Nancy Herrera loves to talk about dance. She would tell you that she insisted her mom take her to learn ballet when she was five years old. She grew up as the only girl in a household with three brothers and dance was the one un-boyish thing she could get involved in. She'd also tell you about going off to London College of Dance and Drama and Bedford College at 19 and returning to the teach the Metamorphosis dance company, the dance school of Caribbean School of Dancing of which she was once a dancer. But what Herrera doesn't like to talk much about is the state of dance in this country.
"Don't raise my blood pressure," she said half jokingly. "Let's keep thing positive." She borrows a quote from 3 Canal's Trodding On, a song which pays tribute to the spirit of Beryl Mc Burnie and explores the themes of artistic survival, persistency, consistency, and producing dance against the odds, as a way to address the issue. "Sometimes you just have to keep working and keep going and forget what else is happening and that is apparent in society."
Dance, long treated like a stepchild locally, in comparison other artforms, has seen the exodus of some of its best according to Herrera. "As soon as a dancer gets very good, they go and live away and they don't come back. That's the sad reality. "If you want to make it in fine art and theatre you have to go out there. Some stay." Among those who have left are Zara Bartels, who now performs with the Lion King cast in England; Fana Fraser, who is now a member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in the USA and Bridgette Wilson, who started her life in dance theatre as a Metamorphosis dancer. Wilson went on to study choreography in Canada and has now returned as the rehearsal director and one of the choreographers at the Company.
Over the years, dance at Metamorphosis has been kept alive by rigorous fund-raising, commitment of teachers and parents, and kind corporate support that have allowed the Company's dancers to tour internationally, perform for dignitaries, enter prestigious schools for the performing arts, dance in major theatre productions in Europe and produce an annual dance season. Herrera could have easily been one of them-choosing to stay in London after graduating from the London College of Dance and Drama. She chose to return home for love of country and the development of dance locally and largely because she teaches dance rather than do it for a living. "If I was a professional dancer I would have also stayed abroad because returning home would have meant I have nothing to come back to in terms of regular performances. "As a teacher at least there are dancing schools that I can teach at."
Herrera, for whom life is literally a dance ("I eat, wake up to dance everyday. It is my full time job") is at least encouraged by the younger generation of dancers. Metamorphosis is known to have nurtured young dancers and has recently established an annual scholarship development fund in honour of the late Kathleen Armstrong Kilgour, mother of professor, author, actor and dancer Dr Joanne Kilgour-Dowdy, to encourage even more. This year the recipient was Juan Pablo Alba-Dennis who is also featured both as a dancer in the upcoming Metamorphosis annual season titled Trodding On. Choreographers working on the production include Herrera, who will present the piece Chrysalis-a classical ballet done to traditional drumming, Bridgette Wilson, Sonja Dumas, Claudia Applewhaite, Nicole Wesley and Gregor Breedy-who will choreograph a special dance with an all-male cast. Herrera is heartened by the dedication to dance by the younger generation. The shows scheduled for May 5, 6, 7 and 8 at Queen's Hall will feature different styles of dance including classical ballet, modern and folk.
Tickets for Trodding On are available at the Caribbean School of Dancing, 2
A Dere Street, Port-of-Spain, at the Queen's Hall Box Office during the week leading up to the performances. For reservations and information call Nariba Robinson 785-9096.