In November 2014, DtC held creative and dance workshops for a total of 150 participants in Accra, Ghana. The 150 participants were divided into 6 different groups with 25 students per group. The participants were performing arts students from the University of Ghana and National Dance Company.
Clement Mensah, one of Battery Dance Company’s Teaching Artists, reflects on his experience in Accra, Ghana:
Mensah reports that “The workshops took place in school dance studios with wooden dance floors.” When it came to the students’ concentration and participation, the students were “eager to learn and very creative.”
In addition to dancing, Mensah gave a lecture about his journey as a professional dancer. He also says that they would have mini performances at the end of the program as well as a meet-and-greet with the Dean of the School of Performing Arts within the University.
As for the final performance, it was “inspirational to the rest of the school.”
As in many other cases, we faced a variety of scheduling challenges in Ghana – working with one group for an extended, sequential series of workshops, and others for one day, a block of time.
We had to be flexible, nimble, and open-minded. Looking back on the programs, we feel that the rewards were plentiful and that our ability to modulate our expectations and avoid a one-size-fits-all mentality was helpful. Also, having a big “bag of tricks” to draw upon (different teaching tools and approaches) allowed us to adapt to each of the many circumstances we faced.
We also keep a running list of quotes from news articles, participants and collaborators on our trips. For example, this quote from our 2010 trip to Accra, Ghana:
“Rarely do dancers from different organizations and associations in Accra come together for common performances. When they do, it is usually to do with huge pageants for opening such events as the CAN 2008 football finals a couple years ago. For the past one week, however, dancers from five institutions – the School of Performing Arts, National Dance Company, Noyam African Dance Institute, Performing Arts Work-shop (PAWS), and the Ghana Dance ensemble – have been dancing together in a unique workshop. The workshop, led by two American professional dancers, Sean Scantlebury and Robin Cantrell of the Battery Dance Company, New York, assisted by eminent Ghanaian choreographers and lecturers, Nii Yartey and Nii Kweh Sowah was aimed at creating original dance pieces through master classes. "
-Nanabanyin Dadson, “They Dance to Connect” - The Graphic, Ghana 2010
In early February 2010 two members of Battery Dance Company, Robin Cantrell and Sean Scantlebury, engaged in a program unique for the Company – a tour by only two dancers without either an artistic director, project manager or production designer to support them on the ground. Ghana was the first stop on the tour and tested the limits of what they were capable; while at the same time, building their confidence that they could attain successful results on their own.
They had strong support from the local U.S. Embassy in Accra and were warmly welcomed by the dance community in Ghana. Their program began with a meet-and-greet with students from the University of Ghana and their professors Oh! Nii Sowah and Nii Yartey. Being fresh off the plane, they were jet-lagged and totally unprepared for the excitement that greeted them at the university. Well over fifty students, plus drummers, performed an impromptu dance jam in their honor. By the end of the event, Sean and Robin were invited onto the stage , where, despite their fatigure, joined in the traditional African movements. The excitement over the coming days of workshops and performances was palpable. The next day, they returned to the University and were met by the largest group of participants ever for a Dancing to Connect program. Immediately astonished by the commitment displayed by the participants, Robin wrote, “I'm not sure I've ever encountered such a motivated group. They worked extremely hard, despite overwhelming heat and dust. By the end of the day, everyone was covered in reddish-brown dirt....and nobody seemed to care!”
They finished up their Dancing to Connect performance piece in record time the next day and felt really satisfied with the results and the speed with which it was accomplished. The next day was a day off and involved traveling to various noteworthy sites including Cape Coast, a notorious point of slave trade, where they were guided through the dungeons where African slaves were held before being exported to the Americas. The next day, they started up a new workshop at The National Theater. Here we were once again greeted with a performance, this time from the National Theater Company. It was an extremely high energy traditional African dance complete with costumes and props. However, once we got to work on the Dancing to Connect project, there was decidedly less energy in the room. This was, indeed, the first time that we created Dancing to Connect pieces on professional dancers, as opposed to students. I think that ultimately what the professionals gained was valuable, but their attitude was less enthusiastic than their younger counterparts. Amazingly, we were able to construct an entire piece (about 6 min. in length) in just one day. This was a new record to be sure.
Next up, was a trek into the mountains in order to work with the Noyam African Dance Institute, a private company established by Nii Yartey. Their rehearsal space was an open air structure in a very isolated area. In fact, during the warm up, they were joined in the studio by a dog, a goat, and several chickens. It was here that our DTC capabilities were ultimately tested, as we were expected to create a performance caliber piece with the company in only half a day. Miraculously it was done, and so well that they decided to make it the opener for the performance. This, of course, had everything to do with the talent, background and motivation of the Noyam dancers. It turned out that a number of the Noyam company members had been involved in the university workshops, even though they were not actually attending the university. They explained that they had been so excited to learn new forms of dance that they had requested to take part in both workshops. The professors had kindly agreed. As one dancer put it, "We swallow dance because chewing takes too long." After a lunch break, Robin and Sean taught a class to the Noyam African Dance Institute children. They were a group ranging in age from about 8 to 15. Not having danced for more than a few months, they were very shy. Modulating their teaching approach to suit the age group, Robin and Sean introduced a project in which the children imitated the movements of African animals. The day ended with a snack of sugar cane and 2 performances, one by children and one by the pros. The electrical power had gone out, so the presentation was made in silence and it was nonetheless beautiful.
The final day of workshops involved working with the Ghana Dance Ensemble; a company based on the university campus. A group of drummers was available to accompany the workshop, but since pre-recorded music was being used, they were excused. However, Wisdom, one of the drummers, stayed on as he was interested in dancing. He worked on the exercises that were given to the group, staying off to one side in his own little corner. At some point, one of the company dancers complained of a foot injury and sat down. At this point, Wisdom simply jumped in and took his place. The company dancers showed their disinterest in working with him. "He's not a dancer", they kept saying. Robin and Sean explained that this project was about pulling the inner dancer out of everyone, and that sometimes, even someone with very little technical training can be storing a wealth of creative ideas in their body and mind. They encouraged Wisdom to keep at it, and by the end of the day a lovely piece had been set to Vivaldi. Wisdom blended in with the group perfectly.
The next day involved preparations or the final performance, gathering all 4 performing groups together, warming them up, spacing each piece on the stage and then doing a run-through. Since there was almost no lighting to speak of, not much work was required in that area. The four lights mounted to the ceiling were either on or off. The small performance space gradually filled up and the performance began with all four groups interspersed with performances by Sean and Robin (2 solos, 2 duets.) The show culminated with the lively, almost epic work constructed with the university students.
Afterwards, all performers sat on the stage and fielded questions from the audience and press. Students were proud of their accomplishment and impressed that they were able to create something so substantial in such a short amount of time. It was noted that this was a landmark event, as it was the first time that all four groups had ever performed in one place. Everyone seemed to express the hope that it would not be the last. There were also some comments from the audience about the difference between the American dancers and the African dancers; the difference between light, soft, fluid movement versus heavy, stomping and sharp accents. There seemed to be general agreement that training in dance forms such as ballet and modern could only extend the horizons of the local dancers. At the reception following the show, Wisdom conveyed that after watching him perform, several of the professors had agreed that he should be inducted to the dance department. He was overjoyed and Robin and Sean were profoundly moved.