Dashiele Haskin on Ballet Théâtre Sutton

Un texte de Sharon Kivenko

Paru dans le numéro

Publié le : 25 février 2024

Dernière mise à jour : 25 février 2024


Dashiele Haskin sees a bright future for Ballet Théâtre Sutton, just not with her wearing so many of the hats it requires to run.

Ballet Théâtre-Sutton
Dashiele Haskin

“It just kind of happened…” Dashiele described coming into her role at Ballet Theatre Sutton (BTS). We were in my kitchen tracing the trajectory of Dashiele’s creative life. How she came to be the de facto “director” of Sutton’s school of ballet and theatre arts. Avoiding hierarchical language, Dashiele never named her position. “I am a part of a directorial team, joined by members of the board.” For Dashiele, theatre is “a community art form”. Which is what she has helped to foster at Ballet Theatre Sutton, organizing workshops, classes and full theatrical productions that draw people together. 

Ballet Theatre Sutton grew out of Anastasia Usenko’s École de ballet classique Sutton when in 2016 she responded to the suggestion that she offer a production of Casse Noisette. “For Anastasia,” Dashiele chuckled, “[The Nutcracker] is the Bible; you don’t do it a little bit.” Anastasia took the idea and ran with it, bringing the community along with her.

At the time, Dashiele’s eldest children were taking ballet classes with Anastasia. So it made sense for Dashiele to pitch-in. While Anastasia had the choreography covered, she needed help producing the full show in six weeks, with minimal budget. Dashiele saw herself in Ludwig Bemelman’s stories about the curious schoolgirl Madeleine: “I was like Madeleine’s old army horse. I heard the trumpets call and I jumped into the formation.” Dashiele was alluding to her life in the Montreal theatre scene of the early 2000s. There she honed her “can-do” attitude by making theatre work in unusual spaces and with minimal funding. 

Taking-on costume design and sewing, fundraising, communications, stage management and production, Dashiele threw herself into the Casse Noisette 2016. “There was so much excitement. It brought out so many people with skills! It drew people together…” It was a success and by its third year, the show was a popular local community-supported event.

In 2019, however, Anastasia returned to Russia. And so to keep the school going and honour all the work that community members had poured into it, Dashiele and the Board of Directors established BTS as a not-for-profit organisation (OBNL). They thought this change would open-up avenues for funding and for expanding class offerings. Which would in turn widen the horizons for community-supported cultural education for children living in the country. Then came the turbulent years of the pandemic which Dashiele and the teaching team, Pascale Nadeau and Juliette Dumaine, guided BTS through. 

Looking back, Dashiele sees herself akin to a “midwife left holding the baby”. Wondering when the baby will finally walk on its own. Dashiele’s work has been largely volunteer. She does all the management, sews costumes, teaches theatre and creative dance, leads fundraising and development, and does the scheduling, promotion and administrative work and manages all the volunteers. Since 2020, Dashiele and the board have been asking: “Do we open for one more session? Or do we close forever?” 

Entering the spring 2024 season, Dashiele is at her breaking point. While she finds the creative work in support of our community’s children fulfilling, the administrative work takes her away from her own projects. “I can’t leave the baby to die of exposure! [But] it just doesn’t ever seem to grow up.” What BTS needs now is financing to support two healthy part-time positions. One administrative and one development as well as a revamped board of directors.

Dashiele is proud of “the way we have worked to undo the préjugés of ballet,” focusing instead on teamwork, and on learning culture, history, and hands-on skills. She only wishes that BTS classes could be accessible to more children. While this year Dashiele moved the BTS theatre classes to the Sutton School as a lunchtime activity, she would like to make the school’s offerings more widely affordable; another aspect of the school that stable financing could support.

Dashiele sees a bright future for our community dance and theatre school, just not with her wearing so many of the hats it requires to run. “I don’t need to walk away [from it] completely! I just need my life back.” In the meantime, Dashiele is preparing BTS for a springtime production of Peter Pan with a full cast and crew of children and community volunteers. All the while, looking for ways to get the baby to walk without her holding its hand. 

The Peter Pan show will be held at the Sutton School on June 1st, at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.. For more information about Ballet Theatre Sutton and ways to support its programming, visit: www.balletsutton.com.

Sharon Kivenko