Our resident expert on all things dance, Nicole Bain, recently interviewed dancer, choreographer, teacher and founder of the Maxwell Dance Project, Shelley-Ann Maxwell.
Shelley-Ann Maxwell performing in Oniel Pryce's Barre Talk, NDTC
A Jamaican dancer who now resides in the United Kingdom, Ms. Maxwell was recently in Kingston to conduct two dance workshops and was kind enough to chat with Cultural Jamaica about her passion for the art form.
CJ: How long have you been dancing Shelley?
SM: I started dancing when I was at Wolmer's Prep in their after-school dance programme. We used to enter Festival a lot so it was more from a performance perspective. I was under Adrian Fletcher for the first two years, and then Barbara McDaniel came to Wolmer's so I was under her for the rest of the time I was in prep school. We did mainly all the Jamaican Folk, Traditional Folk dances, and Cari-Modern-type things, but not uber-technical stuff. It was mainly about performance, unlike abroad where they do it in reverse with the technical training first and then adding the performance to it. But (our way) works out well in that you get rid of all the issues of stage fright and so on. As a kid I was very active. I was a major tomboy, loved running up and down playing football and cricket, riding my bicycle, climbing trees. Anything active and outside was me.
CJ: Yes, I think I once read an interview where you said that at one point you were trying to decide whether to become a dancer or a footballer...
SM: Well not so much. I think it was more a matter of getting a little more logical as I got older. My brother was playing Manning Cup football at the time. I used to play with him and his friends on Saturdays and Sundays, and because of the level I was playing at they stopped looking at me as a girl. So I was getting the 'licks', getting the 'drops', but also by then I was in high school and Wolmer's had established its annual season, so I was taking classes there and at the School of Dance. So I realised that if I was playing football and it was affecting the dancing, something had to give.
CJ: From your days at Wolmer's you transitioned to Dance Theatre Xaymaca. Talk to me a little about that.
Well the way that DTX was formed was that the people who started out as the juniors in the Wolmer’s dance troupe had grown up and started University, and we were dancing alongside five to ten-year-olds. And we were like “this is not making sense anymore, we need to make the next step”. So we pushed Barbara McDaniel to form a senior company, and because of the number of us that wanted it to happen she decided she would try it for a year. DTX was a great experience for me. It was there that I was able to hone my choreographic skills because Barbara gave me freedom to explore my artistic ideas. And while I was there I was also their rehearsal director. And I like to push, I like to go for 100%, I like to clean dances and have people functioning like a machine, a unit. Individualism is good in dance but you have to remember that it's a team scenario, there are no “stars” shining onstage. I'm all about the team effort, because aesthetically when you go to a show if everyone is strong it makes for a better production. So that's where I was coming from as the rehearsal director.
CJ: So your discipline was inborn and not something that you acquired when you went to Cuba to study later on?
SM: Yes, I would say it was inborn. I have always been just as serious about dance as anything else. It was a hobby, but I always knew it wasn't – if that makes sense. Because I wanted to reach a particular level of excellence, I approached dance with the same level of seriousness and structure as I approached my schoolwork. Cuba was a by-product of being driven. I had started at UWI doing Actuarial Science and when I was there I joined the UWI Dance Society and got to work with fantastic people such as Patsy Ricketts, the late Howard Daley and L'Antoinette Stines, and I was like a little sponge, just soaking up all the knowledge they had to impart. By the end of my first year I was like “Actuarial Science or Dance?” To be honest it wasn't a difficult decision for me. By this time (Cuban dancers) Arsenio Andrade and “Toki” Gonzales had come to Jamaica to dance with the NDTC and they were known for being technicians and fantastic dance artistes and it was just a testimony to their training in Cuba. In addition to that, I had a friend named Dwayne Barnaby who used to be with Little People. He had gone over to Cuba and when he came back after three years of training he had gone from being a talented dancer to being an exceptional dancer! And so between conversations with him and Arsenio who taught me, and the financial logistics of studying there versus America or Europe it became a no-brainer. The training and experience of the culture were a big part of my development as a dancer and as a person.
Dancer/writer Nicole Bain speaks with Oniel Pryce, Jamaican choreographer. (Dance photos courtesy of Danceworks, photographer: Albert Blackwood.)
Dancer, choreographer and Edna Manley College lecturer Oniel Pryce mounted two works in Danceworks’ 2011 season, ‘Transcendance’ Danceworks is the performing corps of the School of Dance, Edna Manley College. Cultural Jamaica sat down with him to discuss his work and his journey in the world of dance.
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.
Choreographer, Oniel Pryce
NB: What was it like?
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.
Writer/Dancer Nicole Bain
Nicole Bain gives us her critique on the latest latest performance of the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble
Last weekend, the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble presented its 17th season of dance in dedication to the memory of former Artistic Director of the NDTC, the late Professor the Hon. Rex Nettleford. It featured two of his works and four others choreographed by Abeldo 'Tokie' Gonzales and Dr. Monika Lawrence, Artistic Director of Stella Maris; both were former dancers with the NDTC. The evening opened with “Dis Poem”, choreographed in 1989 by Nettleford and remounted by D’Roi Rose. In the first section the dancers, clad in light grey sweat suits with red, green and gold stripes emblazoned across their chests, moved militantly to the spoken word of Mutabaruka.
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They danced the frustrations of a race of people denied the right to exist freely, effectively brought across by Nettleford’s use of stark, clipped movement, and the dancers’ emotiveness. In the second section, soloist Gavin Hart gave a solid and committed performance. The piece ended with a hopeful final movement which was strong, jubilant and fluid, marred only by the occasional overdone facial expression from one or two of the performers.
Next up was the new work ‘Supernova’ by Abeldo ‘Tokie’ Gonzales. This was an ambitious number in concept but fell somewhat short in execution. The piece opened with an athletic solo, danced brilliantly by Kamar Tucker. However the strong build up was quickly followed by a visually overwhelming mass of dancers moving through the space and struggling to keep up with the pace of the choreography. When working with a large group, clean lines, synchronicity and attention to the nuances of the music are a must for effective communication, and unfortunately in this piece these elements needed refining. However there were some spectacular moments, such as the forming of a human trampoline which released Mr Tucker into the air like an exploding star - the supernova. Also interesting was the choreographer’s melding of gymnastics, contemporary movement and break dancing.
Tribute to Cliff
On August 1, Jamaica celebrated Emancipation Day. On August 6 we celebrated Independence Day. The National Dance Theatre Company performances are part of that celebratory season. Dancer/writer Nicole Bain reviews the Emancipation Day performance. (Photos contributed by NDTC.)
Dancer Chris Walker
The National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) continues its season of dance with a suite of offerings from various choreographers including Patrick Earle, Arsenio Andrade-Calderon, Christina Gonzalez and, importantly, former Artistic Director, the late Professor the Honourable Rex Nettleford. The programme performed on August 1 was aptly chosen by Barry Moncrieffe - NDTC icon and Nettleford's successor - to reflect the Emancipation and Independence celebrations. It featured various aspects of the Jamaican historical experience focusing primarily on religion.
On Emancipation Day the show opened with Form in Fusion, created by company member Patrick Earle and danced by the company. The new work which explored the traditional folk form Kumina was a wonderful blend of simple movement and intricate floor patterns and shapes which were best seen from the balcony. The female dancers demonstrated a regal beauty as they inched forward, hips swaying almost imperceptibly. Three of them in particular demonstrated great control and concentration as they successfully executed a series of movements including a full split while balancing oil lamps on their heads. At times the company members displayed a trance-like intensity as they moved to the traditional music of the NDTC drummers and singers. For the most part their movement was subtle, dignified and controlled. And then suddenly, with only the slightest musical warning, they would twirl around ecstatically, only to catch themselves and continue on in solemn procession. The costumes were a beautiful addition to this well-crafted piece whose only flaw was that it needed greater synchronicity.
A solo excerpt from Professor Nettleford's Islands followed. This was danced by Kevin Moore, clad in full black with a red cloth wrapped around his body which would later become a prop. Mr. Moore possesses the assets of strength and natural flexibility, and danced with a great deal of commitment to the piece; however his execution felt heavy and disjointed in places. As such the solo fell short of its potential. The motivation for the piece was also hard to glean because of its lack of inclusion in the written programme.
L-R: Alaine Grant, Keita-Marie Chamberlain, Natalie Chung, Deborah Powell-Valentino, and Kerry-Ann Henry
L-R: David Blake, Marlon Simms, Marc Hall and Chris Walker
Dancer and writer Nicole Bain reviews the latest L'Acadco performance. (Photos courtesy of Ryan Esson.)
Patsy Ricketts in Stines-Jones's 'Ravine'
Last weekend at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts L’Acadco presented its 26th season of dance, ‘Ship’s Log: Daaance Coconut Daaance’. This was not an evening for those seeking light entertainment. The narrative production carried the audience from the motherland of Africa, across the Middle Passage, into the Caribbean, through the experience of slavery, past Emancipation and up to the present day. However, ‘Ship’s Log’ was not just another look at history but a platform to present the message that, although the physical shackles are no longer present, the struggle for true freedom must still be fought in the Black pysche. The show’s mysterious title has its roots in the Yoruba religion where the coconut is an intrinsic part of the sacred rituals and everyday life of its practitioners. The fruit - much like the dance and the drum - is seen as a symbol of West African culture that has managed to survive the slavery experience. Weighty subject matter, but Artistic Director L’Antoinette Stines and her production team must be commended for cleverly interweaving dance, drama, music, and visual art to create a work that is both strong in statement and aesthetic appeal.
The militant 'Chat bout'
Dancer and writer Nicole Bain shares her experience of being a part of a Kingston on the Edge skill swap dance session on June 26, 2010.
It was designed to merely whet the appetite, but by the time “Fresh Breezes” was over, many of the participants had received more than a bellyful. The workshop, a collaboration between Kingston On The Edge, eNKompan.E and Safi Harriot, featured the instruction of Michael Holgate, Lisa Wilson, O'nielPryce, Safi Harriot, and Tamara Thomas. The inclement weather, initially of concern to the organisers, was no deterrent to the participants who turned up in their numbers at the School of Dance, Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts. They came for various reasons, some to broaden their dance skills, others out of sheer curiosity, most to take advantage of a class that promised first-rate instruction for little more than the cost of a patty! They came with various levels of training - and in some cases no training at all - but all were embraced. School of Dance lecturer and workshop facilitator Neila Ebanks expressed great pleasure at the turn-out, noting that the workshop was designed to explore the “process” of dance rather than the finished product.
The participants keep pace in Michael Holgate's Caribbean Folk session
Drummer Chris gets the dancers' blood pumping
The workshop was broken up into five 35-minute segments and ran “tag-team” style, with breaks just long enough for people to catch their breath. But the participants weren't complaining.
First up on the roster was author, actor, part-time lecturer and Artistic Director of Ashe Caribbean Performing Arts Company, Michael Holgate. After a deceptively simple warm-up, he put the group through its paces with non-stop, high-energy movement, matched by equally spirited live drumming. The pace was lively, the movements free, expressive and liberating. One of the main challenges of the morning was just keeping up with Holgate who was clearly in his element! But even if his energy and stamina were not contagious, his enthusiasm was definitely caught by the group.
All that jazz!
The energy continued with Lisa Wilson, Assistant Director of the School of Dance and founder of Arts Streams. She introduced the group to some basic jazz steps and taught them a short, fun combination. The vocabulary, drawn largely from the style of jazz made popular by famed Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse, involved steps that required coordination and rhythmicality. Indeed sharpness, syncopation, and huge doses of sass were the order of the day in this segment. By the time Wilson was finished each participant felt like he/she could audition for Broadway – well, almost.
KOTE founders Carolyn Lazarus (left) and Beatriz Pozueta (centre) join in the fun with dance facilitator Safi Harriot.
Presenter O'niel Pryce gets comfy with the barre