Review: Soulful Messiah (Ballet Creole)

Ballet Creole transforms Handel’s Messiah into a vibrant dance production at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre

Well folks, it’s that time of year again. That wonderful time when the city is aglow with festive decorations and holiday cheer. Since 2002, Soulful Messiah – a Ballet Creole production – has been a Christmas staple for many of Toronto’s dance aficionados.

Set to the Grammy Award-Winning album, Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, Soulful Messiah is a wonderfully vibrant and joyous production that’s guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit.

The idea to turn the critically acclaimed album into a theatrical dance production came to artistic director and lead choreographer, Patrick Parson, roughly 15 years ago.

“I listened to the album for several years, but one Christmas it just got stuck in my head,” explained Parson. “I’d be humming it all the time, and so I knew I had to put it to dance.”

The best way to describe this production’s choreography would be to use the word ‘thoughtful’, although that may be an understatement.

“The choreography was inspired by my past Christmases,” Parson said. “It’s an examination of my Catholic upbringing, my relationships with the women in my life and about becoming older and wiser.”

Indeed, there are several nods to religion within the performance, as well as to the intimacy between two lovers. But as you would expect from a Christmas production, the imagery never took a turn towards the lewd or outrageous. Rather, the way the male and female dancers portrayed several narratives of heartache and loss, hope and passion.

Parson marvelously combined traditional ballet techniques and tap dance with modern R&B flair. The result was a wonderfully paced spectacle without any downturns or moments that seemed to drag on. While there were a few occasions where all the dancers failed to move perfectly in sync, each individual dancer’s movements were clean, crisp and full of an undeniable energy that easily drew the audience in.

For this reviewer, there were three standout stars of the night.

There was no denying the mesmerizing swagger and commanding presence of Yuhala Muy Garcia. Her solo numbers were outstanding, and her passion translated perfectly in each and every movement. Benton Morris displayed the most showmanship. From his athletic acrobatics to the way he would always be in perfect harmony with each of his partners, Morris was one dancer you simply could not take your eyes off. The nod for the most technically brilliant dancer would have to go to guest dancer Karen Murray. Her body’s lines were always precise and perfectly formed.

It should, however, be noted that there were no weak performers. Every cast member brought something very unique and special to the stage, and much kudos should be given to Parson for casting each dancer according to his or her own strengths.

The night reached its pinnacle to – appropriately – the soulful rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. This piece alone made the night remarkable, and earned standing ovations from many audience members.

Living up to its name, Soulful Messiah is infectiously energetic and would make a welcome addition to any dance lover’s list of must-see Christmas productions.


Photo courtesy of Peter Lear.