R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943)
(Library of Congress)
(Library of Congress)
[R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) is profiled at AfriClassical.com, which features a complete Works List by the late Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,
formerly of Lawrence University Conservatory.]
PETER TANG Members of Ballet Creole in Soulful Messiah, which will be danced to live music for the first time, provided by the Nathaniel Dett Chorale
Ballet Creole and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, two of Canada’s most prominent Afro-centric performing arts organizations, are combining forces in a celebration of the season that promises audiences a fresh perspective on one of Western music’s most hallowed works, Handel’s Messiah.
Each Toronto company has hitherto presented its own holiday-season concert. For the internationally acclaimed chorale, founded in 1998 by director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, it is Indigo Christmas, featuring an evolving repertoire of seasonally themed music. It’s long been a popular fixture on the chorale’s annual events calendar.
For more than a decade, Ballet Creole, founded by choreographer director Patrick Parson in 1990, has been devoting its annual December appearance at Harbourfront Centre to Soulful Messiah, a colourful dance extravaganza inspired by and performed to Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, the celebrated 1992 gospel album. Now, for the first time, Ballet Creole will dance Soulful Messiah to live music.
“I’ve always been making changes to Soulful Messiah along the way, just to keep it fresh,” Parson says, “but at the back of my mind there was always this thought that I’d just love to do it with live music. It’s a different energy and gives it a whole different quality because we’ll be playing off each other.”
The 20-plus chorale members, along with a supporting five-piece band led by Anthony Wright, will share the Fleck Dance Theatre stage with 10 Ballet Creole artists. It’s going to be a tight fit but well worth the various staging challenges, Parson says. Initially they had considered finding a larger stage but decided the advantages of the prestigious Harbourfront Centre venue outweighed its space limitations.
“It does mean some compromises, but while you lose one thing you gain something else,” Parson says.
Parson and Blyden-Taylor were both born in Trinidad and share a passionate desire to celebrate and nurture their Afro-Caribbean heritage.
Given its reputation, Parson targeted the Nathaniel Dett Chorale as an ideal musical collaborator and first approached Blyden-Taylor several years ago, inviting him to attend Soulful Messiah. There were intense discussions, but plans fell by the wayside until, this year, Blyden-Taylor suggested the time was right.
An Indigo Christmas . . . Soulful Messiah is at the Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W., Dec. 4-6; harbourfrontcentre.com or 416-973-4000