Leg extension, mini pirouette, pointed toe. Repeat.
BY: Kelsey Adams
PHOTOS BY: Othello Grey
Siphesihle November limbers up in a small corner of his Toronto apartment, his makeshift dance studio during the COVID-19 pandemic. His beanie, vintage Def Leppard T-shirt and loose-fitting athletic pants aren’t typical attire for a professional ballet dancer, but these aren’t typical times.
Born in Zolani, South Africa, November moved to Canada in 2010 to train at the National Ballet School. Now he is first soloist for the National Ballet of Canada, where he had appeared in just two performances of Romeo and Juliet before the company had to shut everything down in March. Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the performance season, he’s had to find new ways to keep his body in shape and his spirits high. He began filming short videos of himself improvising and posting them to Instagram. The work has been therapeutic. “It’s kind of been what’s kept me sane,” he says.
November embraces hybridity; there’s ballet, of course, but also contemporary, jazz, kwaito (a popular South African dance), hip-hop and, always, beautiful lines. Accustomed to the boundless Four Seasons Centre stage, he’s had to modify his movements. As he dances to the harrowing lamentations of Nina Simone’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” his body moves intuitively to the music, in stark contrast to the canonized movements of the ballet. The less regimented movement is no less intentional. “In classical ballet, you’re learning productions that have been done for years,” he says. “You’re fitting into a mould and playing these roles that were created based on other people. This [improv] helps me find some creativity and challenges my body in a different way.” He isn’t overly precious with it. He films in one take on his iPhone and uploads with minimal editing. As soon as the song ends, his jovial laugh ricochets off the walls again.
November dances to communicate what he cannot find the words for. Following the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, he danced to show people what he was feeling. “I dance to move people, whether that’s to make them happy, to make them think or to make them feel something that I’m feeling. And that can obviously start conversations.”
Find Siphesihle November on Instagram @deshgrey
“Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the performance season, he’s had to find new ways to keep his body in shape and his spirits high.”