Five Questions With Marlon Simms
Artistic director of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) and dean of the School of Dance at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Marlon Simms, is graciousness defined. Also, the perfectionist who strives for high ideals, Simms is that guy who doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of his dedication to duty.
When the pandemic struck last March, the NDTC artistic director said the company had to “reimagine our existence because the work had to continue”. One way of keeping the momentum was through the NDTC Live Chat series, which had started in June 2019 in an effort to bring people and artists together to share their experiences to inspire and edify others”.
The NDTC seized the opportunity during the pandemic to share with each other and with the rest of the world matters regarding the history of the company and the journeys of the artists who had served it. “The pandemic offered a quiet time for everyone to reflect upon their lives, and we wanted to capture those recollections and nostalgia for posterity. In addition, it was one of the ways for persons to access the treasure chest of the company virtually,” Simms told The Gleaner.
Now into the third season, an ecstatic Simms reported that the Live has taken the conversation to the Caribbean “to speak to dance leaders, our brothers and sisters, about dance in their country during this pandemic”. The hope, Simms says, is to inspire the region through these conversations about the ways in which the people of the region have risen to the challenges by finding ways to keep dance alive at the community level, in schools and theatres during the pandemic.
1. What has been the response to the NDTC Live Chat series?
The response to the Live has been fantastic! Persons have tuned in from Jamaica, the Caribbean and other parts of the world to not only listen to the conversations but to participate, which they thoroughly enjoy doing. We have documented some important conversations, such as the one of Bert Rose and Barbara Requa speaking on the founding of the NDTC and the School of Dance. We have also had a live on the life of the late Barry Moncrieffe, our beloved former artistic director.
2. Has the company been reworking any of its pieces for the virtual/Zoom stage?
We have been exploring different approaches for the upcoming Season of Dance, which will run from July. Reworking pieces for the virtual stages has certainly been one of our interests. We are currently combing through our repertoire to select specific works. We want to provide a new virtual experience for our audience, but with the usual classic charm of the NDTC that our audiences have come to know and love.
3. What have you come to appreciate most in this COVID era?
The COVID-19 has inspired creativity, rethinking, reimagining and revisioning. We have been challenged as a people to use our creative imagination to find solutions to challenges. We’ve had to find new ways to survive, exist and connect. COVID-19 ushered in a new normal and has forced us to find new ways to adapt. The virtual world has been given more prominence and relevance than ever before, and persons have had to upskill to exist and survive in a virtual space. After COVID-19, we can never return to the way life was. The pandemic is quite the catalyst as it has caused a change in the way we live and work. In many ways, the virtual world has made our lives better by bringing the world closer to us and causing us to connect with each other in new and interesting ways.
4. What would you be doing if you were not a dancer or dance lecturer?
Being a teacher has always been a dream of mine. It is hard to imagine myself doing anything other than teaching. However, I do love the business of event planning, and perhaps that would be an area of interest for me. I thrive on the idea of concept, planning and execution, in addition to working with people on achieving a goal. The project-oriented nature of event planning would, therefore, be inspiring to me as I would be working on executing a concept with a group of people who share the same interest.
5. What is your advice to dancers in Jamaica and the Caribbean?
I would first say to hold strain and not lose hope. Dancers have been gifted with the creative tools to solve any challenge. Though the pandemic is the biggest challenge at the moment, there is no doubt in my mind that dancers will overcome this challenge by using their creative imagination. Already, dancers are pivoting by creating a virtual niche. I would therefore encourage them to keep reimagining, continue training in the space they have access to, use the opportunity to connect, network and learn from each other and continue using dance to inspire others. Hope is needed at this time, and the artist can renew that hope. I would also encourage dancers to use this opportunity of having incredible access to professionals across the world. Endeavour to gain new skills for the enrichment of your professional and artistic life. The skills you learn now will serve your dance career well after the pandemic. To the artist – seek knowledge and experience virtually or otherwise. There has never a better time to enrich and reinvent yourself than now. Don’t let it pass you by. Seize the moment!
BRAWTA: What are your favourite dance pieces? One that you performed and the other by another dancer.
I am allowed only two? I love Rex Nettleford’s ‘Kumina’ and ‘Gerrehbenta’. Those epic traditional folk works touch the core of my being. I love the music, singing and the movements. The choreography is sheer genius, and the works are an embodiment of Jamaica’s history and culture. The spirit of the ancestors are alive in them. I also love to perform ‘Sweet in the Morning’, which always leaves me feeling drained of energy because it takes everything out of me emotionally. Kerry-Ann Henry is a phenomenal artist, and I absolutely adore her in Arsenio Andrade’s ‘A Prayer’. She is just an exceptional artist and one of the world’s finest.