Fall for Dance North and Harbourfront Centre have announced the world premiere of their co-commissioned digital short film TESSEL on June 1, 2021. A national initiative conceptualized by Dora-nominated choreographer and dancemaker Esie Mensah (Shades, A Revolution of Love), the film brings 14 Black dancemakers together in a vital conversation on what it means to be an artist in this moment. Premiering across the country by leading dance presenters on the one-year anniversary of Blackout Tuesday – a day when organizations worldwide publicly expressed their commitment towards institutional change to support the Black community – the film aims to amplify Black voices by providing a platform for these artists to share their truths.
“2020 was a year of exhaustion, frustration, weariness and rage for so many. It was a year where we were all forced to watch and absorb how horrific the circumstances have been and continue to be,” says Esie Mensah, who directed and performs in TESSEL. “I wanted to challenge this global discourse on race. I wanted to create a new pathway that didn’t always focus on our traumas but highlighted our victories. I felt compelled to take action. There is an honesty that is needed to push conversations into action; it is my hope that the film will be a catalyst, sparking further conversation and opening minds and hearts towards empathy and understanding.”
“Last June, individuals and artists from around the globe – including my team at Fall for Dance North, our co-commissioners Harbourfront Centre, and so many of my colleagues – made a promise to be better allies. To use our position and our privilege to support the Black artistic community,” says Ilter Ibrahimof, Artistic Director, FFDN. “This project represents one such action, as we use our resources and energies to showcase Black excellence in Canadian dance and support the work of Esie – a creator we esteem greatly.”
Adds Nathalie Bonjour, Director, Performing Arts at Harbourfront Centre: “We are grateful to Esie and her incredible team for their openness and excitement to engage in this work with us – and look forward not only to future artistic collaborations, but also to having honest conversations and acknowledging equity and inclusion blind spots in our systems, operations, and structures.”
FFDN and Harbourfront Centre initiated the co-commission with Mensah as part of their ongoing commitment to supporting Black creative voices in Canada, a cause whose need became urgently clear during the historic events of 2020. In the spirit of open collaboration, a national call was put out to Canadian dance presenters to join in by financially contributing to the initiative TESSEL, with 15 such groups committing to the project.
TESSEL explores the complexities of movement and voice as a form of resilience – and to achieve truth and honesty in sharing its participants’ lived experience as Black dance artists.
To create space for authenticity, the unique creation process, driven by Mensah, began as an intimate and intense seven-hour conversation amongst the creators. This conversation saw the artists discussing their relationships to ritual, rage, exhaustion, self-care, rest, and futurism. Leading out of this, the artists were encouraged to move in ways inspired by the themes and ideas that had emerged. The resulting vision is kaleidoscopic, interweaving such diverse movement styles as ballet, street dance, West African, tap, and much more. Filmed independently, the artists come together through editing, their footage overlapping and flowing together to represent the interconnectedness and power of their collective voice.
TESSEL will include English and French subtitles and will feature the following dancemakers from across the country:
Eugene “GeNie” Baffoe, Winnipeg (Hip Hop)
Livona Ellis, Vancouver (Ballet)
Kevin Fraser, Vancouver (Contemporary, Experimental, Interdisciplinary Arts)
Alexandra “Spicey” Landé, Montréal (Street Dance)
Gabrielle Martin, Vancouver (Contemporary, Aerial circus/acrobatics)
Esie Mensah, Toronto (Afrofusion)
Raoul Pillay, Toronto (Jazz, House, Hip Hop)
Natasha Powell, Toronto (Jazz)
Liliona Quarmyne, Halifax (African, Contemporary)
Lua Shayenne, Toronto (West African, Contemporary)
Crazy Smooth, Ottawa (Streetdance)
Ronald A. Taylor, Toronto (Contemporary, Afro Caribbean)
Lisa La Touche, Calgary (Tap)
Ravyn Wngz, Toronto (Burlesque, Waacking, Vogue, Contemporary)
The creative team includes: Wayne Burns, Producer; Sonya Mwambu, Editor; Samson Bonkeabantu Brown, Spiritual Advisor; Meg Roe, Sound Designer; Kobena Aquaa-Harrison, Composer; Kwasi Obeng, Assistant Director; and Nicole Hamilton, Facilitator.
Co-Presenting Partners include (as of April 26, 2021): dance Immersion (Toronto), Canadian Stage (Toronto), Citadel + Compagnie (Toronto), Danse Danse (Montréal ), Live Art Dance (Halifax), National Arts Centre (Ottawa), Ontario Presents Network, TO Live (Toronto), The CanDance Network, Crimson Coast Dance (Nanaimo), dance: made in Canada/fait au Canada (Toronto), DanceWorks (Toronto), Dusk Dances (Toronto), King’s Theatre (Annapolis Royal), and Public Energy Performing Arts (Peterborough).
TESSEL premieres on Tuesday June 1, 2021 and will be streaming free at: www.tessel.film
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