My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Artivist Rodney Diverlus brings Two to See to Footsteps Across Canada

by Drew Rowsome -

"Dance for me is a communication mode," says dancer/choreographer/activist Rodney Diverlus. "I'm a storyteller. Let me tell you one . . ." Diverlus is presenting a new story, Two to See, as part of Dance Immersion's Footsteps Across Canada. "I wanted to create a piece about how we use language to avoid listening to each other. How relationships between people have failed and not been resurrected, because someone said something they then wanted to take back. It's rooted in my experiences, personally and politically, of the importance and power of words and language. Words can be empowering, or they can be traumatizing."

Diverlus has experience with both kinds of words. As he writes in a piece, which I highly recommend everyone to click on the link and read in its entirety, Radicalizing Dance: Confessions of an "Artivist":

I am a dancer. I am an activist. I am an actor. I am a performance artist. I am black. I am poor. I am young. I am a student. I am Haitian. I am Caribbean. I am an immigrant. I believe in dreams. I believe that if you are a good person, who does good things, the universe can still mess with you. I believe that family is relative and is what you make of it. I believe that education, at all levels, is a fundamental right. I believe that the single greatest thing you can do for a child is introduce them to dance. I believe that there would be less hate in the world if everyone danced more. I believe that dance has saved my life.

Diverlus laughs when I bring the piece up and claims it was written when he was a passionate young man. It was written three years. And Diverlus is still a passionate young man. He claims Toronto as home but spends most of the year dancing for Calgary's Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. "I know, I know," he says, "A black, queer, Caribbean man living here . . ." But activist habits persist, even in Cowtown, Stampede City. As a Torontonian he not only danced his way to graduate from Ryerson University's Performance Dance Program, but he also took time to be elected president of the Ryerson Students' Union, create Queering Black History Month, be an integral force in Pride Toronto, have a residency at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and found the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter.

"There are some challenges here," he says of Calgary. "It's more personal and on a smaller scale. The QPAC community needs work. There are queer people and black/brown people but nowhere to intersect. We have to push and push for small victories, it's very grassroots. It'll get better over the next few years but it's still predominantly a macho, white, corporate, male-dominated culture. Fortunately, though I live here, I'm still plugged into Toronto. Technology connects us in so many great ways, I can still do community work. I'm pan-Canadian."

The passionate young man has a lot to say, all of it fascinating and frighteningly relevant, but the point of this interview is to promote Two to See. "It's so great that Dance Immersion exists," he says. "The beautiful thing about Footsteps Across Canada is the diversity of the the dancers. To be able to see what black folks in other places have to say. Dance is more quote unquote progressive but there is still so little representation in the larger dance companies. Racism is so prevalent in our everyday interactions that it bleeds into the work we do. But choreographers of colour are saying, 'We're not going to wait for the world to catch up.'"

In his work Diverlus is well aware of, "the rules and boundaries, masculinity and femininity, that I don't adhere to. I try to be honest on stage. I like to generate new movements, move in new and interesting ways compared to what we're taught in dance class. I like the unpredictable and the unusual." He summarizes Two to See as being honest, full of new exciting movements and "telling a story that ties together a lot of my experiences over the last few years."

And he is excited to see the other pieces comprising Footsteps Across Canada. "We create art in hopes of helping what helps on the outside. But it only works when artists of colour get to work. There are so many people doing great things, that are telling stories that have never been told before." Much of the established arts, including dance, is very Euro-centric and Diverlus fears that "much of the black, brown, queer, trans art is only for our own community. But any progress is very rewarding, affecting individually and in tangible, life-changing ways."

Footsteps Across Canada runs Fri, Feb 26 and Sat, Feb 27 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queens Quay W.