How did you become a dancer and why ballet was your style of choice?
I don’t know if I choose dance really, from the age of four already there was something about a connection to dance, the people and to the world. At that age my first experience about this-was when a teacher put on a production of simple dance where each child’s performed to represent a different part of the world-and my part was Japanese. And this had an impact on me.
I remember clearly loving that moment of sharing on stage between all the children, and I loved the idea of music and dance related to the world. It did something to me as a young child. But I am also from a family in the arts, my father was a singer and my mother was in the theater. So there was always a family appreciation of the arts-so it was natural for me to become a dancer and performing artist.
So this experience with dance as a child was in France or Martinique?
That was in France and after this we moved to Martinique. Then at the age of eight my mother registered me in the performing arts center there-it was called Cermac-organized by the government services for culture and art. (Who founded and directed Cermac?)
I started with dance at the center-but it was traditional dance, what sometime people call African or Caribbean dance. That traditional dance teacher noticed my capacity to other forms of dance and asked another teacher to takeover my training at the age of 9 to focus on classic and modern dance.
The concept of the center was to offer high level of training in dance, music, theater, movies and all kinds of instruments. This was a very strong foundation for reconnecting your identity to culture and art.
The Director at that time created the first World Festival inviting all artists from the African Diaspora and other places and we could see the world through this festival. We were trained and exposed to dance companies from North America, South America, Africa and everywhere though this free festival-sponsored by the Government of Martinique. This production was put on every year to gather all the arts and each area would create and contribute to the performance-everybody worked together. We learned very early that when people come together great things happen to form the arts.
This experience helped me make the decision-very young to pursue the arts and become a professional. Also seeing the Director, bring all these people together, be humble and do great things-showed me that a director is more than someone who just orders people around-it was very inspirational and showed me the value of hard work.
What was the next step in your development as a dancer?
That was when I had the opportunity to study classical ballet in Senegal. It was like a dream for me at that time to be in African and study Russian Ballet, Cuban Ballet and French Ballet along with African dance and theater. Cross cultural teaching of these different styles impacts my dancing to this day. And as a result, it allowed me develop my own unique style and interpretation of ballet.
During this time I was able to study and practice these different styles independently, while also learning to appreciate the diversity and then allowing each to build my identity with a universal perspective. It taught me to appreciate and love all forms of dance including and beyond ballet.
In your travels, how has dance impacted you personally and professionally?
As a Director of a Conservatory, this has encouraged the acceptance of diversity in people and of different dance styles and it has influenced how I work with others in my choreography.
Recently on a trip to Paris to attend a ballet competition, I was able to see Hip Hop dance to a level of creativity you wouldn’t believe. Knowing where it comes from in America, the young people of France take it so seriously. Their performances were so intense-I was in tears because they we so creative, poetic and eclectic. And because of my experiences growing up-seeing the different mixings of culture, it was a fraternity-and even more impactful on my identity seeing this on display.
It’s experiences I can share in my work and I can’t help it.
Do you see any regional differences in how passionate dancers approach their craft today?
There is a difference particularly in the U.S., because it is not the top of the mountain of sport-first. This makes it more difficult for students to pursue dance passionately; it requires more coaching and mentoring because there is a lack of confidence in being an artist. When you are not surrounded by it you have to constantly prove that art is important, versus them already being at the stage where society accepts it as important-and there is not confusion about what their culture is in France. There is an admiration for the arts there, and there is also study reinforced through travel and cultural integration.
It also helps to have role models-professionals in the arts to look up to from similar backgrounds. When I as a child-my heroes-one of which was the principal of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and a big reason was because I looked like her, which made it possible in my mind to pursue the arts. In France, it started as an admiration of hip-hop dance from America. And now the French have taken performing it to such a high level, mainly because there are not so many prejudices-that hip hop experiences here-and is more easily embraced.
In America, it is more widely accepted as recreation and something fun to do, and loses to often its cultural background.
And to a certain extent, this is also happening with ballet. Some schools, if you do a test on ballet and ask what color do you see…? They will tell you pink. What else do you see…? A tipi. That’s not ballet that is a caricature of ballet.
Ballet since the 1930’s was already contemporary and modern and already avant-garde; even before the America ballet here, Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev in France-were doing cutting edge and incredible movements-so the revolution had already happened. And that’s what I teaching, knowing your past to know where you are going in the future. Know where you are from. Know who already has done so much to advance it. And this knowing-builds confidence.
What is unique about the dance culture you foster with Ballet Des Ameriques?
We want our dancers to be very passionate about their art. Because being a dancer is so hard, you have to be like you can't live without it. As a dancer you must feel the same urge of responsibility that you would feel if you were a lawyer defending a client facing death or life in prison. You can not be late to class, you can not come to class unprepared without study; if not your are not serious to society. You must be serious.
It is with this-how we train young dancers. If we do so they will have any impact on society and the respect of their art will grow. This is why we created the Conservatory-to teach dancers how to approach your craft and treat others while doing the same. Like I have told my daughter who is a dancer, "It is simple your life will reflect your dancing-you will not be able to fool people when not serious about your art". It is your responsibility to society and therefore others.
We also teach basic things like learning how to say hello. Greeting people-which is a simple act of respect and politeness, can not be out of the personality a dancer, poet or musician-if so I find it will be very difficult. I've seen it when we hire a new dancer and they are not used to our company culture which is very family. I teach that-either you become like part of the family or you have to go. We are social animals, we may fight but we can not be without each other. Engage and dance with love and this will show with confidence-practice confidence.
We also train our dancers to be strong. To use your voice. To use your expression to be beautiful, powerful and fabulous. Because dance requires that-they must be that. To be independent and not follow the crowd.
For those who can make the commitment to dance as career-is money a factor in pursuing their education?
It is an issue. In our Conservatory we are encouraged to raise our prices in a way that does not scare away people who do not have the means. We have to be reasonable. If you put out the message it is going to be impossible for you-then people will be shy and turn away from it.
Our next fundraising objective is to create a scholarship fund. We have to make it possible for more people and our strong donor's believe in that objective-many who did not come from wealth but never forget where they came from and have an understanding of the differences in the world.
For those one or two students with talent-where it is impossible-we try to find a way to take that child. We continue on that path because it is very important to us. And again, with great society people always become better when you put all different backgrounds, economical backgrounds together-to always get the best.
It goes back to the 18th century when ballet was created, only the aristocracy was allowed to dance. Then at a certain point there was a mixing of the aristocracy with lower incomes and this created extraordinary ballet.
When you find those company's where everyone is from the same socio-economic backgrounds, sometimes what you get creatively is boring, because there is not enough variety of expression in emotion and life experience.
So let's say you find a privileged child that has been dancing with a financially unprivileged child-when you put them together the interaction is always usually fantastic. Because both realize they bring from different worlds and start exchanging it-and this different knowledge creates respect and embracing of each other-beyond just tolerance.
What can audiences expect from attending productions with Ballet Des Ameriques?
The company right now is a very beautiful place-because it is at the place with quick and rapid recognition-that is coming.
When we first started the company there was a lot of focus was placed on the children-because that is where you have to be very careful-to make sure you have the correct levels.
Once we established the foundation and the creative concepts were defined clearly we started to make order of the way things were to be formed to inspire the youth.
This year we created Evenings of Dance-Porchester, because when you have dancers you need to dance. For dancers starting out it is more of challenge finding these to perform:with my experience in dance and production-we decided to auto produce with these shows. We wanted to do something from the heart-which is by starting your own community.
Evenings of Dance in Porchester-was a series of performances throughout the winter. Setup in our own studios-which were transformed with lights, sound, props; we turned it into an in-studio theatre where we dance and after there is a reception-to create again venue for talking and interaction. Those in attendance after the show-have the experience of actually meeting with the dancers to enjoy food and drink, then exchange and mix with conviviality-which brings fraternity and new friends.
Also last year, we took the risk to do our very own first Nutcracker-which sold out two months in advance-with a huge waiting list to see our other shows. I take risks where I feel success is coming-and so far thank god it has worked. You have to combine the work experience of those around you and the timing.
The upcoming season September 2019 will be our first season where we perform every month-and we are getting hired to perform.
We are going on tour next year, starting when in April 2020 the Island of Martinique will be inviting us to present at the national Théâtre Aimé Césaire.
So things are looking good for us and we will be expanding!