In the latest edition of are we really serious about the development of the arts in Antigua and Barbuda, I bring you the media launch (absent media) of the Antigua Dance Academy’s 25th Anniversary celebrations.
Held the morning of December 3rd at the ADA’s current ‘home’, the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross facility, the focus of the media briefing was to give a month-by-month overview of the year’s worth of activities they’ve put together to mark their silver anniversary (that’s their 25th – a full quarter century of existence). The Veronica “Auntie Vee” Yearwood afro-Caribbean dance project that began as the Little Dancers school of dance
has blossomed in to a touring international dance company three generations deep. The quality of its productions and its impact on the dance landscape – from the individuals who have danced across its stage, including former Ms. Antigua Universe Kai Davis who was present for the media launch speaking on how the ADA helped shape her; to the way it has centered African-Caribbean folk traditions
and, with the various forums, such as the first Caribbean Arts Encounter meeting, that it has hosted, worked to deepen awareness and appreciation of same; to the platforms such as the Out of the Drum regional (and sometimes international) biennial festival it has hosted since 2004, to being cultural ambassadors with several European tours under its voluminous skirts – merit media attention on the occasion of this milestone.
But the ADA seemed decidedly unsurprised by the lack of press; after all, as Yearwood said at one point, “it’s not a soca fete”.
Hopefully, the yearlong calendar of events will get some coverage (and possibly even rate an anniversary documentary on State media). The announced activities (some clearly company specific, some with appeal to the wider public) include:
a Sports Day (in December, 2016)
a make-up, and creole dress and headtie workshop (in January, 2017)
a hike and beach day (in February, 2017)
an Antiguan (and presumably Barbudan) folksong workshop (in March, 2017)
a drumming workshop (in April, 2017)
a Creole Dress Tea Party (in May, 2017)
a public drum session (in June, 2017)
the annual Antigua Dance Academy dance production (in July, 2017)
their summer tour which this year takes them to Tobago (in August, 2017)
a dance workshop (in September, 2017)
the launch of the folk dance festival – Out of the Drum (in October, 2017)
and the festival itself (in November, 2017)
It’s worth noting that apart from teaching dance and drumming, Veronica, who has emphasized skills transference over the years – empowers the members of her company to take charge of different areas as they grow. This includes the various aspects of theatre arts: from choreography and scripting to the various backstage crafts like creating backdrops and wardrobe, to lighting and sound. Similarly, they took charge of the launch, and will with the various announced activities. The head of each area took a turn at the mic setting up expectations for their event.
So we learned that the sports day is envisioned as an annual affair reviving traditional (“back in the times”) games, promoting culture while promoting physical fitness; that it will be followed by a grand Christmas gala and awards ceremony. From principal dancer, Meserete Uzondu, a professional make-up artist, we learned that the make-up workshop is not just about sharing her art but passing on a valuable theatre skill so that “hopefully next production we can have more assisting in the application of the make-up”. On the inspiration for the creole headtie workshop and the tea party, Yearwood remarked, “it is remiss that we no longer wear what is our own.” The tea party fits this theme of reclaiming our culture with, in addition to the sartorial departure from your typical tea party , a menu that promises creative takes on local fare – fungee sandwiches and bebridge water, anyone? Davis, in her presentation, described the drum as our heartbeat.
Of the several drum activities, it was noted that “the drum was one of the first musical instruments used to signal events (and) one of the instruments that survived the atrocity of slavery; Antigua Dance Academy seeks desperately to maintain a connection with the drum.” They underscored their desire to stir interest in the arts and a sense of commitment to the arts among young people.
“Our greatest accomplishment are all sitting in here today,” Yearwood said referencing the young people present for the launch. “We’re now in to a third generation of dancers.”
When asked to comment on the biggest challenge ADA has faced over the years, Yearwood unsurprisingly spoke of the lack of knowledge, understanding, and support the arts receives. “We go to various countries and we see the kind of resources that are given to people who are as grounded and knowledgeable as we are.” But, here, at home, she said, letters go unacknowledged and unanswered. But ADA has been undeterred. “We’re going to do what we can do with or without them,” Yearwood said, and so they have been. In fact, they even have a go fund me page at this time to try to finance their dreams (find the link and more on ADA on their facebook).
The company that began in Yearwood’s mom’s home is still without a home of its own – and in recent years has been booted from its longtime perch. “It’s killing me personally,” Yearwood said. “To develop children properly, you need a base.”
The obstacles have slowed her course toward her long view vision for ADA – “It hasn’t gotten close to my vision yet; my vision is bigger than this.”
And so I return to the original premise – are we really serious about the arts in Antigua and Barbuda? As more than one person articulated at the launch, the relationship between the arts and other areas of life is indisputable – dance certainly as a fitness activity contributes to overall health and the arts as a whole, especially in a tourism-dependent country like ours, can play a bigger role in the economic health of the country; and the generations that have passed through ADA are evidence of the ways that it empowers and builds a sense of esteem in its practitioners.
The perception that it is just for fun was posited as a reason for the lack of value placed on the arts.
If so, it’s a short sighted view.
Congrats to ADA on its 25th anniversary and here’s hoping the milestone event gets the media and public attention it deserves; and the dance company that has nurtured generations of Antiguans will finally get the home it has long needed.
EDITED TO ADD (December 10th 2016): Re those inquiring about how to help, I’d say keep giving voice to your concerns and thoughts re the arts – all the arts in Antigua and Barbuda – in your spheres of influence or right here, online; and support tangibly where you can. We have no shortage of passion and people willing to and already putting in the hard work in arts development in Antigua and Barbuda, though of course more is always needed, but what’s sorely lacking is money – grant funding to support projects, activities, growth; to allow for the kind of focus the arts needs. In the specific case of ADA, they need a home. I will share some of Veronica’s comments from my facebook where I shared this article/post: “The home we are referring to is a place for storage of information and an archive for the research we have done, an area where musicians can work and create, a space for our set and costume designers and dance classes and workshops in use if theatre etc….I can do soooo much more with sooo many more children with just a small space.” The link to ADA’s facebook page in this article has a link to their gofundme page to which you can contribute. If you can…and if you can’t but you can help them spread the word, that’s something too; so, share.
As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and, forthcoming, With Grace). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out http://jhohadli.wordpress.com Please note that the images also belong to us and ask first if you wish to use them for any purpose. Thanks.