A partnership between IDEAS 40203 and the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, the Smoketown Arts Series kicked off with a live dance workshop led by 2 dancers from the renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem (DHT) at Bates Memorial Baptist Church on October 30, 2014. Bates members and volunteers constructed a stage in the sanctuary to accommodate the workshop – which served as the perfect platform for this cultural learning experience.
Dancers Da’ Von Doane and Jenelle Figgins worked with 25 excited participants on a variety of poses and choreographed routines that are part of one of the contemporary ballets currently being performed by DTH. The multi-generational group spent the hour practicing before putting on a performance for the crowded sanctuary.
Following the workshop, Doane and Figgins offered a brief preview of their upcoming performance at the Kentucky Center on November 1, 2014 before a Q&A with the audience.
The Q&A ranged from questions about auditions, to how they got involved with ballet and if they still get stage fright. “It’s ok to make mistakes,” said Figgins as the floor opened for a dialogue with the audience. “It’s ok if things aren’t perfect the first time. What’s perfect is that you try in the first place.”
Doane and Figgins have both been with DTH for 3 seasons, and began dancing at an early age. “I started dancing seriously in 7th grade,” said Figgins. “My sister was in the company… DTH was one of the first companies I was introduced to. I remember being in D.C., and being at the Kennedy Center and seeing a stage of beautiful black women, dancing on pointe, with these moves and god like technique… they were goddesses. They were performing Apollo.”
Figgins went on to explain that seeing the things her sister was able to do inspired her. “She was going to China, Europe, all over the world, and I hadn’t even imagined myself leaving my city. I think that in itself, seeing the things she was afforded in this career, was just really awesome, something I wanted to be a part of. A life I wanted to cultivate for myself.”
“I started dancing everywhere I possibly could,” said Doane enthusiastically, who started training professionally at age 9. “As a young man, it was about focusing on my love of the art form first, and the fact that it made me happy before I tried to make anyone else happy… Always continue to love what you do and let no one stand in your way.”
When asked why he chose DTH, Doane explained that DTH has a “history for being one of the only African American (largely African American), minority based, multicultural classical dance organizations in the US.” The repertoire includes classical, neo-classical and contemporary ballets being created by the world’s finest choreographers, and “teaches you how to use your body, it challenges you mentally and physically – the diversity in the repertoire.”
In closing, Figgins said, “Da’ Von and I have this passion for dance, for being creative and trying to be successful. We try to educate ourselves as much as possible… constantly trying to feed ourselves things that will make us better in all aspects of life.”
[by Josh Miller]