IRIE! dance theatre - Background
IRIE! dance theatre was founded in 1985 with a primary aim to heighten the profile of black dance and dancers in Britain. The need for the company came out of the work developed by Beverley Glean as Dance Animateur at the Albany Empire in Deptford, (now known as The Albany) in South East London; where she was exploring the movement language of the Caribbean fused with movement from her contemporary dance training.
Left the Leaflet for 'the black spirit' performed at the Blackie in 1992
In the summer of 1985, Beverley was funded by London Borough of Lewisham's Race Equality Unit to attend a professional dance programnme in Kingston Jamaica. The programme was held at the Jamaica School of Dance based as part of the Edna Manley Collage for the Visual and Performing Arts. Her connection to the dance forms, the music and creative environment was instant. It was as though she had found a missing link. The programme excited her thinking and fueled her need to understand more about the origins of traditional dances of the Caribbean, their cultural significance, their creative and choreographic possibilities, and more importantly she wanted to greatly improve access and understanding of these dance forms in the UK.
On her return to London she set about developing a festival call the IRIE! dance festival - 'a celebration of Black dancers and choreographers in Britain'. (IRIE meaning feeling good. The word can also be used as a greeting or to say goodbye). Beverley invited Jackie Guy (former member of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) to the UK to create a work for the festival. Jackie specialises in traditional dancers of Jamaica, there history and there influence and impact on contemporary Jamaican and international arts & culture.
Jackie created a suite of Jamaican folk dancers for the festival entitled 'Caribbean Suite'. The work was created on a selected group of dancers for the festival. The work was well received by audiences and subsequently the suite of Caribbean dances and some members of the group became the basis for the creation of IRIE! dance theatre as a touring performance company. Beverley continued to travel to Africa and the Caribbean researching and training. Her experiences, research and training shaped IRIE! dance theatre's mission 'to develop, deliver and sustain a range of creative, educational and artistic activities based on stimuli from Africa and the Caribbean
Irie! dance theatre visited the Blackie in 1992 and 1993.
Irie! at the Blackie 1992
Irie! performed "the black spirit" in October 1992. "the black spirit" was about surviving and survival - it was about a spiritual consciousness.
"the black spirit" was a two-part production featuring " Freedom Suite" and "Agbara". Freedom Suite, choreographed by Albi Ollivierre and Raymond Wilkes, explored the different themes and aspects of freedom, transformation, exhilaration, pain and joy, spontaneous expression and impressions.
"Freedom Suite" fused Afro-Caribbean, African Reggae, Contemporary and jazz, creating a new way of moving which took the audience on a journey of awareness.
"Agbara" was the result of an artistic collaboration between Irie! and Peter Badejo to explore and develop traditional African dance.
"Agbara" looked at the intoxication of power and the way it is been used and misused in Black societies. Agbara (a Yoruba wor meaning power) is itself a very powerful dance evokomg the potency of African drumming.
Bill Harpe reviewed this programme when it was performed at Saltaire - if you would like to read the review click here
"the black spirit" was not just about dance - it was about the driving force of Black people. That power 'Agbara' that sustains us through all our experiences.
Irie! at the Blackie 1993
Irie!'s second visit to the Blackie (18th to 29th October 1993) was the launch of their 9th season.
It included two performances of The Story Behind The Song (De Torie bac a de song); the WH Smiths Dance Residences in Schools; auditions for young people; and workshops with young people and poets leading to a performance.
The Story Behind The Song "De torie bac a de song" - was an exciting blend of music, dance, games, songs, stories and riddles - choreographed by 'H' Patten.
Story line: Yam, a young girl living in modern day Britain, suffers the ordeal of a recurring dream sequence. She fails to recognise the deam as a special calling by the ancestral spirits, but finds herself taken on a journey of self-discovery, following the untimely death of her lover..
Yam's family and friends are compelled to recognise that she is experiencing problems of a spiritual nature and are therefore forced to seek the services of Shepherd Mun, the mystical diviner. Shepherd Mun takes care of Yam's spiritual well being whilst at the same time opening the door which will enable her to find the solution to the clues the spirits have thrown out to her.
Scene 1 - Flirtation:- The union between Yam and Charlie results in his spiritual powers being passed on for future generations through the giving of a special bangle
Scene 2 - Nine Night Set Up And Funeral - Following the premature of Charlie, Yam encounters her first visitation with the spirits , during the course of his wake.
Scene 1 - Dream Sequence - Yam struggles to come to terms with her life as a modern day Black woman living in Britain, against the forces of her traditional heritage when visited by the spirit in a dream.
Scene 2 - Club Scene - Yam's sister concerned about her well being, takes her to the Star nightclub to cheer her up. On hearing the reggae version of the game song 'Manuel Road' as seen in her dream, Yam suddenly falls into a trance and as everyone panics, a friend steps forward and offers to take her to see the diviner, Shepherd Mun. Her sister reluctanly agrees.
Scene 1 - Shepherd Mun - On Yam's arrival at the Revival Church, Shepherd Mun immediately recognises her 'friend' as the physical manifestation of a spirit. He therefore understands Yam's dilemma and calls an upliftment Revival. Yam's trance is broken as she falls into the arms of Shepherd Mun. Shepherd composes Yam and her sister joins her as Shepherd begins to tell the story of 'Calimbe'. He then gives her a necklace made of precious stones.
Scene 1 - Spirit Visitation - Yam is still uinsettled in her life and cannot focus on her work. The spirits then come to her for the final time. They realise that she is bearing a special child, that the spirits chosen to pass on the wonderful gift of divination. She now accepts that her life has to change in order to blend her spiritual and cultural heritage, with her modern, western lifestyle. She therefore dances with the spirits.
Scene 2 - Celebration of Motherhood
Scene 1 - Outdooring - Yam's child is given a name in the early evening hours under the watchful eye of the spirit father.
Scene 2 - Naming & Initiation Ceremony
Above the Musicians:- Anthony Reid, Tafari Morgan, and Gary with the Dancers:- Fitzgerald 'Curtis' Agard, Prince Morgan, Annette Crooks Sharon Sterne, David Sutton, and Ayodele Jones. Below the Musicians with Dancer left Michael Spaulding and right Dancer Prince Morgan
Above Dancer Juliet Codlin, Below Musicians:- Zozo Shuaibu, Gary, Tafari Morgan, Anthong Reid and Dancers:- David Sutton, Sharon Sterne, Ayodele Jones, Fitzgerald 'Curtis' Agard, Prince Morgan, and Juliet Codlin.
Irie! with W H Smith Dance In Schools Project
Liverpool was chosen for the W H Smith/Irie! Dance In Schools project out of Irie!'s desire reach new audiences and W H Smith's objective to take work to as many parts of the Uk as possible.
The residency lasted from the 18th to the 22nd of October. During this time workshops were held in 20 schools across Merseyside (including 2 schools where there were children with learning difficulties and pupils with mobility difficulties).with sessions taking place both morning and afternoon.
This work introduced pupils to African and Caribbean dance through practical workshop sessions; drawing on source material from The Story Behind The Song (De torie bac a de song).
Above photos of pupils doing workshops in Liverpool Schools. The workshops are being lead by Juliet Codlin and Michael Spauldling
Irie! dance theatre work shops at the Black-E
Irie! also ran workshops at the Blackie both for young people (aged 11-13 years) and two workshops for adults. Young people auditioned to take part in the workshops which ran from the 25th to 29th of October.
During these workshops the young people were both introduced to Irie!'s repertoire using material from The Story Behind The Song and worked with young poets. The latter (John Lyons and SuAndi) were part of the Poets in Schools education programme. Irie! collaborated with the Poetry Society to include poetry as part of the mix and this residency was also funded by W H Smith.
The workshops led to the creation of a new work fusing dance and poetry whihc was then performed to parents, teachers and friends.
Irie! dance theatre was (and is) led by Beverely Glean who is the founder, Artisitc Director and CEO. The members of the Company who took part in the Blackie residency were Fitzgerald 'Curtis' Agard; Juliet Codlin; Annette Crooks; Hughie Donegan; Gary; Eleanoer Ayodele Jones; Nickolov \lovemore; Prince Morgan; Tafari Morgan; .Anthony Reid; Zozo Shuaibu; Michael Spaulding; Sharon Sterne; and David Sutton.
The and Now
Since inception the company has toured nationally and internationally, the first 21 years saw the company embark on 17 touring programmes, with over 30 works created by the director, company members and guest British and international choreographers. Much of the works are reflective of Caribbean culture as practiced in the UK. During this time the company was also developing comprehensive education programmes that complemented each new touring season, which also included drumming and percussion.
The past 12 years the company has focused on research and accredited qualification in African and Caribbean dance. IRIE! is currently running a Foundation degree where African and Caribbean dance and theory is taught equally alongside contemporary dance. In September 2018 the company will be delivering the UK's first BA (Hons) Diverse Dance Styles, Validated by University of Roehampton. Going forward IRIE! is positioning itself as an organisation who specialises in the provision of accredited training for the practice of African, Caribbean and Urban dance as practice in the UK.
The company is also going into it next stage of creating and touring work. In February 2017 IRIE! created and performed its latest production 'Life's Footnote - Stay Afloat', which the company will be touring in 2018.