Talking to One of Jamaica’s Most Exciting Dancer-Choreographers – Neila Ebanks

YE: Why are you an artist/dancer and when did you first become one?

Neila: I think I was born one. My dance story starts when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My mother sent me to dance classes to rehabilitate my extreme pigeon-toes and I have danced ever since. It’s a language as natural to me as breath.

My art chose me. I was not the instigator of the relationship. But daily I make the choice to affirm my soul through my connection with Dance. It really is soul-affirmation for me.

YE: How would you describe your work?

Neila: Psychological, cathartic, layered. I rarely go for the easy or obvious. I find I use my choreography to grapple with and work through my own ideas about life and living. My favourite form to choreograph in has always been contemporary Dance because it can be almost anything you make it.

YE: What type of dance do you do?

Neila: I am a contemporary dancer who LOVES to improvise.

YE: Which company/group do you dance with, if any?

Neila: At present I dance with eNKompan.E, which is my own company… of one. I have previously performed and guested with the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble, The University Dance Society, The NDTC, L’ACADCO, Dance Theatre Xaymaca and a number of companies in the UK.

YE: What artists/dancers have influenced you and how?

Neila: I have much to owe to so many. My foundation influences have been my first dance teachers, Monika Lawrence, Carol Murdock (now deceased) and Patsy Ricketts, all of whom nurtured my zest and passion for dance at a very young age without being patronizing.

I was treated as a young artist in the making and learnt so much professionalism and regard for my art from these teachers. Patsy, in particular, gave me such excellent examples of how to embody a performance. I carry that with me to this day. I also have been influenced by Nicholeen DeGrasse-Johnson, now Director of the School of Dance. Through her example I have come to understand the fundamental importance of the educative potential of the art of Dance.

My years at UWI saw me working with Joseph Robinson, L’Antoinette Stines and Howard Daly, each of whom widened the scope of dance for me, showing me another angle, another side of the prism, another possibility – L’Antoinette with her deep connection through dance to the spiritual and ancestral; Joe, with his consistently energetic proposals of the impossible; Howard, with his willingness to take risks with content and presentation.

It goes without saying (though I will say it), that I have also been influenced by Professor Rex Nettleford and the NDTC. Every summer of my formative dance years was spent @ the NDTC’s season of Dance, soaking up the visual lessons in choreography, stagecraft and performance. Further, Professor Nettleford’s bi-lingual intellect (artistic and verbal) helped me to own both aspects of myself and see the wonderful fit of the critical mind and the moving body.

The tutelage of Arsenio Andrade, principal dancer of the NDTC and lecturer in the Cuban-Modern technique has also played and important part in the way I now understand he body’s connection to rhythm and space. I have been blessed also to have contemporaries such as Chris Walker, Shelley-Ann Maxwell, Marlon Simms, Michael Holgate and Oniel Pryce, who, through their willingness to find voice through choreography and performance strengthen my own resolve, daily.

Internationally I have been influenced by the work of a number of contemporary choreographers including Jiri Kylian, Lloyd Newson (DV8 Physical Theatre), Ulysses Dove, Bill T. Jones, Twyla Tharp and Mia Michaels.

YE: What other interests do you have outside of dance?

Neila: I enjoy reading almost anything. I am also crazy about yoga. I’m planning to take up horseback riding and karate.

YE: What inspires you to keep motivated when things get tough?

Neila: The dream that was put into my soul. When things get tough, I have to turn within and call to mind that dream and the feeling of rightness that the dream brings forth.

YE: Who are some dance companies that you admire?

Neila: I have always enjoyed specific pieces from each of our major Jamaican dance companies – newer and older works. As regards Jamaican dancers, a few of those who have really moved my heart include Patsy Ricketts, Arlene Richards, Natalie Chung, Arsenio Andrade, N’Jelle Gage, Simone Harris, Marlon Simms, Chris Walker, Shelley-Ann Maxwell, Anika Jobson, Sade Bully, Guy Thorne. Their commitment to the stage and to their own honesty when on that stage is truly admirable.

Internationally I enjoy the work of DV8 Physical Theatre, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Kettly Noel and Urban Bush Women among others.

YE: What’s the best and worst parts of being an dancer?

Neila: Dance can fill you with such exhilaration. When you have put in the time and effort in rehearsals and classes, more often than not your emotional reward is so fulfilling. To know that you can effectively communicate ideas large and small without words and further, touch another’s heart through your art is what keeps me coming back to Dance. Additionally, it is wonderful to have such a thorough and connected understanding of your body and its potential.

The same body focus can be the worst part, if one does not handle transition and rest well. Dance is first and foremost a physical art, and so the body will wear down, become injured, need to heal. For some, it will never be as it was before injury and so the dancer has to be able to wrap her mind around this reality and continue to live. Sounds easy, but it’s very difficult.

YE: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Neila: In 10 years I would have just entered my 40s. I will be in my prime and still be on stages internationally, performing and leading workshops… enriching lives through Dance. My company will be in full-fledged swing and will be creating opportunities for others who wish to dance their lives.

YE: How would you describe the state of the dance world in Jamaica?

Neila: Rich and fertile in ideas, but too fragmented to grow in a sound way. We have a plethora of choreographers who enjoy the challenges of expressing their views through bodies, but I find that most are trying to express in the same way. I don’t see real chances being taken often enough (I am guilty of this too). I feel we are holding back and trying to maintain a status quo of sorts. There is, as yet, no forum for dialogue and cooperation on its deepest level.

YE: If you could be doing anything you wanted, what would that be?

Neila: I’m doing it now. The only thing I would increase is the international travel and the earnings.

YE: How have you developed your skill?

Neila: I have formally studied dance and performance-making in Jamaica and in the UK, at the Edna Manley College and at the University of Surrey (MA Physical Theatre). Every day, though, I develop my skill, as every day I am actively learning more about my craft.

YE: Do you dance professionally? i.e. Get paid to dance? Do you want to?

Neila: I dance professionally, I choreograph professionally, I lecture professionally.

YE: What’s going on in your head when you’re performing?

Neila: Difficult question. Sometimes there is an inner narrative, images which I call to mind which help me to perform the movements with interpretive sensitivity. Sometimes there are counts. Sometimes I am listening for music cues, watching for movement cues. Sometimes I am actively connecting with an audience member or someone else on stage. Sometimes there is a costume malfunction or some other error and I am many steps ahead in my mind, fixing it. Sometimes there is the bliss of my body being on autopilot. And all this can happen in 30 seconds or less of dance.

YE: What makes you want to get up out of bed in the morning?

Neila: God’s gift of life. Recognising that the first breath in the morning means I’ve got something to do. I’m not done yet.

YE: Final thoughts?

Neila: If there is a song in your heart, please sing it…. A dance, please do it all the way down the street… not matter how many people think you strange. We all come here with our talents and society tells us we are to hide them because they make us too hard to fit with everyone else. I say do what your heart asks you to and then everyone else will want to fit in with you. That’s why you were made in the first place.

Kathleen Turner Is "Mother Courage"

Kathleen Turner, veteran of Hollywood and Broadway, stars in the title role of “Mother Courage and Her Children,” the satiric, anti-war play by Bertolt Brecht at Washington’s Arena Stage from February 7 to March 9, 2014. Last year, her solo turn there in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” drew packed houses and raves for her spot-on performance as the opinionated columnist from Texas. That collaboration with Molly Smith, Arena’s Artistic Director, sparked their mutual admiration.

From the outset of her career, Ms. Turner has been zealous about crafting new and unique characters with no repetitions. She implanted her distinctive aura in hit films “Body Heat,” “Romancing the Stone,” “Prizzi’s Honor,” “The War of the Roses” and “Peggy Sue Got Married,” the latter earning her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. On stage, she received Tony Award nominations for her interpretation of two spitfires, Maggie in “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Her voice-overs include the seductive Jessica Rabbit in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Itinerant canteen worker Mother Courage is like no other character she has portrayed.

“I adored portraying Molly Ivins because I was familiar with her from working with People For the American Way (PFAW) and the ACLU,” Ms. Turner said. “It so happened that Ann Richards (former governor of Texas) had an apartment in my building in New York and I would often see them there together. I so enjoyed working with Molly Smith during that production that she and I began thinking about other plays we could do together. Her suggestion of ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ seemed like the perfect choice to perform in Washington.

“Mother Courage is very fiercely a mother. She must operate in a bare bones situation, always thinking: what do I have to do to survive? Her choices are hard, so she struck a chord with me. Like her, I’ve had to deal with many problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and I’ve done the best I knew how.

“The story takes place during wartime and resonates today. Brecht portrays war as absolutely useless and a terrible waste. No one benefits. Mother Courage is in a situation caused by people who decided to wage war, but it’s the little people at the bottom – the peasants and those who carry out the warfare – whose lives are destroyed. I find it disturbing that the Afghanistan War is still going on today, and yet there is no evidence of it in Washington.”

While exiled in the United States during the 1939 German invasion of Poland, Brecht penned “Mother Courage and Her Children” to express his opposition to Fascism and Nazism. It is regarded by many as the greatest anti-war play of the 20th century for its scathing depiction of wars and the corruption of those who participate in them. A prolific writer, Brecht produced 54 plays and hundreds of poems, along with fiction and theoretical works. By the time he wrote this play, he had created distinctive ways of conveying concepts to his audiences. Among these are placards to announce upcoming scenes, a single prop to represent many similar items and songs to emphasize the themes and action. For this production, composer James Sugg wrote thirteen pieces of original music to lyrics by British translator David Hare.

“Molly updated the play from the Thirty Years War of the 17th Century to a more contemporary time, World War I through World War II, so I chose a Gypsy punk style to suit the period,” Mr. Sugg said. “The songs don’t work like musical theater. Instead, Brecht stops cold, then he may insert a parable. One sung by the chaplain has an American folk or Johnny Cash-like feel, while the Cook, a bawdy character, sings one reminiscent of Cab Calloway. I love Kurt Weill, so this is a nod to him. My intent is to embrace a break from action and nail a song that’s exactly right for the moment, brings immediate energy to the action and provides an arc throughout the evening.

“The characters follow the army like Gypsies, carrying their instruments as they go, so we hand-picked actors who are also musicians. The accordion is at the heart, along with a tuba, a viola, a trumpet, a trombone, a bass, a bongo and a musical saw. It’s not often you find someone who plays a musical saw, but we did, and this one has central moments.

“Kathleen Turner is one of five characters who sing. Although this is her professional singing debut, she is a natural musician. She learned her songs with a vocal coach and when she showed up at rehearsal, she sang and interpreted each song perfectly. She even sings one of them while standing on a moving cart.”

“I’ve always avoided musicals,” Ms. Turner said. “When I started out, no leading lady had a low voice.

Everything was written for sopranos. My ex-husband had a band and I’ve always sung for fun, but I didn’t want to compete with my daughter, Rachel, who has an extraordinary singing talent. The songs in this show are appropriate because they’re tough, Several are almost sarcastic in the way they talk about what God wants for the suffering people.”

7 Benefits For Musicians, Performing Artists or Entertainers To Have Their Own App

If you are a musician or a recording artist or entertainer who has your own music or recordings in the apple iTunes store or available on-line then you should be thinking about having your own app or “application” as a useful tool to help promote your music. So what is an app you ask? It is simply a software programme that is designed to specifically operate on a particular device (e.g. smartphone, iPhone, template computer, iPod, iPad, etc). Each app is usually represented by an icon on the devices menu screen.

So how can an app help you find potential customers? Well currently there are 5.3 billion mobile subscribers in the world, in 2009 half a billion mobile subscribers accessed the internet worldwide. Android is expected to become the top operating system for new smartphones in 2011 and top the Apple iPhone. These stats can be seen at the “mobiThinking” website.

In February 2010 the 10 billionth song was downloaded from the iTunes store. So there is plenty of demand for those artists that make it into the iTunes store. An app can provide a vehicle to assist a musician gain exposure. While I am relatively new to the app building industry I can identify the big advantages for the musician in having their own app and the shortage of affordable app producers that can meet the rapidly expanding demand for good, basic affordable apps.

Advantages for a musician in having their own app: –

1. Presence in the market place where your customers go to find music, yet not many musicians so far have an app, (there are reports of 306K iPhone apps and between 150 – 250,000 Android apps),

2. Add credibility to your existing PR portfolio (blog, fan page, social network pages) as your fans want to be able to access your music, videos, etc, anywhere on their mobile phone that goes everywhere with them,

3. Increase sales of your music, promo products, etc, once you connect with more potential fans,

4. Build your fan base, have old fans reconnect with you as well as have new fans find you,

5. Update your fans of your new releases, new products, albums, singles, etc,

6. Have a free app so anyone can afford to have it to use and it can potentially have a viral spread amongst the music community.

7. Be one of the first musicians to have an app in the app market and take advantage of the leverage it can give you.

So as you can see from the above list of advantages there are some valid reasons why musicians and recording artists should have their own app promoting their music. The cost of having an app doesn’t have to be prohibitive and nowadays can be affordable to musicians and recording artists on a modest budget.