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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Shining, Shaping + Standard Making: Candace Thompson Crafts Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE

photo credit: Jamerlyn Brown

Before "shine theory" was in our lexicon, there has always been a general ethos amongst the women in my squad of, "When you shine, I shine." These are women in my world with whom I am absolutely in love. People with whom I trust my life and reflect back to me the best parts of who I am and who I want to be. Candace Thompson is high on that list of people. We met the first day I walked into Christal Brown's INSPIRIT rehearsal over 6 years ago. Christal partnered Candace and I for a duet. I think it's safe to say we've been dancing that duet ever since.

Seriously, I have never known someone more driven, committed and goes-hard-in-the-paint no-matter-what than Candace. She is brilliant, and there is not enough I can do to lift her up, but today, I am trying.

In honor of the New Traditions Festival: Dance Your Caribbean, that she is producing this weekend June 11 + 12 with the Dance Caribbean Collective, I thought I would give the world a window into our ongoing conversation to see what happens when dance-making, dance extravaganza-producing, sister-friends get on the phone and talk through the work.

This interview took place on June 2. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.

MAGIC MAKING
Sydnie L. Mosley: Well, I want to start by saying, I am so proud of you.

Candace Thompson: Aww. Yay!

SLM: Yes, because in a very short time period - a year and a half - you have not only committed to developing your own choreographic voice, but also to create a platform to uplift that voice within the New York City dance community, and then, make space for other people to do that as well… which is a REALLY BIG DEAL!

CT: [laughter] Well, thank you for acknowledging that. You don’t always get to step back and think about it because you are so busy doing [the work].

SLM: How does that make you feel?!

CT: It makes me feel good. I feel like I started working on my choreography and then it was, “Oh maybe we can do a collective!” because at the end of the day, dance at the basic level is supposed to fun. It is supposed to be something you do with other people. You know?

SLM: Right.



photo credit: Andre' Zachery

CT: It didn’t make sense for me to start working on my own choreography and feel like I was the only one doing the kind of work I was doing. I could become the lone, “Oh, the girl who does the Caribbean thing,” but… I don’t wanna be there by myself.

SLM: Well, you’re not there by yourself.

CT: I know, but you know what I mean.

SLM: I do know what you mean. I’ve been thinking about how we’ve been partners in the magic making to produce SLMDances’ work for a few years now, and now you’re in the role of chief magic maker.

CT: [giggles] CMM!

SLM: Yes! CMM! That’s what I decided you are: CHIEF. MAGIC. MAKER. What do you think has been the most stressful or most difficult part of being CMM?

CT: I guess because I have been so deep in the contemporary modern dance community, and in the last few years stepping into cultural ambassadorship through [Caribbean] dance, and now trying to bridge the two worlds in a platform which is sort of a hybrid of the two… it’s like holding people to the same standards to help create what we are doing in the most robust way possible…

SLM: In terms of the artists?

CT: Yea, I think the artists and people in and around the organization; in terms of community building, in terms of curating, in terms of mentorship. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one committed to being thorough or the only one committed to digging deeper. I mean you know me well, and you know that I can make things up in my head, so maybe that’s not true. Maybe people are totally on board and I just don’t realize, but sometimes I feel like I’m the standard keeper and it’s a hard job. Me dealing with the artists, me interacting with all the people should be fun - and then if I have to turn around and keep people focused it takes the joy out of it.

I guess the other stressful part is having to create all of the systems and design how we do things administratively, in terms of marketing and presenting ourselves to the world, in terms of how we are internally supporting our artists and bringing more people into the Dance Caribbean Collective family. Designing literally how everything works while trying to be one of the artists that benefits from the platform as well.


Facing Home: Love and Redemption


SLM: Going back to what you were saying in terms of being the “standard keeper,” what are these standards and how did you arrive at them?

CT: The standards are… in terms of Caribbean content, knowing your content matter, doing the research. The standards are your performance craft -- the use of whatever form you are using - in its fullest, widest, highest potential. The standards are making work that can connect to a Caribbean audience because that’s what we’re interested in, and creating work that can be broken down, and defended, and explained, and that’s thorough. It’s this bridging “high art” and “low art” and [these standards] are the things that separate the two. It’s your ability to carefully construct a piece that tells a story, or gives a feeling, or quotes a culture, or uses tradition in a sensible and responsible way. In creating a platform that elevates our culture, elevates our traditions onto a public stage, it’s giving [our culture and traditions] the respect that it deserves because it has been delved into inside and out. Do you know what I mean?

SLM: I do! If anybody knows, it’s me.

ARTISTIC MENTORSHIP
SLM: What are you the most excited about for the New Traditions Festival?

CT: Just seeing the pieces side by side.

SLM: Why?

CT: It goes back to why I started the Collective in the first place. I knew that there were so many people of Caribbean background who were making their own work, using parts of their culture, parts of themselves, parts of their stories in their work, but not enough of us knew about each other. Seeing the different aspects, people’s different takes on things and different countries perspectives is exciting. To me, it represents what my Brooklyn experience is. In terms of movement vocabulary, people are using different genres of dance, so seeing those side by side. And then also, seeing those [dances] side by side with Chris Walker and Kevin Ormsby’s piece [who] really are established artists. [Chris and Kevin] have been doing this sort of investigation almost their entire lives, both of them. So it’s seeing us who are now digging in, researching and figuring out what we want to be making dances about and how we are going to do that, and seeing people who have been doing this [for a long time] and have figured some things out already.


Chris Walker
Kevin Ormsby

You know, Chris was here over the weekend. He was asking how the process has been and offering [advice] from his experiences. And in that quick exchange, between Dance Africa and the workshop sooooo many things that were mulling around in my brain made more sense.

SLM: I mean, it feels like the [show is the] manifestation of community building, the manifestation of mentorship, the manifestation of being affirmed.

CT: Yes! All of those things.

SLM: What were some of the things that he said that really hit home?



CT: Well… he knew that the showcase happened and was asking about it. I was telling him some of my realizations and/or concerns, and this idea of me still figuring out the kind of work I want to present for this platform. And he just started spitting out questions!

[in Chris’ voice]: ‘Well you know, you have to question people. If they are trying to present certain things to a Caribbean audience, what is the question they are asking? And then, how are they answering it through the dance? Through the performance? And then furthermore, there is so much iconography in Caribbean culture and in Caribbean dance traditions that those things also have to be present so people can grab it. So people can see it.’

And I was like, ‘Yes! Iconography! That’s the word! Oh!’ But then I [thought], ‘Oh that gets into a touchy area,’ and he says, ‘No! There’s no personal feelings about this, it’s the work.’

SLM: I mean, but that’s true in any contemporary modern dance making process. It’s not about your personal feelings. It is about the work. Even more so when the work is explicitly pulling on a cultural perspective and isn’t following in the “mainstream” “neutral” “very white” way of dance making. That’s the thing I have always been rigorous about as well -- being real clear about crafting the aesthetic, alongside whatever the content is that I’m trying to shape and bring across.

Jessica St. Vil and dancers rehearse their work for the New Traditions Festival 2016: Dance Your Caribbean!
photo credit:  Katherine Bergstrom


CT: Yeah… For instance, in your work, so much of it is based on the personal stories of the people in it. But that gets touchy too because you’re dealing with people’s identity which a lot of Caribbean work is. So, that’s where I get nervous about how much of my feelings I want to share because you know you are in touchy territory.

SLM: Why? What do you mean?

CT: I mean, giving critique on that kind of work. It gets tricky because you know that you’re critiquing something that people see as part of themselves.

SLM: Yes. But also, you’re making a dance. You know what I mean? And part of being a dance maker is being vulnerable to open yourself up to critique, no matter what the dance is about. That’s being an artist.

COMMUNITY
SLM: What are the best ways that you have felt supported through this work?

CT: Well one is people volunteering their time. Two is people who served as sounding boards with me trying to think through all these things. I realized that it has been an aim of mine to have these meetings where we can hash out these things together... I realized that space is so important to me.

Because we are in New York, showing up is one of the hardest things for people to do, myself included. But, the fact that I knew that I had to meet the committee would make me more accountable because I knew people were looking to me for directions and information. People showing up is one of the ways I have been most supported.

And also, people who are more experienced, who are older, who have been doing this work or similar work affirming [Dance Caribbean Collective] or offering advice has been poignant.  At the end of the day I’m not doing this for myself, so an endorsement from people in and around the community lets me know I’m on track...  Administrative support -- people who have edited documents, looked over grants, sent email, social media. That kind of support has been essential. People being mouth pieces for me... The people who have been like ‘This is Dance Caribbean Collective. This is Candace. This is what she’s doing.’ That’s been helpful because I’m still trying to find my legs in doing that in a way that doesn’t make me feel gross inside.


From left to right: Brittany Williams, Safi Harriott, Jessica St. Vil, Maxine Montilus, Shola Roberts, Candace Thompson


SLM: That’s so funny because I actually feel like you are very good at meeting and greeting the people. I remember specifically when you were doing a lot of the work with LaShaun [Prescott]. You would go on these gigs with the other dancers, and you made sure people were in line. They had their t-shirt and their elevator pitch. I always felt like you were so on top of that.

CT: Really? (in disbelief)

SLM: [laughter]

What are the ways you want support to get through these next two weeks?

CT: People to talk about the show. Just making it more visible, and actively getting people to buy tickets. I feel like we’ve done as much as we can do, so now it’s in the hands of the public -- the average person sitting in front of their computer that sees the event, or runs across the postcard somewhere to tell a friend, ‘Hey! Let’s go to the show together.’

And then, time and space to focus, which means that I can’t do anything extraneous until June 13.

CELEBRATION + SUCCESS
SLM: How are you going to celebrate your success?

CT: Ha! I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that.

SLM: Well you know I’ve thought about it.

CT: We have a reception the closing night. I guess that would be the celebration?

SLM: Uh uh. Nope. That’s the beginning of the celebration. What do you wanna do to celebrate your success?

CT: Okay. People seeing the show is me celebrating. People being happy after the show is me celebrating.

SLM: I don’t know if I accept that answer. [laughter]

CT: Seriously, I don’t know if I need to do a thing after that. I’m good. People are happy. They came to the show. Go home and sleep... Prosecco! I’ll have prosecco. [giggles]

SLM: These are all moderate answers. But do you know why I keep asking you this?

CT: Why?

SLM: BECAUSE THIS IS A BIG DEAL! [more giggles] Seriously, that’s why I started out by saying that I was proud of you. I don’t even know how you are doing this. I feel like the death, and I am only doing half as much as you are doing.

Is there anything else you want to say? For the people to know?

Alicia Dellimore, Candace Thompson, Shola K. Roberts
New Traditions 2015. photo credit: Alisun Dellimore

CT: I wanna say that if and when Dance Caribbean Collective/New Traditions Festival becomes a hit, becomes successful, becomes well known, I don’t want to be the only one that people say “Oh, good job!” I want to bring folks with me. This is not Candace’s shot to be famous or important. If people are looking on from the outside and are like ‘Oh my goodness, this is such a great thing!’, pick up the phone and call me if you want to be a part of the greatness, of this thing we are making. It’s not meant to be my project. That being said, anybody who wants to be a part of it has to live up to the standards.

I want people to be involved.

SLM: People who have equally high expectations.

[laughter]

CT: Correct.

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Dance Caribbean Collective’s New Traditions Festival 2016: Dance Your Caribbean! performances will be held Saturday, June 11 at 7:30pm and Sunday, June 12 at 6:00pm (complete program information below) at Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, 29 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Tickets are $25 for General Admission, $18 for Students and Seniors. A two-day pass to both performances is available for $42; a Premium two-day passes (which include reception invitations) are $50. Visit dancecaribbeancollective.org for more information.

Program A: SATURDAY, JUNE 11 | 7:30pm – Jessica St.Vil/Kanu Dance Theater, Safi Harriott, Shola Roberts & Company, and “Facing Home: Love & Redemption” (Chris Walker & Kevin Ormsby).

Program B: SUNDAY, JUNE 12 | 6pm – Maxine Montilus, Candace Thompson/ContempoCaribe, and “Facing Home: Love & Redemption” (Chris Walker & Kevin Ormsby).

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