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Rhodnie Désir Becomes the First Black Person to Win Top Prize at Les Prix de la Danse de Montréal

In addition to the $25,000 prize, her company also won the Envol award, for cultural diversity and inclusive practices in dance By Grace Wells-Smith
  • Désir / Photo by Kevin Calixte

On Nov. 9, the Prix de la Danse de Montréal announced this year’s nine winners. The top winner is choreographer Rhodnie Désir who was awarded the $25,000 Grand Prix. She is now the first Black person to win this award.

The Prix de la Danse de Montréal was founded by dance artist Marie Chouinard in 2011. The annual ceremony, held online this year, is meant to highlight the excellence of Montreal dance artists.

In addition to being the first Black person to win the Grand Prix, Désir, 37, is the youngest person to win the award. Last year, Paul-André Fortier, 72, won.

Angélique Willkie, a jury member for the past two years, said she “has no words to describe how significant” it is that Désir was chosen and that there are several reasons why she won the award.

“At the top of everything is the excellence of the work,” Willkie said. The press release announcing the award said that the jury wanted to highlight the scope of Désir’s projects and particularly mentioned BOW’T TRAIL. The work is a combination of seven choreographic works, a five-episode web series and a 75-video documentary released on ICI ARTV / Radio-Canada.

Willkie also described Désir as a “voice of the moment” and said that her work is a mix of art and activism.

“In my opinion, that’s very rare to find in contemporary dance,” said Willkie. She also mentioned that Désir has fought for her work to even be recognized as contemporary dance.

Désir said the same thing: her work has been refused by presenters who said that what she created was not, in fact, contemporary dance but “traditional” dance. She thinks that’s because of a lack of education.

“We all have walls that we place in situations, and those walls often happen because of fear, and that fear is often unfounded because of a lack of education. So, the more we educate ourselves … the more we will be able to be more intuitive and embrace the human being and the universal art as a whole and not as fragments that we need to put staples on,” she said.

“Contemporary dance is what can be attached to the now,” she continued, noting that the art cannot be detached from society.

In addition to the Grand Prix, Rhodnie Désir Creations won the Envol award, for cultural diversity and inclusive practices in dance.

Other 2020 winners include Ethel Bruneau, Chi Long, Caroline Lauren-Beaucage, 7Starr, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, Parise Mongrain and Linda Rabin.

Désir hopes that her win will inspire younger artists. “It gives them hope that these spheres are also attainable, whatever the choreographic language or artistic background source or ancestral origin used. … It also tells me that my work matters and the Afro-descendant or ancestral work matters in the dance ecology.

“What it means for me right now is that I was right to be bold,” she said.

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