By Neil Armstrong
|Vivine Scarlett, founder and curator of dance Immersion, is the recipient of the Dance Ontario Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo contributed|
Vivine Scarlett, the founder and curator of dance Immersion, an organization important to dances of the African diaspora, is the recipient of the Dance Ontario Lifetime Achievement Award.
She has been active in the dance community for over 34 years and says her love for the arts started in her artistic family.
Her father is “a musician by love, welder by trade” who made sure that all of his children learnt to play an instrument.”
“But another thing which was great about my parents is they brought us to see a lot of things, and not just things from our culture but all cultures. We saw a lot of things. My dad played in a Country and Western band so we would go to Bluegrass festivals, but we went to operas, plays… They also carried us all over so if they were going to New York, they’d pack up their stationwagon with all six of us and we go down to the States; we go all over.”
Scarlett, who was born in the UK but came to Canada when she was quite small with her Jamaican parents, says she was not so much a musician as she was a mover.
“When it came time to go to university, I wanted to go to York to take dance but my parents didn’t feel dance was a real profession so I had to pick something else. And I picked a fashion career, but while I was doing that at Humber College I still took dance classes at various studios.”
She says when she was finished she jumped from job to job because she wanted to be in the arts, and so she seized the opportunities that came her way.
Scarlett was nominated for the lifetime achievement award by Kate Cornell and Kevin Ormsby.
"Ms. Scarlett's passion has manifested many experiences that have served Canadian artists of African descent with opportunities that have laid a foundation for continued growth and representation," says Cornell.
Awarded to those who have contributed significantly to the development of dance in this province, the presentation will take place on January 22 at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto.
“I did not do this by myself, it’s the whole community and without the assistance of everybody doing what they do we couldn’t get this. So as I accept this award I accept it on behalf of all of us,” says Scarlett.
Dance Ontario is key to Ontario's dance sector and provides management training, advice and industry information.Describing Scarlett as an “unsung leader deserving of recognition,” Ormsby says such arts leaders “move through communities at every moment providing the connections that influence generations past, present and future.”
He says his company, KasheDance’s first collaborator / co-choreographer for its most recent production, “FACING HOME: Love and Redemption,” was because of Scarlett’s foresight in seeing the company’s emergence on the national scene.
It was because of Scarlett’s influence that the International Blacks in Dance Conference (IABD), previously held only in the USA, was hosted by Toronto in 2012.
The late Rex Nettleford, co-founder of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC), was the keynote speaker.
She was a member of the Usafari Drum and Dance Ensemble started by Quammie Williams and Shani McKenzie Britt in the 80s.
When the group broke up, Britt passed the baton on to Scarlett whom she knew was very enthusiastic because it was West African dance.
“What it brought to me was more than just dance technique but there was a history, we sang songs in different languages, there were stories behind everything that we did. It gave me a sense of history that I didn’t get from anywhere else.”
The group performed at many cultural festivals but she wanted to bring things to the next level.
“Knocking on doors it was just like they were shocked because it was sort of not accepted as sort of real dance according to other people.”
This led her to wanting to know more about the dance and so she went to DanceWorks and Dance Ontario to share with them her idea for a dance showcase for people of African descent, whatever style they chose to do.
They mentored her and then she went on to Dance Umbrella of Ontario and also worked with Canadian Artists Network Black Artists in Action (CAN:BAIA).
All of these people had a role to play in her education about the administration of dance and helped to grow dance Immersion, which she founded 23 years ago.
Scarlett says what was also important was that she mentored someone else, Cassandra Belafonte, to take on what she was doing.
“What that has done is enable me to do other things, in terms of dance, and connecting us. It’s a lot of work, cause the day-to-day just bogs you down, and it’s very hard to sort of do those other things that are also important.”
She says its exciting times because there are all sorts of festivals and conferences in the Caribbean and on the continent of Africa with a lot of young people who are exploring dance.
“I’m working with Mercy [Nabiyre] in the UK, and our goal is really to get this global circuit going so that our dancers can connect with one another and connect with the organizations that already exist here in Canada so that we can really move forward. So it’s an ongoing project effort, lifestyle but I feel very blessed to be able to do that.”
Scarlett got her first professional job as a dance teacher from Jean Sheen, founder of Chissamba Chiyuka Arts Inc. from 1975-1996, the first Caribbean dance school in Ontario.