Parmaribo, Suriname is an extremely diverse ethnic and religious city where many different types of people live together peacefully. Despite high education and employment, infrastructure remains extremely poor with the tallest building only 6 stories tall.
Pacifying Local Partners
As in many locations throughout the world, the arts community in Suriname is very small and all arts administrators know one another. Due to the size, there is rivalry between local arts organizations as they compete for the brightest teachers and managers. In our program in Paramaribo, we worked with the leading arts organizations in the city. Prior disagreements before our arrival in-country, created disagreements over the program and rules once in-country. In cities where you work with a multitude of partners it is best to understand how those partners get along prior to arrival in-country. Once in-country, a meeting with all local partners should be held, before program work begins, so that concerns are alleviated and the rules are understood by all. Many times, you will have to take the lead in assuaging and directing local partners as your local host may not want to appear heavy handed and authoritarian. In Paramaribo, all concerns were alleviated once face to face discussions occurred.
Beware of Mosquitos
The system of drainage put in place by the Dutch before colonization ended consists of open air canals throughout the city that regularly get clogged with trash, leaving trenches of sitting water that breed mosquitos day and night. While we were in-country, the risk of Malaria and Dengue was low. However, be sure to consult the CDC’s health travel advisory well before departure and also know the local mosquito threat so to understand, not only your need for repellant, but how much an audience can bare waiting outdoors prior to performance start and whether an air conditioned venue is necessary. In Paramaribo, our performance venue was the un-air-conditioned Cultural Center Suriname. Luckily for our performance, the mosquitoes were driven away by a midafternoon and early evening rainfall.
Understand Local Performance Demand and Capacity
Our performance at the Cultural Center Suriname had a capacity of only 350 people. Due to extremely high demand for our final performance, we decided to add an additional performance earlier in the afternoon at 5pm which also ‘sold’ out. For venues with low seating capacity, be sure to leave enough room in your schedule for additional performances if necessary.
The BDC team hit the ground running with PAO Susan Ross and FSN Ingrid Hill from the first day in country. After a press conference held by Ambassador Nay, Emad Salem, and local partners at Sana Budaya, BDC’s dancers performed an excerpt of ‘Perceptual Motion’ and responded to questions from the media. The event was covered by representatives of numerous television and print media. Afterwards local partners welcomed BDC with a Javanese lunch. Later that night the dancers performed for Ambassador Nay and representatives of foreign embassies, Surinamese government officials, and international arts leaders at the Ambassador’s residence. In closing remarks, the Ambassador lauded BDC’s diversity comparing it to the ethnic diversity in Suriname. In a program designed to unite the divided arts community in Paramaribo, three local partners were selected by the Embassy to host the workshops and select participants and teacher trainees:
-NAKS Wan Rutu, an Afro-Surinamese cultural organization
-Sana Budaya Dance Company, a Javanese dance and culture organization
-Ballet School Marlene, a classical ballet dance company
Mixed gender Dancing to Connect (DtC) workshops were held for 5 hours per day for 4 days and included participants from different ethnic groups and from various socio-economic backgrounds. Although 80 participants had been selected prior to the workshop, a number of low-income participants were unable to juggle the time required with other commitments such as school and multiple job positions. Despite this, there was still an even mix of low-income/high-income students. Bafana Matea led one mixed workshop group at NAKS, Mira Cook led another group at Marlene’s Ballet. Due to a low number of participants in one of the two planned workshop groups at the venue Sana Budaya, the two groups were combined into one and jointly led by Sean Scantlebury and Robin Cantrell.
Battery Dance teaching artist Carmen Nicole held two 1.5 hour workshops at Kennedy High School for the Deaf, NATIN High School, Mulo Ellen High School, and one workshop at the International Academy of Suriname (IAS). With the help of local partner Moira Morroy’s Movement studio, a dance education organization that works with disabled children, Carmen worked with deaf youth at Kennedy High School. During the first day, school teachers and Dutch summer interns joined together with the students to participate in the workshop. In the second workshop, Carmen, working with older deaf students, was able to have the students create their own 3-minute choreography in the short time with the help of a sign language interpreter. Also on the second day, television media including Youth Journal and Apintie Television interviewed Carmen, Emad, and participants. Over two days, workshops at the Kennedy School were held with 40 youth and 9 local teachers/interns.
At the Mulo Ellen School, located in the rural outskirts of Paramaribo, students had not been exposed to an American dancer before nor participated in a dance program. Having never been exposed to a person like Carmen before coupled with the lack of music due to a lack of electricity in the gymnasium, the students were mostly giggles on the first day. On the second day, Carmen was prepared with battery operated speakers and a new plan on how to work with the students. Over two days, workshops were held with a total of 50 youth. At NATIN technical school, Carmen held 2 workshops on the same day with a total of 70 students. At the International Academy of Suriname, one workshop was held with 15 children who also displayed the choreography they were preparing for the upcoming show.
BDC’s Production Designer Barry Steele held two technical workshops at Marlene’s Ballet studio. Attendees to the workshops included technicians, arts administrators, television crews, and local Embassy technicians, who provided technical support to Barry throughout the program. At the conclusion of the first workshop,representatives from Apintie television were so impressed and eager to learn that they requested a follow-up technical workshop to take place at their television and radio station, which Barry agreed to. Total number of participants at Barry’s technical workshops was 35.
Due to the extensive media coverage surrounding BDC’s workshops in Suriname, all tickets for the final 8:00pm performance at the Cultural Center Suriname, a venue with capacity of 350 persons, were claimed in less than two hours. Additional seats were added in the aisles and in a balcony section, leaving no room to spare. However, due to the overwhelming demand for tickets, the Company agreed to conduct an earlier performance at 5pm. All tickets for the earlier performance were again claimed within a few hours’ time. The audiences for both performances expressed their approval enthusiastically, sometimes yelling out in approval during the performance, and afterwards sought out BDC members and Embassy staff to express their gratitude for conducting the program in Suriname. The 8pm performance was videotaped by Apintie television.
During BDC’s last day in country, Deputy Director Emad Salem and Carmen Nicole held a roundtable discussion with local arts administrators. The meeting was attended by Dweight Warsodikromo of Sana Budaya, Marlene Lie a Ling of Marlene’s Ballet, and two teacher-trainees. Prior to the meeting, three of the four in attendance were separately developing plans for a large arts and culture complex to be located in Paramaribo. After discussing international funding opportunities and strategies for financial sustainability, the local arts partners realized the need to present a unified front. They jointly agreed to come together under a previously defunct collective arts organization for the benefit of all.