Full Circle...

Today I realized I have come full circle in my solo journey.  Or rather that I have completed some sort of cycle. Exactly one year ago today I completed 10 years with TU Dance.  Meaning, I gave my last performance, honored by flowers and a standing ovation.  A writer from The Star Tribune wrote that I danced a "devastating solo" in Uri Sands' Matter...

Immediately after that moment my life went into free fall.  I found myself in a financial bind...stress in my personal life...anxiety about the unknown.  I sought support and healing. I joined a special 8-week mindfulness class for folks who suffer from anxiety and depression.  I began seeing a counselor and joined a support group whose name shall remain Anonymous.

Then my life changed when I got to Trinidad.  I came face to face with myself and through my month-long Catharsis residency and subsequent visit in November, I've come through highs and lows, defeats and triumphs, sweet and bitter moments.  

I bought a journal at the end of last summer, and like I used to do as a kid, wrote in its last page the words I wanted my future self to remember:



"I came here [Trinidad] to:

1. Re-discover, re-define my Afro-Caribbean identity without the white gaze or program structure

2.  Heal

3.  Learn how to get back to loving myself

4.  Find and re-discover the old me (from my youth)

5. Begin working on a new piece, a collaborative performance art project for performers, myself and sister, Elyse Morris with the support of my Caribbean community, family and friends."

 

Please God (as we say) I can premiere my solo project, "Yam, Potatoe an Fish!" this year.  This work is ready for the stage!  After three showings (Arima, September 2017; Brooklyn, January 2018; Saint Paul, April 2018) and Port of Spain this July--by building community support and soliciting feedback I am confident that this is the right work at the right moment.

I need to see it in all its glory!  And I need to see it in conversation with the other works on my solo program--2015 McKnight SOLO commission by Idan Sharabi and 2017 commission by Jamie Philbert.  

Long Journey Home: an evening of solos exploring Home, Identity and Displacement.

 

 TU Dance Company, April 30, 2017

TU Dance Company, April 30, 2017

 Journal entry September 2017

Journal entry September 2017

Ìsèsè Day

DAY 19:  SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 24

 My last weekend in Trinidad Burton took me to the Ìṣẹ̀ṣè Day Festival on Orisha Ancestral Lands (Emancipation Park) Bon Air West, off Lopinot Road in Arouca.

 I had shared with him my desire to be brought to an Orisha event while still in the country as a part of my research for "Yam, Potatoe an' Fish!"  As it were, my maternal grandmother, the late Lynda Neptune, was a Spiritual Baptist. To understand the connections between the Spiritual Baptist tradition and the Orisha Religion’s expressions in the twin island Republic of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) there is first some history to establish.

Yorùbá Traditional Religion (YTR) is practiced in various forms by the ethnic group of the same name, in several countries in West Africa, including Southwest Nigeria; the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo; and by Yorùbá descendants throughout the African Diaspora created by the European Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  The Yorùbá are bound by a shared language, history and culture, and their pre-colonial traditional lifestyle, is underpinned by an integral spiritual and religious dimension that infused every aspect of traditional life. Though heavily impacted upon by (Christian and Islamic) religious incursions since colonial times, this integral traditional lifestyle is still proudly preserved today on the African continent, and has continued to survive and evolve, and increasingly, to influence and be influenced by those of the African Diaspora, including their descendants in T&T.

The YTR’s presence in T&T today has two main strands: a syncretized version developed in the diaspora which includes Christian and other elements, and a re-Africanized version that attempts to re-embrace the continental African aesthetic.

The first strand of the YTR in T&T is an expression that was introduced via the forced migration of enslaved Africans brought to the Americas during the European Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and also by an influx of migrating Yorùbá after slavery was abolished. The Tradition came to have its own unique expression in T&T, and to be called by various names including (but not limited to) Yaraba Work (sic), Shango, and more recently, the Orisha Religion. Though rooted in the practices of the continental Yorùbá (and also in those of other African ethnic groups, like those of the Congo for eg.), Orisha Religion has found a unique expression of its own in T&T after its syncretization with

European Christian elements, and through its close ties to the Spiritual Baptist Faith, with the lines between these two distinct traditions becoming blurred in many instances, because of partially shared membership, iconography and ritual elements (for eg. the use of African drums, and the importance of trance possession).

The second (newer) strand in T&T is that which has been influenced by the YTR as it is still being practiced today on the African continent, and which has increasingly been brought to T&T by visiting Nigerian priests and priestesses, and by T&T nationals who have travelled to and from continental Africa over the last two decades or so.

This second strand is largely a movement to connect more deeply with, and to reclaim the continental style of practice of the YTR, and also to phase out Christian syncretized elements from the Orisha Tradition in T&T, or else, to enrich and deepen the local practice by reconnecting with its continental African source. As a rapidly growing subset of the Orisha Religion in T&T, this new movement has come to be known as the Ifá/Òrìṣà Tradition. The event I attended on the 24th was organized by the Ifá/Òrìṣà Community in Trinidad.  It is an attempt to reclaim the knowledge and customs handed down from our Yorùbá ancestors from pre-colonial times, and to make that inheritance available both to the wider Orisha Community and also to the general public. The history of these various strands of the Tradition could take much time to unpack; but I have done my best to offer a brief and overly simplified acknowledgment of the variety of Orisha expressions in T&T that I met on my visit.  Much like Santeria in Cuba, Candomblé in Brazil, and Vodou in Haiti, Orisha practice in Trinidad maintains a strong connection to its African source, and increases the strength of that connection more everyday.   

My desire to study Orisha expressions comes through my late maternal grandmother, Lynda Neptune of Tobago, a devoted Spiritual Baptist.  A spectrum exists within this tradition, as worshippers may align more or less heavily with the European Christian aesthetic, or with more African-influenced expressions.  In all cases, the Spiritual Baptists are unique among Christian sects in the way they incorporate traditional African religious elements into their practice.  My sister and I had a fairly traditional Protestant upbringing and were not exposed to the Spiritual Baptist faith.  Aspects of this tradition were considered "idolatry" in my family.  Lynda calls out to me from the other side now.  I long to get closer to her in order to understand my past, my present, and ultimately make sense of my future.

Burton was kind enough to introduce me to a prominent dancer and local Ifá Community organizer and activist, Ifákomiyọ Strong Aworeni.  The event began with a community prayer.  In a circle they honored the Creator (Olódùmarè) and their ancestors, speaking their names aloud.  They praised various Orisha deities to invoke their help and strength and poured libations of palm oil, puncheon rum, and honey; and they sang chants. 

Day 2 of a two day event, the Ìṣẹ̀ṣè Day Festival was dedicated to building community between practitioners of the Ifá/Òrìṣà Community through featured speakers, conversation, food, craft vendors, and performances.  Performance in the Ifá/Òrìṣà tradition consists of ritual chants for various Òrìṣà sung by chantwells and an orchestration of drummers on djembes and traditional Orisha drums.  Ifákomiyọ led an interesting community conversation, enquiring about the ways and means that interested persons could be initiated into the Tradition.  I heard a variety of answers on the topic that reflect the diversity within the practice itself.

 

I am very grateful to Mr. Burton Sankeralli for being a guide to me during my voyage, for his friendship, and for his ever inspiring and enlightening conversation. 

I am also deeply appreciative of Mr. Ẹniọla Oriṣagbemi Adelẹkan, an Ifá initiate and esotericist, for his friendship and guidance as I begin this journey and for his editorial contribution to this blog post. 

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It was all so beautiful

Day 18: Saturday September 23

Saturday was a long day.  It began in the morning with rehearsal for the duet, which ended up falling into the afternoon as Jamie simultaneously ran errands to prepare for the showing.  To describe Saturday accurately is to first speak about the energy of Trinidad because Trinidad is all about the energy by which people move.  Nothing is ever done "just so."

It rained fervently on and off all day.  Through the rain, Jamie, with the help of a friend, shopped for fabric, bought drinks and other supplies, and saged the space.  She would eventually prepare the studio for the showing much like a priest prepares a holy site--sweeping it clean, making a comfortable seating area with handmade pillows and fabric, fashioning a shrine of sorts for Eleggua, a candle, burning incense...  This she did while managing people and things, making changes to the duet, and running the program, which went as follows:

7-8 pm:  The audience of about 15 started to trickle in around 7 pm.  Dance music pumped from inside as people gathered downstairs by the bar.  A beautiful ambiance.  A pervasive sense of love and joy was transferred from Kevon and Jamie as they warmly welcomed people to the space.  Up until yesterday, Kevon and his father had applied fresh paint to the exterior studio walls, had uprooted and planted; had dug up the earth, created moldings and poured cement for an eventual stage and water fountain.  An on-going project that began in June, when the space was an abandoned and overgrown yard.  Welcome to East Yard!

8-9 pm: Welcome remarks by Kevon Foderingham

National anthem played by talented young steel pan musician, Ilori Waithe.

Introduction remarks by Jamie Philbert and Alanna Morris-Van Tassel

Piece #1 (movement sketches for Home, an excerpt of "Yam, Potatoe an' Fish!," choreography and performance by myself)

Musical transition by Ilori Waithe

Piece #2 ( an invocation for Eleggua, choreography Jamie Philbert.  Performed by myself and Anna Noel)

Musical transition by Jamie on acoustic guitar 

Piece #3 (Catharsis, excerpt from Assimilation Of My Tongue, choreography Jamie Philbert. Performed by myself.

Closing remarks by Jamie and myself

9 pm-2 am: LIME!

I throughly enjoyed sharing my work-in-progress with the invited audience on Saturday night.  East Yard and Art On Purpose is a space that I now call FAMILY.  That I know now as HOME.

Until the wee hours of the morning, 8 of us stayed to laugh and enjoy each other's company--with food, drink, music and other recreation.  If I didn't hear it a thousand times: Jamie and Kevon are happy I am here and would love to have me back.  

I will be back.

 

Rehearsal footage of NEW Jamie Philbert

Pw: Trinidad2017

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CONCEPTUALIZING "YAM, POTATOE AN' FISH!" AND MR. BURTON SANKERALLI

Conceptualizing "Yam, Potatoe an' Fish!" and Mr. Burton Sankeralli

Day 16: Thursday September 21

We are approaching the public sharing.  I finished a sound score for "Yam, Potatoe an' Fish!" on Thursday and will solidify my movement sketches for the Home section in the studio on Friday.   This Saturday I will be sharing an excerpt of a section of Jamie Philbert's Assimilation Of My Tongue, Catharsis, as well as a duet for myself and local dancer, Anna Noel, an invocation for the Orisha Eleggua and prayer for Trinidad.  The public showing is the perfect culmination of this residency and necessary to build community and an audience, both for my work and for Art On Purpose. 

Thursday evening I had the pleasure of Mr. Burton Sankeralli's company, Trinidadian philosopher and chantwelle.  We had an awesome time in the interview and listening to soca from the 70's and 80's, materials which will make themselves into YPF.  (And for my American audience, you can assume that all socializing in Trinidad happens over drinks. This is assumed knowledge.)

Thank you Burton for lending your voice and ideas to this project.

I look forward to returning to the island for Part 2.

Note: On Friday September 22 I make an appearance on the front page of the Arts section for the Trinidad Guardian.  An photo is included.

I will see Jamie again...

Day 15: Wednesday September 20

Today was another productive day in the studio.  I have a version of a sound score for Saturday's showing that I am very excited about!  My creative process so far has been yielding fruit little by little.

It was also a great day for personal growth.  In my morning prayer session the Lord spoke some affirming words to me about courage.  The words I heard I treasure and will keep close to my heart.

Rehearsal with Anna went well and was followed by my second rehearsal with Jamie on the solo,  Assimilation Of My Tongue.  The process was filled with wonder and frustration on my part as old habits of mind started to rise up.  I started to become overwhelmed by the swell of heavy emotions that were storming through me.  (Why can't these moments happen when I am alone?)  The dance begins with a text I speak about Patience, Toughness, Resilience and Pain.  That all of these things have a place and value.  The pain of this past year rushed up to the surface of my heart like a tidal wave; and I could not get passed the fear that I was behind--that the future would be no different than my past.  Sage, that she is, Jamie told me, "We will see each other again," and I started to cry.  She supported, affirmed and counseled. 

It is this COURAGE that the Lord spoke to me about in the morning, that He was preparing me for tonight.  Tisk, tisk.  Practicing self-acceptance, self-love, and faith is my new normal.  

I believe that I will see Jamie again.  

I believe that this experience and its fruit has been and will be perfect.  

I believe that my future, with all its ups and downs, will allways be bright.

 

Another Productive Day

Another Productive Day

DAY 14: TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 20

Today was another productive day.

I spent most of the morning troubleshooting and mixing sound for the Home section of YPF and was able to create in the studio in the afternoon.  It has been also been a pleasure to come home every day and socialize with other young professionals, enjoying breakfast, dinner and drinks with company in our backyard.  I am starting to feel at home in this landscape.  Walking around Arima today, for the first time I did not feel afraid or that I did not belong.  I am celebrating myself and the personal growth that I have made!

A Productive Day

Day 13: Monday September 18

Today was a productive day in the studio!  I put down some sketches for movement for the Home section of YPF.  Also, I started mixing sound for this weekend's performance--excerpts of conversations, street noise, and musical selections.  I am trying to balance the need to share something substantial next weekend and my desire to take my time within my creative process.

"Recollections of Remembrance:" The National Philharmonic Orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago

Day 12: Sunday September 17

Back to NAPA to see The National Philharmonic Orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago (NPO) and and The National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO) in joint concert with the Marionettes Chorale and other ensembles from Bravura Arts and UTT's (University of Trinidad and Tobago) Academy for the Performing Arts.  (See September 13th's post).  

A beautiful hall named after Lord Kitchener, hisself.  Hues of brown skin, dipped in perfumes, wrapped in colorful African print and jewelry.  Parallel to the magnificence of the hall and its patrons was seeing an orchestration of classical European instruments alongside Trinidad's native instrument, the steel pan; a large choir; a tenor and a soprano.  I was not shocked by the latecomers (who continued to stylishly arrive up until 15 minutes before the end of the program) and loud ushers--a cultural reality that more amused me than annoyed me.  A lady usher took the time to reprimand me for "eating" in the hall, which included my sucking on a mint.  She then preceded to whisper loudly to admitted latecomers as she shined her flashlight a considerable distance from the floor, at times into our faces.

The conductor and composer, Dr. Roger Henry, composed some nice pieces; but it was clear that vocal arrangement is his comfort zone.  He did a fine job; but I could have used more variety within the composition, especially for the steel pan.  I encourage more exploration and "pushing the envelope" within the use of the steel pan and the classical instruments.  Bravo to the the soloists, Krisson Joseph (tenor) and Natalia Dopwell (soprano)!  I needed nothing more from their angelic sound!

Video: Password is Napa2017

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  Mentoring by the Masters   2017 , Children Mass

Mentoring by the Masters 2017, Children Mass

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I am changing

DAY 11: SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 16

Today was the BIG Day.

Rehearsal with Jamie and Anna in the morning.  

Then I accompanied Jamie to a performance sponsored by the Division of Culture, Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts.  There was a big emphasis on Orisha Traditions (which I am very curious about, as it relates to the survival of African technologies post slavery).  (Much love to Brother Chris Walker for that language/consciousness).  Jamie danced an Invocation for Eleggua/Elegba.  It was held at Studio 66 Art Gallery in Barataria (which was the venue for our mask-masking workshops at New Waves! last summer, so I felt fancy!)  Brian, I hope the pictures bring back fond memories!

I ended the day with my Afro-Modern Dance Workshop at 6 pm at East Yard.  And as usual, I had a great time. The students were from all different ages and experiences and were very generous.  I finally made the acquaintance of Cheyenne, a girl of twelve years old who came all the way from San Fernando with her parents, encouraged by Yusha Marie-Sorano (Yusha, I love you!).  She is a talented young dancer and her parents are very supportive.  I am trying to find time to give her a private lesson next week.  What an honor.

This connection I am making down here feels real and powerful.  I wish I could be here for 3 months to really make bonds in the community because my research for "Yam, Potatoe an' Fish!" relies so much on this environment.  The environment is teaching me and speaking to me everyday.  It speaks in the shit that goes wrong here.  It speaks in the way I interact with people and the way Trinidadians interact with me--a foreigner.  It is coming through me as I find my voice and as I see and experience Trindad from Jamie's eyes.  

Everyone is noticing the changes that I am going through.  It is in the way I think, speak and hold my body.  I am changing in a way that feels natural, like the "old me"--from my youth.  My tongue is freeing up, and with that, my body language and personality.  I was living under a veil before.  Muted.  I want out.  I need "Yam, Potatoe an' Fish!"

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