Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Candace Thompson: Caribbean dance artists step forward

Dancer-choreographer Candace Thompson
performs her solo, Of Circles and Bright Colours,
in New Traditions: A Showcase for Caribbean Choreographers
(photos: Kearra Gopee)

Questions for 
Candace Thompson
Dance artist and Executive Director
Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE

EYA: How did your Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE come about?

CT: There were choreographers whose work I wanted to see more of, and when I started making my own work, I realized that it was difficult to find places to perform it. One day, I called a friend who's also Caribbean, and we got to talking, and he said, "Oh, I was having the same idea!" We had a meeting, right then and there, outlining a bunch of things that we were interested in making happen. That was the beginning, last December.

EYA: What kind of visibility would you like to see for Caribbean dance artists?

CT: Contemporary dance isn't necessarily interwoven into our Caribbean culture. It's hard to connect with audience members who might possibly appreciate the work. We are interested in taking our work to the community, to people who share our background and heritage, getting them to know about us and invest in us creating work.

EYA: Do you feel that there's a kind of stereotype or a box that Caribbean artists are put into?

CT: To a certain extent. Because a lot of Caribbean work--and this, of course, is a generalization--infuses a lot of concepts and ideas from our culture, folkloric culture, movement and vocabulary, with contemporary dance, it's just hard to put that next to traditional modern dance or contemporary downtown dance. It's hard for people to see them in the same way. It becomes hard to put that on stage in venues that are widely known for producing modern or contemporary work. It gets written off as fusion or whatever term people use when they don't know how to categorize something.

For me, it's still contemporary dance. It's just coming from where I come from, from my background, my nationality. It's like when Urban Bush Women or other companies do work that is part of the diaspora. For some reason it gets separated from contemporary dance because it has this diasporic angle.

Caribbean artists, to a large extent--and, again, I am generalizing--see identity as being a large part of how we think about ourselves. So, a lot of times, work becomes about identity, but Caribbean artists make other kinds of work, too. It gets tricky when people can't see past [identity]. Why can't that work be alongside any other work?

EYA: So far, who's involved and how are they working within the COLLECTIVE?

CT: We had our first meeting in April and decided that we would do a show. I asked people I knew to submit work for the show in June--"New Traditions: A Showcase for Caribbean Choreographers"--at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. We had works by Beatrice Capote, Shola K. Roberts, Maxine Montilus, Alicia C. Dellimore, Davalois Fearon, Adia Whitaker and myself, and it went really well. People gave of their time.

After the show, we met again to begin to solidify the structure, form a community board where people would have positions for a year and, at the end of the year, we might see who would want to serve in a new role or who else would want to volunteer their time.

Right now, I'm the Executive Director. Maxine Montilus and Marguerite Hemmings are co-directors. There are also people doing marketing, research and the like, although those positions have not yet been solidified.

About Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE
Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE is a representative body that facilitates and promotes Caribbean Dance, Caribbean Dancers and those that present and practice Caribbean dance forms and/or deal with Caribbean content.
The COLLECTIVE aims to:
* Create a platform for Contemporary Caribbean Dance Practitioners, Dancers, Choreographers, Dance Scholars to network, communicate and share resources
* Representative body for Caribbean Diasporic Dance in the NYC Area community
*Create an information hub listing classes, events, performances, teaching opportunities and other resources for Caribbean artists and dancers in the NYC
* Share information on events happening within the Diaspora worldwide
* Support the creation of new works by Caribbean Artists that represent our Contemporary experiences
* Support newly arriving artists from the Caribbean to NYC/USA

CT: For next year, our goals include designing a curriculum based around Caribbean heritage that we can take into schools through residencies. We will train artists so that they can get more work and be directly involved in the community through the schools.

We also want to start master classes in the city over the next year, bringing Caribbean artists, like Cynthia Oliver, who have extensive experience in this contemporary dance work. Also, we want to start a choreographers task force so that we can plan the year of performances together and support one another in producing and presenting our shows.

EYA: Do you see an eventual path towards establishing relationships with contemporary dance presenters and venues around the city?

CT: I would like that, when what we could do with one of these venues would be mutually beneficial. Right now, it's probably better for us to collaborate with smaller arts organizations. We self-produced our first show in collaboration with the Caribbean Cultural Theatre.

EYA: You're a dancer performing in your own work and those of other companies; a dance instructor and fitness trainer, teaching in various venues around town; and now you're leading this burgeoning organization. How do you manage your time and priorities?

CT: I never really had an option to do less. I guess because I'm an immigrant. The stakes are higher. If this fails, I have to go back to Trinidad to a life that I haven't lived for ten years! I've always had to do more, find more, create what I didn't have.

It's possible because I have people around me who really support me and believe in the work that I do. My family in Trinidad are extremely supportive. And there are people that I have been fortunate to meet here, like Sydnie Mosley and Andre Zachery, the companies I've worked with. Bringing ideas or reaching out to people on my behalf or sitting down to help me write proposals. By no means has it been a single-handed effort. I am only able to do it because other people are involved.

EYA: How did you get started in dance...and why dance?

CT: My mom put me in dance classes when I was five. She’d always wanted to get involved with dance, but her mom was a single parent. It was hard for them, schedule-wise and financially. But when she was able to, she put me in, and I never really turned back.

What attracted me to dance is that it was always a challenge, always something new to learn. You never really arrive!


Candace Thompson will present Colliding Scopes/Circles of Inquiry, a new duet (with Nehemoyia Young) as part of the "Dapline! Five on the Black Hand Side" series at University Settlement on July 31. For complete information and ticketing for Dapline!, click here.

Contact Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE: Click!

Candace Thompson
(photo: Rachel Neville)

Candace Thompson
, a Trinidad and Tobago native, is a dancer, choreographer and certified fitness professional, specializing in personal training and group fitness. Her dance training is extensive, beginning in Trinidad and Tobago, where she received instruction in modern dance and ballet, at La Danse Caraibe under Heather Henderson-Gordon. She is a graduate of Adelphi University's BFA in Dance with the Ruth St. Denis Award for excellence from the dance department, and has gone on to perform Afro-Caribbean, Classical Modern, Modern/Contemporary, Contemporary/Floor Technique, Jazz, Soca and West African.

She has worked with several companies in Trinidad and Tobago including Trinity Dance Theater, Astor Johnson Repertory Dance Company and Elle NYTT (for Machel Montano HD) as well as US based companies and choreographers including, Andrea E. Woods-Valdez, Andre Zachery, Christal Brown, David Gordon, Forces of Nature Dance Theater, Germaul Barnes, Leda Meredith, Lynn Parkerson, Makeda Thomas, Sita Frederick, Sydnie L. Mosley and Trebien Pollard.

Candace is driven to perform work that is challenging both physically and emotionally, and is always seeking new performance opportunities and experiences to hone her skills. She currently performs with Areytos Performance Works, Elle NYTT, Renegade Performance Group, Sydnie L. Mosley Dances and in her own solo performance work ContempoCaribe. Candace looks forward to adding to the dance landscape in the U.S. and the Caribbean, through her latest collaborative initiative, Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE, and to deepening her mastery in performance.

Candace's career in fitness began haphazardly in high school, where she entered and won the aerobic burnout competition. She has since become an IFTA certified Group Fitness Leader, ACE certified Personal Trainer, Int. Pilates Mat instructor, TRX® Suspension Trainer, TRX® Rip Trainer, TRX® FORCE certified instructor and a Level 1 Kettlebell Concepts Instructor. Candace has taught at gyms around NYC including, Harbor Fitness, Lucille Roberts, Fluid Fitness NY, New You Fitness and Crown Heights Yoga & FItness. Currently, Candace does in-home training for clients in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, and teaches Soca Dance at Mark Morris Dance Center.

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