NB: First of all, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I wanted to find out from you how you got started in dance. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey as a dancer?
OP: I became a dancer by accident really. It was just after high school (Wolmer’s High). I really wanted to be an accountant or a doctor, but towards the end of my final year in school I found myself becoming a little bit bored with regular academics and was searching for a different avenue to express myself, because at that time I was also very introverted, and I didn’t like to talk much. I wanted a different way to talk basically, so I started to search and the Edna Manley College School of Dance sparked my interest and I just decided to apply. Accidentally I got in...
NB (interrupts): Accidentally?
OP (laughing): Yeah, well I say that because I had absolutely no experience. So I applied and I came and was like, “I don’t know what I’m getting myself into!” But that was where the real dance journey started in terms of training.
OP: Well, the first year was very rough because I was coming in as an inexperienced person and at that time they didn’t have a PQ (Preliminary Qualifying year), so I went straight into first year. And most of the people that I came in with had lots of experience! So it was very difficult for the first year and a lot of people were very negative about me being here and didn’t give me enough encouragement. So, after the first year I decided to prove to myself that I could do it, kind of take it as a challenge to myself. And I improved over the three years - I was doing a Diploma in Education at that time. In my final year, I think it was, I did a show with Neila Ebanks and two other persons. At the time we called ourselves "Four Poor Dancers", and our show was entitled Destination Self, and Professor Nettleford came to the show and asked who I was, and he invited me to work with the NDTC. Before that, I had done a stint with L’Acadco. So I went on to work with the NDTC around 2001, and around 2003 I became interested in doing an exchange programme at Brockport and I was shortlisted and got the opportunity to go and do it for a year and transfer my credits to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance.
NB: What made you choose the education track at EMC and how did that segue into a love of choreography?
OP: To be honest, I cannot recall exactly why I chose education, but in terms of the segue into choreography - again because I was introverted - I wanted a kind of expression that was not me. I wanted to put my ideas onto other bodies. I’ve always considered my dancers the canvas on which I am creating a kind of artwork. To be honest, I do not know exactly when the actual choreographic spark started, I don’t know which piece it started with really, because I’m sure the first few pieces I did were absolute rubbish, but as Jerome Robbins says, in order to make one good piece of choreography you probably have to make 10 bad ones (laughs). It was trial and error in terms of figuring out what kind of process I wanted to engage in and what kind of work I wanted to make. And even now it’s still a difficult process for me because I’m constantly being asked what kind of choreographer I am. But I cannot define myself as a particular kind of choreographer. I prefer to be known as someone who choreographs, because if I say that I’m a certain kind of choreographer it’s as though I’ve set a limit on myself. I do however like to work with physical theatre, post-modern, experimental dance which I don’t think necessarily fits into a Contemporary box. I’m also interested in fusion and I think the kind of work that I make is also influenced by the space that I’m in.