Friday, 13 July 2018

Jamaican Canadian Artists Cop Dora Awards for their Performance

By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: John Lauener    FLOOR'D won the Outstanding Performance - Ensemble Award in the independent theatre category. Natasha Powell, founder of Holla Jazz, is at the far right.

Two artists of Jamaican heritage are among the recipients of the 39th Annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards for the 2017-2018 season.

Produced and presented by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA), the awards celebrate excellence in Toronto theatre, dance and opera.

In the dance division, the ensemble of Holla Jazz’s “FLOOR’D” won the outstanding performance - ensemble award, while in the independent theatre division, Raven Dauda nabbed the outstanding performance – female category for the Adedo Collective and The Watah Theatre production, “Addicted.”

The star-studded ceremony was held at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto on June 25.

FLOOR'D is a soulful and propulsive performance of dance, live music, and raw energy, all in the spirit of jazz. It draws inspiration from Katrina Hazzard-Gordon’s renowned book, “Jookin: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture.” 

The work showcases the dynamics, relationships, and interactions of dancing bodies inspired by the arena of jook houses and how these bodies compose music - jazz and the blues. Dances in the jook included the Charleston, the shimmy, the snake hips, the funky butt, the twist, the slow drag, the black bottom, the fish tail, and the grind and more.

 “This is actually the first time these seven dancers were working together so to be acknowledged for that among the first time that they’ve worked together is really exciting. It’s nice to be acknowledged,” says Natasha Powell about the win for FLOOR’D which is Holla Jazz’s first production.

Powell, who was born in Canada and is a Toronto-based dancer, choreographer, producer, and founding artistic director of Holla Jazz, was first exposed to dance through family social gatherings, basement parties, and backyard barbeques hosted by her parents (Grenadian mother, Jamaican father) and older siblings.  

When she was nine her parents enrolled her in ballet, modern jazz, and tap classes because they saw that there was something that she wanted to do but piano and soccer weren’t working out for her. 

Dance was the one that stuck with her at a young age and inspired her to continue dancing and pursue a professional career

Powell’s vocabulary encompasses a wide rage of dance styles that also include hip hop, house, and vernacular jazz.  

She experienced a knee injury in 2012 and was out for a while which forced her to think about the things that were important to her. During that time she realized that “social dancing, dancing with other types of bodies, dancing and interacting with other people was what really inspired me.”

“That’s when I came closer to connecting with jazz because jazz has a whole social history as well, particularly for Africans who came to America and how that whole evolution of the dance started.”

Grant awards from the Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council supported her New York residency research period, guided by Professor Moncell “iLLKozby” Durden.  

This was the start of Holla Jazz – “an arena where all jazz dances, hip hop, and house intersect to reinvigorate the idea of freedom and unity of the dance styles that bring meaning and hope to our communities.”

Photo credit: John Lauener   Raven Dauda received the Outstanding Performance - Female award in independent theatre for her play, 'Addicted.'

“Addicted” follows Penelope Day, an alcoholic at the end of her rope who finds herself at the mercy of Saving Grace, an unconventional rehab facility and its motley crew of residents. 

While in treatment, Penelope comes face to face with her inner demons, revealing the ugly truth about her family’s destructive past. Leaving Penelope to question what is real, what is not, and if in fact she will survive. 

It is written, performed and created by Dauda, and is described as a “tour-de-force multidisciplinary monodrama that will unapologetically get you hooked.”

“It’s my family’s story, it’s my own personal experience interwoven with my own creativity, interwoven with my beliefs and views that I have with myself, the world, with addictions so it just really validate everything as to who I am not only as a human being but a spiritual being and it’s just wonderful being recognized in that way,” says Dauda, who was born in Ottawa in 1973 to a Jamaican mother and a father (now deceased) from Sierra Leone.

Dauda worked with d’bi.young anitafrika whose methodology – a self-actualization method – helped her to look at her life.

“This story came about just as a way of me just getting in touch with myself,” said Dauda, noting that the story deals with ancestral pain and trauma, and is liberating.

Her mother always pushed her to explore her artistic talent, reminding her of relatives, like the late social anthropologist and musicologist Olive Lewin, and that theatre is in her blood. Lewin’s father and Dauda’s maternal grandfather are brothers.

Dauda is working on bringing the show back to Toronto and also touring it, but right now she is doing a lot of television and film -- playing a doctor in “Star Trek” and working on the show “Private Eyes.”

The other Jamaicans nominated were: d’bi.young anitafrika (outstanding direction of ‘speaking of sneaking’ and outstanding performance – female ‘Lukumi: A Dub Opera’), L’Antoinette Stines (outstanding choreography of ‘Lukumi: A Dub Opera), Ordena Stephens-Thompson (outstanding performance – individual in ‘Risky Phil’), and daniel jelani ellis (outstanding new play for ‘speaking of sneaking’).

Playwright, Djanet Sears, who has a Jamaican mother and a Guyanese father, was nominated for outstanding direction of ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.’

[A story initially written for the North American Weekly Gleaner.]

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