto this weekend.
Black Canadian choreographers Katlyn Addison, Jose Angel Carret and Mafa Makhubalo will be showcasing never before seen works they created in 2020, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts – Toronto, from May 25-27.
The dance routines commissioned by Ballet Jörgen for “A Celebration of Black Canadian Choreographers” were created over the past three years, but the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with the company’s ability to present them to the world.
Tickets to each night of the three-day event range from $32.50 to $83.90.
This event will mark the first time the following routines will be performed:
- “Dream Talker” choreographed by Jose Angel Carret, with music “Okarche” by NEXUS
- “Dialogue” by Mafa Makhubalo and music by Koukou by Traditional African Music
- “There Were TWO” by Katlyn Addison and composed by Jonathan Sanford
Ballet Jörgen is Canada’s preeminent touring ballet company and was founded over 35 years ago. The company has since commissioned 229 works by 94 choreographers and aims to reflect Canadian identity in their programming.
Celebrating Black choreographers is one of the ways Jörgen is continuing the tradition of telling Canadian stories, as Black dancers rarely have spaces dedicated to highlighting their creativity and contributions to the ballet industry.
Born in Ontario, Katlyn Addison began journeying through her love of dance at the age of 10, after her parents put her in dance classes once they saw her prancing around as a young girl.
She later went on to attend and train at some of the world’s best ballet schools: Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet, and Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy. She has won countless awards, including the Sarah Chapin Langham Award at Youth America Grand Prix.
“I was 16, turning 17 years old and I got into Houston Ballet. And that’s huge in the ballet world, because nowadays, a lot of dancers do not get a job opportunity until they’re in their early 20s. And then after that, I got into and danced with Houston Ballet for about seven years,” she told Now Toronto on Wednesday.
In 2021, Addison went on to become the first Black female Principal Artist at Ballet West in its then 58-year history.
“It’s crazy to think that I’m a trailblazer in classical ballet as the first Black female principal dancer with Ballet West. Ballet West is one of the original companies that started years ago,” she recalls her accomplishments thus far.
“I went to Houston because when I was here in Canada, I didn’t see anybody that looked like me. There was one other dancer in the school of the National Ballet at the time, and now she’s a principal dancer with the National Ballet Canada,” she continued.
“…Honestly being in Canada, I wasn’t able to see, there was no representation of anyone of colour…I know there are a lot more dancers in Canada of colour, but are they getting the same exposure? Some are, some I may not even personally know of.”
However, Addison is grateful to Ballet Jörgen for the upcoming celebration.
“The ballet world is changing and growing, but it’s great to be a part of a program that wants to highlight choreographers of colour,” she said.
On working on “There Were TWO” with Sanford, Addison says, “It was fun, exciting for us because we were two newbies who haven’t worked together before. And we’re just exploring the possibilities.”
Although Black ballet dancers and choreographers were few and far between in Canada when Addison began her career, she hopes to pave the way for the future of ballerinas who look like her.
“I’m very thankful that I’ve been given these opportunities so that I can hopefully inspire the next generation, especially ones that look like me to know they can be successful as a dancer, you know?”
Find tickets to “A Celebration of Black Canadian Choreographers” here.