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Carnival king designer blasts Minshall’s mas: That’s ridiculous

Thursday, February 4, 2016
Jha-Whan Thomas, crosses the stage in a costume created by veteran masman Peter Minshall, titled The Dying Swan, Ras Nijinsky In Drag As Pavlova, during the finals of the Kings of Carnival Competition. Thomas placed third in the competition.

Acclaimed mas designer Peter Minshall’s return to Carnival after an over decade long hiatus has been marred in controversy after several veteran mas designers criticised his Carnival king costume — The Dying Swan, Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavlova — on Tuesday night.

The costume placed third in the King of Carnival Competition at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, where it was a clear crowd favourite. 

However, after the results were announced, several veteran mas designers criticised its minimalistic design, which was in clear contrast to the more grandiose portrayals which traditionally dominate the competition.

Marcus Eustace, the designer of the competition’s eventual winner Psychedelic Nightmares, worn by his brother Ted, described Minshall’s high placing as “ridiculous.” 

“Put it this way, if you call that mas, how would it look if next year everybody play moko jumbie. That is not a mas. That is why the stands are empty. 

“You have people building all kinds of expensive costumes and they coming tenth and 11th, and a moko jumbie come third,” Eustace said after the results were announced early Wednesday morning. 

Seven points was all that separated Eustace’s presentation from Minshall’s. While he supported his brother’s criticism of Minshall’s king Jha-Whan Thomas, Ted admitted that diversity was welcomed in the competition. 

“It takes all kinds to make up the pot,” Ted said after being crowned Carnival King for the second time since he began participating.

The Eustaces’ sentiments were also supported by newly-crowned Carnival Queen Gloria Dallsingh. 

“They (Minshall and Thomas) have a long way to go,” she said while shaking her head. 

Last year’s Carnival queen, Stephanie Kanhai, also won her crown in a moko jumbie costume. She also utilised the traditional character in her performance this year but failed to impress the judges, placing ninth. 

Dressed in a deceptively simple ruffled white dress with his stilts covered in ballerina shoes to make it appear he was tiptoeing, Thomas earned a standing ovation from the audience as he gracefully glided acrosss the stage to the sounds of a classical score played by a pannist.

Unlike with any of the other participants, dozens of spectators lined the stage to photograph Thomas, who made up for the understandably limited movement of his extended appendages with the flawless hand-movements of a seasoned concert ballerina.

Thomas’ portrayal has become an Internet sensation, since videos of his performance at last week’s preliminary round went viral. Several supporters also expressed disappointment at the outcome of the competition, noting his portrayal was worthy of a higher placing.  

In a telephone interview yesterday, however, Thomas dismissed the criticism as he claimed that his presentation showed the evolution of mas. “I think really and truly this is mashing up the culture. They are looking at the grandeur of the costume as opposed to the mobility of the art. Art is expression and I think what Minshall has done is to tell a story,” Thomas told the T&T Guardian. 

“It is chalk and cheese, anybody could pull a decorated float acrosss the stage. What I did was poetic,” Thomas added. 

Describing his portrayal as a “breath of fresh air,” Thomas said his costume was not a simple traditional moko jumbie as it was being labelled. 

“It was really intense. It was a character I had to swallow up and try to make balance look possible. I had to go through tedious and copious amounts of time and contact hours to create that image. I still can’t believe how I was able to do it,” Thomas said.

Contacted yesterday, Junior Bisnath, of the Kaisokah Mokojumbies, a San Fernando-based Carnival band devoted to the traditional mas character, also dismissed the criticism. 

“All the Carnival come out of the traditional mas. It is the foundation and everything else came after. Anybody could put on one of those big costumes and pull it and dance it acrosss the stage, but with moko jumbie we have to practise year-round. It is the most focused and dangerous mas on the road,” Bisnath said. 

Efforts  to contact Minshall yesterday were unsuccessful.