The diverse dedication to dance
Movement, breath and music, connecting one’s inner being to pulsating thoughts, untouched by the human hands. Thats the essence of dance. It is everything seen and unseen, heard and felt. But for those pirouetting on ‘pointe’ Renee McDonald, Steven Cornwall and Sodanne Browne dancing represents the core existence of imagination portrayed by the rhythmic waves of the body.
Movement in pragmatic passion with Renee McDonald
Dance was all fun and games for seven-year-old Renee McDonald when she enrolled in Tony Wilson School of Modern Dance, and helped create dances for her church’s dance ministry. But when her passion for dancing came glaring at the age of 17, she was more than happy to throw her heart and soul into the art form, becoming a dancer for the University Dance Society and the Company Dance Theatre.
With more studio time and exposure to different genres of dance, choreographers, and other dancers, McDonald was introduced to creative spaces that instantly brought inspiration.
Though she loved expressing herself through movement, there was something missing. In 2009, a friend invited her to choreograph for a fundraiser. McDonald realised that she was more than a dancer but a poet of movement.
“After my choreography, artistic director and principal choreographer of L’Acadco, Dr L’Antoinette Stines, told me that choreography was a gift from God that I was simply born with. Right then I knew that choreography was in me and for me,” she told Flair.
Leaving a love behind
From there, McDonald started choreographing and teaching classes at various studios, hoping to one day be a storyteller who will change people’s lives. It was not long after that the feeling of ‘not being good enough’ started to plague the mind of the young dancer.
“Being a performer became tremendously pressuring for me. I had developed an inferiority complex over the years because I was not as flexible as other dancers. I also began gaining weight, and others were noticing it. I still enjoyed dancing, but became extremely insecure and almost obsessed with losing the weight,” she shared.
It was a personal battle she dealt with in secret, and while her mentor Wilson never mentioned her weight or flexibility and valued her as a dancer in The Company, she could not shake the thoughts of inadequacy. Detrimental to her mental health, McDonald had to make the tough decision of eliminating the aspect of dance that made her feel unworthy.
Little did she know that she was on her way to the joy and fulfilment of choreography.
“I’m really grateful to God for blessing me with this talent that has become my main means of artistic expression. I can tell stories, build awareness, spark emotions, touch and inspire people with my imagination. The fact that dancers and artistic directors are willing to allow me to share that with them and their audience is amazing to me,” she said with passion in her eyes.
Her latest work, ‘Breaking Point’ she explains, “is a dramatic modern piece about fighting for something you want until your last breath or until you are broken”. That can fit into so many life scenarios based on what an individual is desperate for, but for McDonald it was about her journey with dance.
“I hit my breaking point and in a way this piece gives me closure. I had an amazing experience choreographing the piece on Ailey II, the second company of the famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York City. I spent three weeks working on it with an awesome group of dancers. The artistic director and my friend, Troy Powell, really believed in me and my work,” she shared with Flair.
The 27-year-old is now focused on completing her final year at Norman Manley Law School to become an attorney-at-law. She is determined to balance her academic pursuits with her passion for dance, and tries to incorporate freelance choreography, teaching technique classes, photography and learning Spanish in her free time.
‘Breaking Point’ premieres on Saturday, September 16, 2017 at Towson University in Towson, Maryland.
Further information and tickets are available online at alvinailey.org.
Creative Crossover: Mission impossible with Steven Cornwall
So many think that making a creative crossover in the world of dance is mission impossible. Well, meet 28-year-old Steven Cornwall, who defied the odds when dance chose him at age 18.
Dancing was never something he thought he could do. It was mere infatuation watching his best friend Kimberly Hyman in her element. But in 2007 as he idly participated in an International Cricket Council (ICC) opening dance number, Cornwall’s abilities were spotted by lecturer at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts and artistic director of National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), Marlon Simms, who instantly motivated the youngster for the arts school.
“I didn’t think it was my ‘thing’. I use to dance dancehall for fun when my friends and I went out, but nothing serious. My mother wanted me to be a lawyer, but when I left high school, Marlon approached me and urged me to come dance by Edna. With Kim being there, I applied and luckily I got it,” he told Flair.
From dancehall to studio
Edna Manley was, of course, a different ball game for the ‘vibes’ dancer. Taking classes in contemporary and ballet was fused with familiar genres like folk and dancehall. Cornwall admitted to feeling somewhat stoic with contemporary and ballet classes, but the love for technical styles was later unveiled when he became actively involved in the dance programme at the Ardenne High School.
“When I started doing contemporary, I realised that it was a style I could actually like. I trained every day, and after being introduced to other genres of dance, I fell in love with it all and never turned back,” he expressed with a grin.
In 2008, with the continued love for dancehall, Cornwall and Hyman entered Dancing Dynamite, in hopes of mastering their craft. But with their unfortunate elimination at 13th place, Cornwall realised that he had bigger dreams. “I felt bad in the moment, but later saw that losing the competition led me to my destination of being a well-rounded dancer,” he reminisced.
Continuing his studies at Edna, Cornwall dedicated most of his days to honing his technique, working alongside other dancers and setting his mind to achieving the seemingly impossible. “I started very late, and sometimes I wish I had started earlier, but I didn’t let that stop me. I worked twice as hard to be better,” he explained.
By 2009, Cornwall was scouted by artistic director of the Company Dance Theatre Tony Wilson, and invited to join The Company Dance Theatre. Nerves almost shattered the hopes of this seemingly inexperienced dancer, who was introduced to a whole new world of technique coupled with new, talented people. Surrounded by such amazing dancers could intimidate just about anyone. “But I said to myself, this is a new challenge and I’m ready for it. I went in with the mindset that I want to be a great dancer, so I have to do this,” Cornwall expressed.
After eight years of productions and teaching dance classes, Cornwall now holds the post of lead principal male dancer in the Company, and spends his time travelling the world, networking and remaining current and original with his dance styles.
Dancing has easily become an avenue for self-expression and balance for Cornwall.
Colouring the world: ‘Beaming’ Browne
With a musician as a father and a vocal queen as a mother, it was no surprise that Sodanne Browne came out pivoting on her toes.
“I grew up around music, and apparently I was dancing from I was in my mother’s womb as I use to kick to the beat of the music when she was on stage singing,” the 33-year-old recalled with a laugh.
Enrolled into Vaz Preparatory where dance was on the curriculum, Browne was introduced to the rhythmic movement of dance and seemed to have been in the right place. In fourth form in high school, she started dancing at In Motion Dance and Fitness Centre where she received formal training and realised the complexity and glee of dance.
When it came to a choice in tertiary studies, there was no doubt that School of Dance at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts was the institution to build the passionate woman into a professional dancer. With full support from her family, Browne could not imagine her life without dance, and went after her diploma in dance, theatre and production, to solidify her love of the craft.
After her three years of study, Browne went back to In Motion but this time as a primary teacher and the founder of their Teachers Dance Group- ‘Pro Moves’. This was just the start to her journey with dance as in 2009, she decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree in dance, choreography and performance while continuing her daily routine of teaching, dancing and choreographing.
Creation of B.E.A.M Jamaica
When the members of Pro Moves went their separate ways, Browne had full knowledge and confidence in what she wanted to do next. She wanted to unearth Browne Entertainment, Arts and Media (B.E.A.M) Jamaica- a dance company that embodies the diversity of technique and the style of choreography while allowing its dancers to master a number of styles.
“BEAM is like my child. We officially started in 2014, but have been performing with the same people for 11 years,” she told Flair. “We’re a family and a strong unit.”
Dancing was not a conscious decision for Browne. She was born to move and create, this however, did not make her life any easier.
“To be a dancer, it is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually demanding. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I remember being in the studio bawling because I had to do a class and either my body was sore or I was frustrated because I had a paper to write. You have to really love it to stick to it and excel at it,” she explained.
Though there were many sleepless nights and puffy eyes, Browne shares that it was all worth it. “When you become the type of dancer that you need to be to excel, you see the greatness in the struggles.”
Browne, who tries to balance her life a choreographer, dancer and entrepreneur, says that without the help of some great teachers like Arsenio Andrade, Honore Van Ommeren, Barry Moncrieffe and Suzanne Mahfood, her experiences would not have been the same. Because of them, Browne is able to colour the world, one B.E.A.M at a time.