Kuumba Artist Feature: Syreeta Hector

Harbourfront Centre’s Kuumba festival is spotlighting a different Black artist each day of February. Today we’re sharing the story of Syreeta Hector.

Last March, Syreeta Hector was in Brussels completing a creative residence for her show Black Ballerina. The purpose of the residency was to solidify her show into a full-length piece. She worked tirelessly at it, dancing from 10am to 6pm. Then the pandemic hit and she had to go back to Canada, where she barely had opportunities to move at all. “This time has been really challenging for us as movers. Moving helps us think. Moving helps us stay energized and positive. Moving and physicality is part of our identity,” she says.

Where there is commitment, though, there are solutions, and she ultimately managed to find a space to practice — a private renovated storage container which now acts as a studio. When it is safe to go back into her regular studio, she’ll have to rework the piece to fit a bigger space. She nonetheless feels privileged to have a space of her own right now, where she can work. Syreeta’s positive outlook on life is nurtured by the people around her. As a contract faculty member of York University, Syreeta has found her students to be a source of inspiration during the pandemic. She sees them almost every day through Zoom, and their resilience and positivity, their creativity and kindness, makes her feel grateful.

Syreeta’s hard work in the storage container paid off. Her piece Black Ballerina premiered online last autumn, where it was presented by Citadel + Compagnie in collaboration with Harborfront Centre. It will be performed again through Harbourfront Centre’s Kuumba festival this year, from February 14–21 (follow this link to register). Syreeta notes the deeply personal nature of her work, which is based on her experiences as a mixed-race person in the ballet world. She explains, “In North Carolina, I was ostracized because I liked to dance. They often told me that I should ‘know my place’ and that I don’t fit in the dancing crowd, which was essentially the white crowd.” Her identity was further complicated by being mixed-race and navigating between two identities. She adds, “I was always attempting to fit in, or rather hide a part of myself depending on the situation. I was constantly worried that I wouldn’t be black enough in some situations or Indigenous enough in other situations.”

When asked who her heroes are in real life, Syreeta points to Miss Alycia Allen, her first dance teacher. Syreeta was born in New Brunswick, but she later moved to North Carolina, where, in high school, she started to study ballet and met Alycia. Though after graduation she moved back to Canada, continuing her training in New Brunswick, she never forgot Alycia. Alycia was a Black educator and provided opportunities to Syreeta to continue her training as a friend. A friend and mentor to all who took her classes, she kept Syreeta out of trouble in her teenage years and was an irreplaceable role model. Another hero is her paternal grandmother, who raised eight children while working full-time and still managed to laugh everyday of her life. Her relentless optimism helped her find something good in anything.

Syreeta Hector is a dance artist and educator in Toronto, Ontario. As a highly-accomplished performer, Syreeta has worked for internationally recognized companies like Adelheid Dance Projects, Danny Grossman Dance Company, Political Movement and Toronto Dance Theatre. You can find her work on her Instagram (@syreets) and website (www.syreetahector.com).



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Harbourfront Centre

Harbourfront Centre

The official Medium account for Harbourfront Centre, Toronto’s iconic cultural space on the downtown waterfront.