Sat | Feb 22, 2020

5 Questions with Marlon Simms

Published:Friday | May 17, 2019 | 12:22 AM
Marlon Simms
Marlon Simms

Marlon Simms’ rise to the position of artistic director of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) is no surprise. Simms has long been lauded as one of the island’s most skilled male dancers, with the ability to compose classical and traditionally choreographed pieces and a robust knowledge gleaned from his studies abroad mentored by ship of the greats, such as the late Professor Rex Nettleford and Eddy Thomas. Simms also wears the hat of director of studies at the School of Dance at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA).

Seated in two of the most influential chairs in the local dance world, Simms is ready to make his mark by rolling street dancers and dancehall into the company’s programmes and the school’s curriculum. Today we learn a little more about Simms in this week’s 5 Questions with...

What is the biggest misconception persons have about dance as an established career?

Persons believe that dance is not a legitimate profession. Some persons see it as a hobby or extra-curricular activity. It is not seen as a money maker or a lucrative career that can sustain you and your family.

From your position at the EMCVPA School of Dance, how interested are Jamaican (or Caribbean) youth in dance?

Jamaican and Caribbean youth are very interested in dance because dance is a strong part of Caribbean life. They see dance around them, watch it on social media or television, or are involved in dance in their school or community. They easily identify it as a means of expression, entertainment, or art form. The ones who are really passionate about it tend to pursue studies in it later on. They may be inspired to pursue a career in dance based on persons they see as successful in the field, which is an expansive one. Dance and related fields include careers under performance, education, health, dance and arts administration and technical theatre.

Was your appointment as artistic director of NDTC the fruit of determination, a goal you had, or was it a serendipitous appointment?

I was determined to succeed at dance despite the many challenges I faced as a late starter. Perhaps it is the determination, passion, commitment, and discipline that have led me to this point. Whatever accounts for it, I am deeply grateful and humbled. It is a great honour.

How much of the School of Dance curriculum includes dancehall music/choreography/history?

There is no denying that dancehall is a strong part of Jamaican culture. We’ve therefore had to include it in our curriculum with the creation and delivery of two new and exciting dancehall courses by Maria Hitchins. We’ve taken note of the fact that students come into the school with varied experiences, which they explore in their performances and choreography. You will therefore be inclined to see a dancehall work as part of our offering on the main stage during our Season of Dance. We’ve had students who have been very inventive in fusing the different genres and experiences they have had at the college to create interesting movement patterns and explorations in dancehall and modern dance. Given the demand for dancehall, we are currently working on a programme specifically for dancehall dancers, which would cover the music, history, choreography of dancehall. That programme will be marketed or announced as soon as it has been fine-tuned.

You recently presented at the Jamaica Business Development Corporation’s 12th annual Small Business Expo & Conference on the topic ‘Export Moves: Dance Ah Yaad Before You Dance Abroad’. Why that topic?

There is something unique about a trained Jamaican/Caribbean dancer. They receive world-class training with a Caribbean perspective, which sets them apart from other dancers from other parts of the world. This gives them a competitive advantage and skills that will serve them for the duration of their career. My recommendation would be to dance at home first, discover who you are as an artist, develop your unique brand, and take that brand to the rest of the world if you so choose. And there are many ways to take your talent abroad – collaboration, auditions, residencies, marketing your brand through online platforms, networking, etc.