Harry’s Q&A: The National Ballet’s Siphe November
The principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada talks about the importance of dance and doing the work.
Although relaxed and soft-spoken, Siphesihle November has a startling intensity to him. A classically trained dancer at the National Ballet of Canada, he has quickly risen the ranks to Principal Dancer (the highest rank within a ballet company) and it is clear when speaking with him both how seriously he takes his profession, but also his love for it.
Siphe (pronounced “See-pay”) found his enthusiasm for dance as a teenager on the streets of his hometown, a small farming community approximately two hours from Cape Town, South Africa. There, he and his brother performed Kwaito dancing for the community. It was after a meeting with Fiona Sutton Sargeant and her work with Dance For All (an organization that brings ballet to the townships of South Africa) that classical dance became a part of his oeuvre. This experience, combined with the preciseness and gracefulness of classical ballet have allowed him to rise to the position he’s in today.
We sat down with Siphe in between shots of our new spring campaign to chat about getting his start and his what inspires both his dance and his style.
How did you first discover dance?
I got into dance through my family. My older brothers used to dance – African style dancing – in the community. Once I was old enough to join them, I did. And then from then on, I got introduced to ballet through a woman named Fiona Sargaent, who was offering community ballet classes twice a week. She heard that me and my brothers were dancers, and she wanted more guys to be in her class. She also wanted the kids in the community to think that dance and ballet was the coolest thing to do. Since we were the cool dancers in the community, she thought if she got us, the program would kick off. We decided that we would do her ballet classes if we could also perform our style of dancing in spring showcase that she did. That was the compromise, and she offered a studio space. That's how I got into ballet.
Was she successful? Do you think that that helped getting the community to think dance and ballet was cool?
I think the fact that I'm here, and I was able to be professional…now, yes. I think every time I get to have an opportunity to succeed, and to keep pushing, and become better, more and more kids want to do it. So, I think in the long term – yes it did help. It was an interesting time for sure.
What else can you tell us about the culture of dance in South Africa?
I always say dance is a life language in that we are innately born to dance, even though it may not feel like it. It's a way for us to connect and communicate with each other. I think African culture embraces that. It's embedded deeply in how we are communicating with each other, using our bodies do music.
Dance is a lifeline. It’s one of the fundamental ways that humans connect and can see each other and get a glimpse into how we're feeling. It's through the body first, before anything is said. It allows for you to see things visually in a way no words ever could. There's something about the visual aspect, and the emotional complexities that dance on the body carry. And I think that's how I've always looked at it. And that's what I try to carry when I'm performing.
What inspires your dance and what you do?
The things that inspire me the most is people and humanity. I'm very lucky and privileged to be able to communicate through dance, and touch people's lives, or be a part of their own self-awareness. I'm inspired every day by the hopefulness of it. My brothers are one of the biggest inspirations, he's a dancer and a legend. I'm inspired every day by my colleagues as well.
When you're getting ready for a performance, is there a way that you kind of get into that mindset or set the tone for yourself?
The way I set my tone is just by reminding myself that I've done the hard work. My job is to offer the audience something that they've never experienced before. The only way to do that is by knowing that I've done the work. If I lean on to that, the magic will happen. I think that's how I prepare myself and set the tone for how I'm going to step on stage and how I'm going to approach what I'm about to give.
Speaking of giving, are you involved in any community work at the moment?
I'm lucky to be in a in a field where the work can be inspiring and that I can be an inspiration outside of that work as well … knowing where I come from, and what my background is, and how I got to where I am. I try to set that example on stage and when I teach kids or when I speak at symposiums and talk to leaders of the community to find ways to lend a hand and be available to help others. One of the things I'm working on is creating a studio space back home [in South Africa] that can cultivate this and give back in the same way that I started. I want kids – especially disadvantaged kids – to know that they're human, there are things that connect us our fundamental human basis. There’s lots of work to be done in lots of things behind the scenes that are going happen.
Who influences or inspires your personal style – both in the way you dress and the way you carry yourself?
My style isn’t inspired by one person or a group of individuals, but I think it's really inspired by my mood when I wake up or the day before. It's like my therapy, waking up in the morning and choosing what to wear. That's my moment of Zen. That's the moment to reflect. It's one of the greatest pleasures I have. I love looking through what I have and putting it on taking it off switching things around. It’s really just trying to get in touch with what I'm feeling. If it feels right when I wear it, then I can carry that energy through my day. And obviously some amazing designers…I love Rei Kawakubo, Jerry Lorenzo…It’s the simplicity of luxury and sophistication to me.
See Siphe November perform when the National Ballet of Canada resumes performances on March 2nd.