Kevin A. Ormsby and his company KasheDance (Toronto) will be performing at our three In the Park shows on Friday, June 2, 6 pm at Hanlon Creek Park, and on Saturday, June 3, and Sunday, June 4 at 12 pm at Exhibition Park. The piece the company will be performing is “FACING Home: Love and Redemption,” co-choreographed by Kevin and his colleague Christopher Walker. We asked Kevin to tell us more about the piece and about his work with KasheDance. What you’ll read here will shed light on the work you’ll see during the Festival.
Thoughts on Dance in An International and Provincial Context
The speech was written at an event hosted by KasheDance and the previous Lt. GG of Ontario –Michael Onley at the Lt.GG Suite at Queens Park.
As Artistic Director of KasheDance and Co-Choreographer of “FACING Home: Love and Redemption,” my story is like that of many Ontarians. The stories of immigration fostering change, fuelling industries, lives and the demographics of Ontario; it is for me the movement of Diasporas, the dance and cultural sensibilities that informs my work. I have to understand this relationship as an artist in relationship to indigeneity and the indigenous peoples of this land which we as settlers call Home.
KasheDance creates its works in sensitivity to the international influence indicative of the city, province and country I have come to call home. Dance possesses more than the physical capacities that it has come to be known for. It is a catalyst not only for expression but also for understanding, civic engagement and social activism. In providing a space for expression, dance transcends into the hearts of its practitioners and its viewers to highlight our culture, society and inner being. It can at times, with the aide of other mediums unite form, content and context, which leads to unique perspectives of who we are as a people. The power of the art form in Education, Community and Social enterprise highlights possibilities for engaging stories, empathy, inclusion and diversity; important characteristics I believe, required by our consciousness and humanity. It supports creativity, imagination and ultimately innovation.
Dance is a human expression seen in and through the historical depictions of time and in Ontario, dance is an ever-present reality of our province. Internationally, dance in Canada offers many examples of this country’s lasting impressions to the world. Ontario is a gateway to many artists’ adjustment in Canada. Many cultures live here and the smorgasbord of international cultural expressions makes dance in Ontario filled with untapped riches for further exploration, collaboration and appreciation. KasheDance is passionate without a doubt about the possibilities that lie in the conversations of cultural influence at the crossroad. As we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Ontario and Canada are poised for such focused and progressive conversations because dance is one of those catalysts for the engagement of civic societies of the contemporary future. The boundaries then, of cross-cultural engagement steeped in local and international experiences, places the arts in Ontario at the forefront of cultural potential and currency.
As a creator, I choose not to forget the contributions made by many cultures, ethnicities, races and also persons from international boundaries on the Arts in Ontario. Such international and local influences have supported the socio-cultural, artistic and economic milieu of Ontario. Dance moves, it ignites, creates potential, insurmountable possibilities for civic and cultural progression. Notwithstanding, civic engagement and community building. Said community-strengthening starts here with the presentation of many artists from diversity backgrounds at the Guelph Dance Festival.
We had a few more questions for Kevin.
Why did you make the piece you’ll be performing at the Festival?
Three years ago Chris Walker (co-choreographer) and I embarked on separate creative research projects. Kevin was investigating the global impact of Marley’s music, while developing a movement language for his company rooted in Jamaican/Caribbean language of the body. Chris had been doing research on contemporizing Caribbean dance and was invited to work on the project with KASHEDANCE as dramaturge/co-choreographer, with a focus on translating the history, philosophy and cultural information embedded in the movement vocabulary. During this same period, Kevin provided artistic support for Chris’ research project, “A Yard Abroad” which evolved into “Facing Home: a phobia.” This project investigated the potential that dancehall and urban popular movement vocabulary has, as language, to engage in conversations around the stigmas of homosexuality and homophobia in Jamaica and the ability to rise above. We recognized the conversation that both projects were having with each other and decided to combine and collaborate to create Facing Home: Love & Redemption.
Over three years, our process included interviews, community discussions, feedback sessions, movement development workshops, performance workshops with audience talkback sessions, conference presentations and publications on process and project, and curated performances of excerpts. We wanted to dig deep into the consciousness and value system that informed Marley’s work and explored movement vocabulary steeped in the cultural nuances of dances of the Caribbean. In copying tradition we used synchronicity in the choreography. Traditions of masking and subversive texturing also reflect the realities of living as LGBTQ in the Caribbean and in many cases, where Caribbean cultures migrate. Queer Caribbean bodies morph as they are often forced through machinations to get through the day – these expressions provide a dance language palette suited to our curiosities about having contemporary physical conversations with the past, present and future.
Bob Marley’s music galvanized generations with sentiments like “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights” —“I wanna love you and treat you right, I wanna love you everyday and every night” — “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds – “you can’t run away from yourself” —“Africa unite” —”No woman no cry” — “I say fly away home to zion “ — “Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!” — “One love, one heart.” This contemporary dance concert investigates the global impact of his music and his message—its expression of humanity’s struggle and inspiration toward love, redemption and hope—and the simultaneous, deep-rooted homophobia in Jamaican/West Indian Culture that results in, for many, a forced exodus from their country and the reconstruction of their identities as a means of survival.
“FACING HOME” is meant to impact migrant populations, generate change and ignite the LGBTQ community, it’s supporters, and service workers everywhere it’s performed and beyond. We hope, with this work, to initiate an ongoing conversation with you and provide spaces for the LGBTQ narratives of displacement from home.
The piece involved a creation / exploration phase, second phase creation process and then a production phase both in Toronto and Madison, WI. Given it was a bi-national work we spent many time over social media and technological platforms discussing, documenting and rehearsing the work. Research also occurred in Jamaica and New York between the choreographers and in Toronto and Wisconsin with the dancers and lighting designers. The company is steeped in creation, research and presentation and so we demanded that every artist be invested where the research facilitated the creation and then how those elements could and would be shaped in presentation. All our work requires this framework of artistic engagement by our artists. The investment they have made in the processes been the most humbling experience. The process has been long, emotional and transformative. We had to ground and be psychologically conscious of not just our sexually identified but also heterosexual cast members as well.
How does your piece relate to cultural trends or other works of art or current events or history?
I would be curious to hear from audience members, presenters and participants what and how they think this piece is relevant. Our diversity framework as a company has always been reflective of the Jamaica in which both co-choreographers grew up and still practice. It’s about the diversity of not just the techniques from which we create but also the artists with whom we create with. It’s live experience that one-day Canada will come to appreciate and understand fully. We are a contemporary company forged in the interplay of many dance techniques, rooted in the African Diaspora.
What is something you’d like to tell the audience about your piece that they won’t be able to find out in the program?
Dear Audience Members,
The work you will experience is created with the sensibility that you too are experts in what you see and feel!
You BREATHE, FEEL, and in turn DANCE. (KasheDance’s Philosophy)
Your thoughts, emotions and expressions during the work is equally important to it.
Dance and the Arts can change society…it starts with you.
Every nuance, look, smile, is rich with the celebration that you are here with us.
Our last piece “ONE” was written as a speech by Haile Selassie’s address to the United Nations, 1963.
Then made popular by Bob Marley, the version you hear is by a Caucasian Jamaican.
If indeed as Alvin Ailey say “dance came from the people and it should be given back to the people” If so,
Then “ this is my message to you oo oo” – Bob Marley
Hoot, Holler, Let us know that you are moved by what you experience; it’s a small portion of what we want to give back to you
You mean the world to us because we are the world right here, right now…
Why is dance important to you? Why should it be important to others?
I feel the speech at the beginning speaks to this and now we have gone the full circle of life…