Vivine Scarlett, dancer, choreographer, administrator (born in London, United Kingdom). Vivine Scarlett is the founder, executive director and curator of dance Immersion, a Toronto-based organization that produces, presents and supports dancing of the African diaspora. She is also an award-winning choreographer and a renowned instructor. Scarlett has received a K.M. Hunter Artist Award for dance from the Ontario Arts Foundation, the Muriel Sherrin Award from the Toronto Arts Foundation and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Dance Ontario.
Vivine Scarlett was born in the United Kingdom to Jamaican parents. (See Caribbean Canadians.) She immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age and grew up in Brockville, Ontario, with her five siblings. Her father, Reg Francis, played trumpet and insisted all his children learn musical instruments. But Vivine was more interested in dance than playing music. She wanted to pursue dance studies at York University, though her parents refused. She ultimately chose to pursue a two-year fashion arts and business program at Toronto’s Humber College instead. While this wasn’t directly connected to her interest in dance, it would nonetheless provide her with important training to realize her dreams.
Interest in African Diaspora Traditions
Scarlett received her first job as a dance professional from Jean Sheen, who herself had trained in her native Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in New York City. Sheen created Chissamba Chiyuka Arts in 1970, which was the first Caribbean dance school in Ontario.
Scarlett became interested in dance styles rooted in African and African diaspora traditions after becoming active in the Usafiri Dance and Drum Ensemble. She began as a performing member and later became its artistic director. But her effort and interest in showing the diversity of Black dance was not reciprocated by the arts and dance community of the 1980s and early 1990s. Scarlett noted that African dance styles might be seen at an outdoor festival but were rarely seen indoors. Established dance organizations seemed reluctant to engage with traditional, foreign styles.
Creation of dance Immersion
Scarlett created dance Immersion as a charitable, non-profit organization in 1994. dance Immersion’s vision is to create opportunities and inspire dancers of the African diaspora, while its mission is to help advance the study, production and promotion of the dances of the African diaspora, while further supporting its practitioners. The services offered by dance Immersion fall under three interconnected categories: education (for artists and communities of all ages); incubation (of choreography by emerging and established artists); and presentation (of dance works to the public). Scarlett has credited the assistance of Dance Ontario with helping her establish dance Immersion.
Since 1994, dance Immersion has mounted over 75 stage productions, hosted more than 300 dance education events and supported over 2,000 Canadian artists. The organization has been funded primarily by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario and Toronto Arts Councils and the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Performance and Administration
Vivine Scarlett has performed internationally, which has helped integrate her efforts into the larger world of Black dance. It was shortly after performing in Guinea in 1998 that Scarlett attended the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) annual conference in Durham, North Carolina. Scarlett would be responsible for twice bringing the conference and festival to Canada (in 2007 and 2012), including the first occasion the conference was held outside the United States. As director of IABD, she is set to host the third Canadian IABD conference in 2023.
Teaching and Choreography
In her role as an educator and instructor, Vivine Scarlett has taught across Canada while also working as a freelance dance choreographer. She has also worked with youth in Ghana. dance Immersion has provided youth arts programs as well as a multidisciplinary mentorship program.
Scarlett has choreographed numerous acclaimed productions, including The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God (2002), The Freedom of Dreams: The Story of Nelson Mandela (2003), Queens Calling (2015) and Movement in Time (2017).
Vivine Scarlett received a Dora Award in 2002 for choreographing the theatre production The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God. She received the Dance Ontario Lifetime Achievement Award for 2016 for outstanding contributions to dance in Canada, and the Muriel Sherrin Award in 2021 for her years of contributing to the cultural vitality of Toronto.
- Outstanding Choreography for a Play or Musical (The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God), Dora Awards (2002)
- M. Hunter Artist Award, Ontario Arts Foundation (2005)
- Chalmers Arts Fellowship, Ontario Arts Council (2007)
- Planet Africa Heritage Award, Planet Africa Awards (2011)
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Dance Ontario (2016)
- Muriel Sherrin Award, Toronto Arts Foundation (2021)