There’s no doubt that Siphesihle November has been capturing admirers for his dancing since childhood in Zolani, South Africa through his quick rise up to the top of The National Ballet of Canada‘s ranks.
But how many people have really listened to the young man whose emotions run deep and dreams fly high?
Now’s your chance.
As the company prepares for their return to New York’s City Center after a fifteen year hiatus, I had the privilege of chatting with this 23 year-old star who – don’t let the number fool you – is wise beyond his years. His rhythm is steady and pensive and his tone serious. But in no way is it heavy. In fact, it’s quite uplifting, committed, and promising… just as he is.
Read on to hear more about Siphe’s insight into Crystal Pite’s Angels’ Atlas (which headlines the City Center program), his choreographic explorations, his favorite ballets, and his thoughts about the industry’s – and his own – evolution.
*Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Interview with Siphesihle November
‣ I imagine you guys are quite busy right now rehearsing for the upcoming run at City Center! Which pieces are you involved in?
I’ll be dancing Concerto, 1st movement Principal Man, and then I’ll be dancing Angels’ Atlas.
‣ Let’s talk about Angels’ Atlas which was created in March of 2020, a pivotal moment in recent history. What is it like returning to the ballet years later?
It was the first work we did coming back from the pandemic and it’s always just a reminder of the times that we’re living in, with the themes in the work about being in a state of disappearance, things that come and go… that moments are never the same.
And so whenever we revisit it, I think it’s always a reminder of the importance of being present, a reminder of the importance of taking the time to be here now. That’s how I always feel when we get to revisit the work.
It’s a work where I got to help be part of the creation process, so it’s always very special to revisit the role one year later, two years later, three years later… when you are in a different place as a dancer and also just in life, and approaching it from that angle.
‣ I’m envious of those who get to see Angels’ Atlas at the theater; I feel completely invested from only watching video clips that I can’t even imagine what it must be like to experience it live! What can audiences be on a look out for?
One of the most beautiful things about the work – of Crystal’s work – is how she uses the power of we, the power of the group, to move the stage in really beautiful ways. I think the physicality that the work demands is really something beautiful to witness. The music, as well, is a huge part of it.
And the light! The way the light is used to really encompass the whole space and the flow of the dancers on stage reflected in the light as the background, making the piece whole. It’s really a moving experience witnessing that and being in the audience. I’ve only gotten to see it once [laughs], but it’s quite a wholesome feeling.
And I’m sure one day you’ll be able to see it. It’s going to be around for a while.
‣ Let’s delve a little bit into your choreographic ventures. Last year, On Solid Ground debuted. You’ve talked about the process in a great video produced by The National Ballet of Canada, but what has the aftermath been like? What kind of feedback did you get, and what are some of your takeaways?
The feedback was really positive. I think it opened up people’s views and made people aware of my ideas. It was almost like planting a seed of the kinds of works I want to do and the kind of choices that are really interesting to me and that I would like to explore more.
‣ Are there any other projects in the pipeline?
This past year I decided not to choreograph anything for the season so I could just focus on my dancing, but I’m going back to it again. I’ve got a couple of works that I’m working on right now that I’m not ready to talk about.
I’m hoping to do some more work with my brother as well. We’re choreographing and re-choreographing some work we’ve done before, this time for the main stage.
I’m also doing some solo creation for the MOCA [Museum of Contemporary Art] here in Toronto. I’m doing some self-exploration, creating for myself as well as for other dancers… on a smaller scale.
Siphesihle November's Choreographic Process
‣ Your “Favorite Ballets” list in on The National Ballet of Canada’s website caught my attention… in this order: Giselle, The Dream, The Sleeping Beauty, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, and Angels’ Atlas. It runs the gamut from the most classic of classics to a couple by today’s most forefront dance creatives. What where you thinking when you created this list? What came to mind?
Ok, this is definitely not in order [laughs], in no order whatsoever.
To me, they are works that really challenge the parts of my dancing that I’m really interested in: the storytelling, the physicality, the technical aspects of it. These are all things that are super – and equally – important to me in my career. Those ballets have all those qualities that I look for and that I look to continue to train and work on the rest of my career.
‣ Has the list changed since at all?
Oh, that’s a good question. I would love to do Romeo and Juliet; that’s one I would add in there.
‣ Wait. Are these ballets that you’ve already danced or those on your wish list?
I haven’t danced all of them… I haven’t danced The Sleeping Beauty…
‣ Yes, you have! I saw you in The Sleeping Beauty back in 2019 in D.C.
Oh, I was a baby then.
‣ As Puss ‘n’ Boots.
Oh, I was really a baby [laughs]. I’d like to dance the Prince in the ballet now. The classics are very important and I would like to be a part of that group of dancers who’ve had the privilege to do those.
‣ Speaking of classics and of things changing, the ballets created now in the 21st century are quite distinct from the 19th century ballet that most reference when speaking about the topic. Is the definition of “ballet” evolving, expanding…?
I think it always has been. I think it’s lasted this long because it’s always evolved.
I don’t think the definition has to change, it’s just that we are adding on to what ballet is. I don’t think it’s changing as far as the technical elements and the requirements in order to do it; it’s just that ballet is evolving.
‣ And you? How are you evolving? How is the Siphe we know now different than the Siphe of five years ago?
Five years ago… I was just out of school! I think when I graduated six years ago and joined the company, I didn’t really see myself doing this as a career in a classical ballet company. I didn’t really have the tools in my surroundings or have the encouragement to really see myself doing it.
Now, being in the position that I am, I feel like I’m stepping in the right direction for myself. And I feel like I have something to offer the ballet world, I have a voice that I hoping to use more on and off stage. I’m finding my voice, I’m finding myself, and finding a place for my voice in this industry. And that’s the most important thing.
‣ And the Siphe of the future?
I want to dance on every stage there is to dance on and for every audience that wants to watch. That’s something I really want to do. I want to share my dancing, my being on stage, with the whole entire world no matter where. And I hope to do that as long as possible.
Featured Image of Siphesihle November in Crystal Pite’s Angels’ Atlas. Photo by Karolina Kuras. Courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
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