A chance of a lifetime – this is how Tara-Jane Herbert, Élevé founder and artistic director, has described the Élevé International Dance Exchange ‘And Still I Rise’ initiative, which ends on July 15.
The programme, which promises to be the first of many on the island, is a 10-day pilot residency exchange that features international artistes Daphne Lee and Stephanie Rae Williams from Dance Theatre of Harlem conducting several dance workshops on ballet and other genres, for local artistes of various ages from amateurs aged eight or younger, to adult professionals.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY during the final week of the programme, Herbert said this was an exciting time for local dancers, who currently have the great opportunity to grow their skills and knowledge under the tutelage of young but highly experienced dancers.
“It’s a really exciting time for us because of where we live geographically, it’s very difficult for us to access some of the incredible arts that are offered so easily and so readily in other parts of the world.
So these two US artistes coming all the way to Barbados to work with us is absolutely incredible, and gives our Barbadian dancers the chance to access some of the incredible work these young women do,” she explained.
Though Herbert revealed that several of the local dancers who took up the opportunity to participate in the workshop had praised the initiative for being a timely one as many of them expressed interest in dancing internationally, a number of younger local dancers still feel intimidated when facing international teachings. A fear, Herbert said, was unwarranted.
“I think some people hear Dance Theatre of Harlem and there is a fear. Actually, these workshops are not about trying to target people who have done lots of dance and who are on top of their training, it’s not about that. It’s about bringing these young professionals in as inspiration to our little people, our middle people and our older people.”
Herbert quickly added that the workshops by themselves will culminate with two exciting fundraising shows scheduled to be held at the Combermere School Hall on July 15 and 16. The Élevé founder emphasised the need for the dancers to put their new skills to the test, not simply among themselves, but on a bigger stage with an engaged audience.
“It’s going to be really hard work for them but this is what I wanted. I want them to go through that experience of working for a short amount of time and having to work really hard and then in that short amount of time having to go on stage.
“So not sitting back and relaxing in class as sometimes we all do, but actually having that little pressure to do well in a short amount of time.”
Williams, one of the two dancers that were brought in for the programme, and who is currently in her tenth season with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and has taught master classes all around the world, strongly encouraged local creatives to develop themselves holistically within the genre, if they wish to take their skills and ideas to the next level at an international standard.
“What I would tell younger dancers that are interested in becoming professional dancers and even working for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, is to take as many different classes as you can take. So not just ballet classes, but tap classes, jazz classes, hip hop classes, African classes and more.
“Being in a ballet company does not mean you are just predominantly doing that style of dance, all of the different classes and techniques and experiences in life will shape you as the artiste you need to be.”
Lee, who is of Barbadian origin and spent a good portion of her early childhood on the island, echoed Williams’ comments and said with the island having so many talented dancers at its disposal, getting to the next stage by actively going after scholarship programmes should be looked into.
“Look at different programmes from different companies and find their summer intensives. Audition for the scholarship programmes and that is going to be your first opportunity to make connections. If there are issues with finances, contact those same communities to see if there are any scholarships available, that is going to be your jump-off point.”