Having her first child two years ago was one of the most transformative experiences of her life. Now, with her Dance and Performance Institute reaching scores of international dance students, she feels like she’s giving birth to something wonderful all over again. Makeda Thomas, 34, has just completed New Waves 2012, a two-week dance workshop and performance series now in its second year. The programme brings some 50 international dancers to T&T “to re-imagine what dance, performance, movement, theatre and the world can be”. They performed two shows at NAPA last weekend, to very encouraging reviews. Curiously, the dancer and choreographer, who got her Master’s in Fine Arts in Dance from Hollins University in Virginia, USA, wants to continue her own education in a new direction: she wants to do a second master’s, in midwifery. She feels a strong connection between the mothering art and her function in her Dance and Performance Institute. “I really see my role, to faculty and participants, as a nurturing role.”
As in midwifery “You’re offering a lot of support. It’s not that I am creating this thing, but I am supporting this institution that’s creating this thing.” The process of developing her institute is all-encompassing, and she runs it almost single-handedly (with the help of co-ordinator Candace Thompson). Her son, Shiloh, who is still breastfeeding, has been there on a daily basis, being cared for by the community of dancers. Similarly, she has found practical ways of making her institute work. Much like when I had my first child,” she says, “I knew that I would know what to do. I knew everything was going to be fine.” And as with giving birth to a baby, she finds that her project “has its own being, its own alchemy, its own way of doing things.” “You have to nurture a project. It is something from yourself, but its life is outside of yourself.” Thomas divides her time between living in Brooklyn, New York, and her family home in Curepe. The Dance and Performance Institute got its start when she looked around at the arts discourse in T&T. She says, “There is such vibrant conversation around visual arts, writing, and film. But dance was not part of that conversation.”
Her “desire to talk about dance with other people” is what led her to start her artists in residence programme, in 2006. She started by inviting friends, who also lent their passion to Thomas’ dream: “They have been amazingly committed to the vision, at same time pushing the idea of what it can be.” Thomas sees part of her role as nurturing the discipline of dance in T&T. And while New Waves has both local and foreign components, Thomas vows to continue to focus on T&T. “I’m committing to at least going for five years in Trinidad. I had considered other options in Haiti and Brazil, but we have a big thing with sustainability here. We really have to work for keeping things going. “The amazing partnership we have with UTT, which gives us the space to do it, has allowed us to do that so far.” She comments that for small projects that don’t enjoy grants or government support, “our real resource is in collaborations with individuals and with organisations. It’s not necessarily about money and industry clout.”
With no corporate or government sponsors, Thomas says the work of her organisation is “completely independent”. “It would be awesome to be supported, to be recognised in that way, but would that mean suddenly we’re all having to wear branded T-shirts? “This way, we enjoy a certain amount of freedom, although it’s at the cost of greater effort.” Next year, New Waves will continue here in T&T, and as part of it, the group is commissioning Sonja Dumas’ work Strange Tale of an Island Shade, and will host Tony Hall as its scholar in residence, to speak on his Jouvay Popular Theatre Process, and “help to contextualise our space within T&T culture and history.” Thomas was set to return to the US for a performance for the Brooklyn Museum of Art last night.