Jamaican Ballet and Moko Jumbie

By Nicosia Smith

A story of folk songs, reggae and dancehall music is wonderfully told through graceful and skillful dancing.

When watching the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) you get an authentic, down-to-earth Caribbean experience through dance.

Choreographer Renee McDonald, ‘Into The Blue’ (2015), revised 2016, reveals a beautiful mixture of Caribbean integration. Nineteen dancers in blue danced as if the ocean pursued. It was a scene of battles lost and won at sea. Their fluid movements created a lot of waves that took you through the waters with them. The powerful dance moves, although distinctly Caribbean got a twist with official soundtracks from the movies ‘Gravity‘ and ‘Kung Fu Panda‘. To become a ballerina it takes years of training, some dancers begin at 4-years-old. But after seeing this piece these dancers have what it takes for ballet. I believe it should be the next step the company takes.

However, this will take more than just will but on the ground support.

Dance, culture and the arts must become more meaningful to the Caribbean populous. Our love for dance must transform our focus to demand more from our entertainment than street corner parties. It means we must support formal dance projects.

But back to NDTC.

NDTC co-Founder Rex Nettleford choreographed ‘Gerrehbenta’ an all traditional Caribbean folk piece. The folk singing, dancing and drumming in Gerrehbenta is charged with traditions, namely African ones. This piece showcase’s to its fullest that part of the Caribbean culture that was adopted from Africa.

It reminds us of a people brought to the Caribbean against their will. And reflex the content of their minds and the fight in their spirits to survive. I like that even the cloth around the waist and necks of the dancers were interwoven into the piece, as skirts flared and pants waist were tighten. In the center of this dance is a long moko-jumbie like character, with a cow-like mask a-top the colorfully clothed stick frame. The NDTC noted that the dance takes its name from two of the major traditional rites practiced in Jamaica, ‘gerreh’ in Hanover and ‘dinky-mini’ which uses the musical instrument, the benta, in St. Mary.

We have some ways to go to have the Caribbean’s distinct cultural dance styles achieve global recognition but certainly the NDTC is doing their part. And the audience last month at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College felt the same, judging by the thunderous applauding.

 

Hi Misty

 

By Nicosia Smith

Her glorious stresses spilling over her shoulder, did not hide that signature smile.

Prima, Ballerina.

Misty Copeland.

Standing behind a packed seating area on the Fourth Floor at the Barnes and Nobel Event, I listen.

American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) first black principal dancer, was enthralling all with her eloquence. It is an astronomical achievement for Copeland, who accomplished what many before her did not. And even she admitted, during conversation with Damaris Lewis, her struggles. ‘It’s hard to accept that people can judge you base on something you have no control over’, Copeland said, speaking on her skin color.

Nevertheless she stressed, ‘I think it is important for me to represent’.

One cannot deny that ballet companies are very white. It took 75 years for ABT, one of three major companies in America, to make that ‘principal move.

It was a joy to see the numerous kids and parents in the audience. Their smiles and giggles of excitement could not be hid. As they held ‘Firebird’ dolls and books. Neither did they shy away from the microphone, asking a barrage of questions.

One wanted to know when she will take the stage again. Copeland in her signature “Hi,” before every response explain, ‘It’s so hard…I needed a year off’. Next month, she is set to perform ‘Giselle’, in Mascat, Oman. And the follow up, how does she remain motivated to continue dancing?

“I love what I do, I love going on stage and performing.”

Debbie Allen Dance Academy dancer enquired when she met the iconic Allen. At around 14-years-old, Copeland recall, she worked with Allen in the Chocolate Nutcracker playing Clare, while Allen played Oz. That was in her second year as a classical dancer. Allen is a pioneer in the field of contemporary dance.

On March 20, I attended the Tiger Woods signing, and Copeland’s the next day. At the first, scalpers were trying to buy books, wired security guards blocked the Fourth Floor entrance, suits milled around with strict wrist band enforcement.

No such thing at Copeland’s signing, even at 7p.m. – opening time, I could still  purchase a book and get a wrist band. What a difference a day makes.

And then it was time.

  • “Hi Misty,” I said, and there was that signature smile saying with a raspy slightly hoarse voice, “Hi.”

Signed “Ballerina Body,” by Misty Copeland in hand, I walked off the stage with a satisfied feeling.

 

 

Let the artist in you come out

Alexandre Bilodeau and Fre’de’ric Bilodeau respectively (Google image)

By Nicosia Smith

I must say that the arctic winter blast has somewhat curtail my movements.

So far, I have missed the New York Ceramics Fair held January 22-26 and the Metro Show January 23-26.

The Metro Show was touted as 37 galleries and 37 points of view, covering the historic to the contemporary.

With my new interest in a wide range of cultural art works, I was especially interested in the Metro Show.

And well this week, it was just too cold. But not quite complaining.

Attending live gallery events, lectures and seminars widens my perspectives on the growing contemporary art world.

So I often look forward to these opportunities to learn.

The arctic blast has meant that I find my self catching up on the news – domestic and foreign.

And although, this process can be very disturbing, I was inspired by a feature on Canadian Painter Fre’de’ric Bilodeau, 28, with cerebral palsy.

Fre’de’ric ‘s brother Alexandre, 26, a gold medal skier, was inspired by his elder brother to achieve his olympic success.

I have thought much about Fre’de’ric since I have seen the piece.

The questions ranging from, how long it takes him to finish one oil painting and how does he handle those frustrating moments trying to complete his piece.

As we all are face with trying to succeed.

He was told that cerebral palsy will make him stop walking at age 12, but at 28, he still walks a bit, but uses a wheelchair a lot more.

His determination is a source for inspiration. Proceeds from his paintings are funnel toward fighting the disease.

This is why I love the arts, because there is that creative spirit and zeal in all of us, that if we let it out, it will soar.

As it has allow Fre’de’ric to do.

BPL exhibit says learn from the art around you

Elizabeth Felicella photo

Elizabeth Felicella photo

By Nicosia Smith

Art is everywhere and in especially places where you think not to look or consider, for that matter.

Case in point. Now and through February at the Brooklyn Public Library central branch, there is a photo exhibit that includes the library’s common areas.

Most times we go into the library and other places and rush through. Our environment, a second thought. Often too busy to observe what is around us.

The photo exhibit by Elizabeth Felicella, Brooklyn Public Library’s first artist-in-residence, is asking us to notice our surroundings. On 4×5 inch film inkjet print or digitally captured prints and through archival photos we get a look into the library’s surroundings. Stairs, the lobby, reading rooms, photos and maps of the present and the pass from the library’s Brooklyn collection.

“…It cast an eye on Central Library’s tumultuous past as well as its exciting future,” says Felicella.

Around 18 pictures are mounted in the lobby gallery and more in the Foyer Cases and the Balcony Cases on the second floor.

Elizabeth Felicella Photo

Elizabeth Felicella Photo

The exhibit educates passersby and encourage them to stop, look and observe what they have just moved across. The stairs they climb, the catalog they may flip through, or the lobby they have walked across. The lessons to be learnt from this exhibit are, take advantage of those moments around to learn. That is, we can take time to inquire about the origins and reasons behind otherwise, everyday displays.

Remember the things that surround you, helps to shape you.

Blessings Already for 2014

Your eyes have greeted the year, bless you.

For some it means anxious anxiety, pulsating fear and uncertainty and yet for others it is time for a rocking good time.

I am praying for peace, joy and fulfilment.

A new year, a chance for a new beginning and our expectations are high, as they should be.

I look forward to visiting and writing on some very interesting arts and culture events and landscapes. Like the 19th Century independent African-American village of Weeksville.

This village which consist of hour houses dating back to 1840-1883 gives a look at American history during that bygone era. And leaves lessons which are still to be learnt.

For this new year we must ask provocative questions that will be the basis for debates.

Brooklyn is a growing contemporary arts venue and a rival to Manhattan for the more intimate art space. I wonder why though, in answer, that’s another story of economic proportions. Certainly I look forward to venturing outside of Brooklyn and even abroad, to highlight culture and art that will educate and inspire.

So let the journey begin.

Here is to all the beautiful things the year will offer.

Gob Bless!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nora Chipaumire sensualizes African Dance

(Photo Courtesy Google Images)

Nora Chipaumire and  Okwui Okpokwasili  in Miriam 

 Nora Chipaumire body contorted, wine, bent and flowed to the spirit of Africa in pure eroticism.

It was quite an evening September 13 at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Fisher.

As a first time viewer of Chipaumire, I honestly did not know what to expect. It was quite different from your normal African dance, it was raw and dark. It was more than a dance. It was an expression of what the African continent has overcome and suffered over the years. Miriam, composed by Omar Sosa and perform by Chipaumire and Okpokwasili essentially was based on Miriam Makeba the singer but also Miriam of the Bible. It certainly was one of those performances that challenges you to see things differently. I did not expect the raw sexuality in the dance. Nor the several references to the “White man” during the portrayal of a police raid in apartheid South Africa. I felt the pain, the jubilation, the insecurity and revolt in the dance. And the sound of stones, water and speech that calm or jolt the senses. In a post show interview, Chipaumire said there is nothing the body cannot say that words can say – the body is stronger and can express more quickly.

Africa, the whole continent of Africa was a crime scene she said. And in Miriam she decided to address that. And even though her power is limited in the changes that she can bring. Chipaumire said, “I can try and change the very intimate space around.”

Well done Chipaumire and I look forward to more.