ART IS MY COUNTRY

José Navas embraces dancing with an accent

Montreal is where Navas began his career in dance — but he also had to find where he fit after leaving Caracas, Venezuela.

Montreal is where Navas began his dance career — but he also had to find where he fit after leaving Venezuela

Dance is the only country I have and the only country I will have.

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Introducing our new series Art Is My Country. See the stories of 10 bicultural Canadian artists explore the rupture and rebirth of navigating somewhere between identities. Watch more.

From Caracas to Montreal

"The flame of the dancer was there from the beginning."

Dancer and choreographer José Navas began his training in Caracas, Venezuela, but made the giant leap to leave his country in 1988 for dance, coming to Montreal in 1991 (with a pit stop in New York to study first).

"I left Venezuela in 1988," he tells us. "I was a gay man and that already was a challenge. It was a society where it was very closed, very Catholic. But the main reason I left Venezuela was dance."

"I knew in order to become a dancer, in order to come out, the sacrifice I had to [make] was going to be culture, family, country."

I recognized when I arrived to Canada that I had an accent in my dancing — the same way as I roll my r's. The way I move always had something more round or something more fluid in the connectivity.

The moment I started to abandon myself into that way of dancing, then I found my voice instead of trying to erase it. I dance with that accent.

Navas considers Montreal the beginning of his career as an artistic director and choreographer. It was also the beginning of trying to figure out where his identity fits into Canadian society.

"In '91 I moved to Montreal. The first time they reviewed me in a newspaper immediately they called me a Quebecois choreographer, and that's something that means a lot as an immigrant, because you feel that you become part of the 'us' that we talk about."

It's like what we do every day as immigrants. We redesign ourselves; we grab what we don't understand and what we are not comfortable with. We wear it. We make logic out of it. We try to dance in life with it.

Dancing with an accent

In Canada, Navas has found that the way he dances inherently carries a message about where he's from. "I recognized when I arrived to Canada that I had an accent in my dancing, the same way as I roll my r's possibly in French and in English. The way I move always had something more round or something more fluid in the connectivity."

Navas hasn't gotten rid of the accent — he feels like it's an indelible part of him. "The moment that I started to abandon myself into that way of dancing, then I found my voice. And instead of trying to erase it, I dance with that accent. And that actually made my career."

Living in the space between nationalities

After over two decades in Canada, Navas finds himself still in a sort of cultural limbo. "I live in that space in between Canada and Venezuala trying to make sense of living in that limbo, in that space between nationalities."

I knew in order to become a dancer, in order to come out, the sacrifice I had to do was going to be culture, family, country.

He sees his career as a soloist as a representative metaphor of his experience and the larger experience of immigrants in Canada. "To me, it's like what we do every day as immigrants. We redesign ourselves; we grab what we don't understand what what we are not comfortable with. We wear it. We make logic out of it. We try to dance in life with it."

Art Is My Country is a CBC Arts series that explores the singular worlds of artists who consider themselves bicultural. Seen through the eyes of 10 Canadian artists who have either immigrated to Canada or felt the need to reclaim an identity they thought they had lost, the series examines how each artist uses their craft to navigate, explore and adapt to their new reality and shifting identity.

Each portrait will highlight one artist's story of rupture, displacement and ultimate rebirth as a new artistic voice contributing to the narrative of Canadian culture and experience. Watch the full series now.

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