Choreographer Dave Williams is one of a team of people working on a gala benefit show for Noble Douglas, dance pioneer and educator.
“People should support the show to support a continuum of dance that spans more than half-century and can take us into the future, to support the impulse and the passion that has taken us through more than half- century and can carry us for another 50 years,” Williams told Sunday Newsday.
The show, A Noble Cause, is scheduled for Friday.
Noble Douglas, 71, is known for introducing the Martha Graham style to TT in the early 1970s after she returned home from studying and dancing in New York and London. Her children’s company Lilliput Theatre started in 1975, and in she 1985 founded the Noble Douglas Dance Co Inc (NDDCI). NDDCI is one of the oldest continuously functioning modern dance companies in TT. It was founded “with a vision to use the body for the expression of a Caribbean aesthetic in modern contemporary dance”, the NDDCI said in a 2014 press release.
Williams is one of Douglas’ former students, like many other notable TT dancers and actors. The list includes dance luminaries Allan Balfour and Heather Henderson. Wendell Manwarren is another; the 3canal rapso star took movement classes with her as an actor. They’re both on a committee to produce the gala, which will be staged at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s.
For years Douglas walked with a limp, a visible sign of the damage that a lifetime of dance has done to her body. “She recently had corrective back surgery,” said Manwarren, the committee’s spokesman. “It was pretty expensive and she’s had a fairly long convalescence.” The gala will raise funds to offset those costs.
A friend of hers, Diane Dumas, challenged the audience last year at the end of NDDCI’s season to find a way to support Douglas through her health problems. Manwarren said the Noble Douglas Lilliput Foundation for the Arts (NDLFA) board took it up, as the foundation was created to support Douglas, her work and mission. He has been charged with producing the show, which will pay tribute to her and celebrate her 50 years as a performer and teacher.
“Thousands of children have benefited from the Lilliput Theatre,” said Manwarren, who now helps create Lilliput shows. Douglas brings a children’s Carnival band, which he said was also influential. “Noble has influenced two generations or more.”
Williams is still a member of the NDDCI. Douglas was his “first and leading, most notable dance teacher. And continues to be so.”
He said Douglas seldom choreographed solo work, preferring to push dancers to work as a body, not soloists. It was on these groups she created her most important works, he said.
“Her biggest experiments, her master works, were pieces like Hysterics, which will be performed at the show, and Passage,” he said. “Those pieces were a fusion of Trinidad cultural forms and music and gesture and movement, and modern dance techniques. They were important because of the seamless fusions” they created.
Earlier choreographers like Beryl McBernie “put contemporary Trinidad and contemporary world ideas” into dialogue, he said. In Douglas’s work “there was a generation and a movement and spirit of independence and freedom, a distinct cultural identity from the colonial thing and the folk and the classical thing. You could see it with (late TT musician and bandleader) Andre Tanker; the work they were involved in were distinctly Caribbean.”
Performers in the benefit show will include the NDDCI and Lilliput, of course. The Marionettes Chorale will be there too; Douglas has had a long relationship with them and has been part of the chorale’s shows for years. Calypsonian Willard “Relator” Harris, Douglas’ friend, will perform, and jazz artistes Ron Reid and Happy Williams are both coming in to play at the show too. 3canal will also perform. There will be a cocktail reception and a performance from Invaders Steel Orchestra afterwards. Showtime is 7 pm.
Tickets for the gala, A Noble Cause, are on sale from NDDCI members, Queen’s Hall, Paper Based bookshop, Crosby’s, Kenny’s Sport Centre at Long Circular Mall, and Big Black Box. The foundation will also accept direct assistance. For more information visit the Facebook event page A Noble Cause Benefit fundraiser and gala.