Stella Maris Dance Ensemble enchants the Cayman Islands

The Stella Maris Dance Ensemble visited Grand Cayman last week and participated in the two-day Summer Kaleidoscope workshop, culminating in a performance at the Harquail Theatre last Saturday night. This popular group performed here last year and were so well received that they were invited back to display their considerable talents once again. We asked Dr. Monika Lawrence, artistic director of the group, about the ensemble and their goals for the future.

What is the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble?

The Stella Maris Dancers have always remained true to their motto – “Success through Hard Work” – and have been dedicated in their pursuit of excellence. The ensemble continues to impress at every level of national life in which it participates, carving out a unique identity as innovative artistes who move the creative borders in their quest to achieve excellence in dance. The Ballet Master and Choreographer is Abeldo Gonzales, a founding member of Contemporary Dance Company of Cuba and former principal dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica. Patsy Ricketts, ballet mistress is a former founding member of Harlem Dance Theatre and foremost dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica. I am the artistic director and founder and am also a former principal dancer.

What kind of dances do they perform?

Members of the ensemble are drawn from various communities across Jamaica. The dancers are skilled in Euro classical ballet, West African dance styles, and modern contemporary, urban folk and traditional. Having all of this knowledge at their disposal, it is easy to fuse and derive a distinctive style, versatility and manipulation of movements.

When did the ensemble first come to the Cayman Islands?

In 1986 they became the youngest group to represent Jamaica overseas when they toured the Cayman Islands with “Stella’s Tale,” a Christmas Pantomime produced by the school.

In 2011 they assisted Cayman Islands Netball Association in their fundraising efforts by performing a series of concerts at the Harquail Theatre free of cost and they were invited back by popular demand to raise funds for the association in 2012.

What is the history of the group?

In 1986, under my guidance, a fledgling dance troupe at Stella Maris Preparatory School on Shortwood Road in Kingston Jamaica began an exploration of movement. However what started out as a creative outlet for preparatory school students who were interested in dance grew into a top dance workshop featuring dancers who are past students of Stella Maris Prep and of many other schools.

In 1993 the troupe celebrated its incredible growth and considerable reputation with the launch of the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble, peopled by the senior dancers within the troupe. Since the ensemble’s 1997 season, the troupe has undergone several important changes; the most notable being an addition to its name which now sees the group being called the Stella Maris (Young Adult) Dance Ensemble, and a further reduction in the size of the troupe to approximately 26 top dancers.

In 1989 they became the first group ever to win both the Junior and the Intermediate categories at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s Festival Dance Competition. Their consistent high achievement in the National Dance Competition also resulted in them being awarded gold medals for all 11 dances entered in 1993. Throughout their years of participation, they have been awarded over 100 gold medals, 10 silver and four bronze medals at Jamaica’s yearly dance competition. They withdrew from the competition in 1999 to build and concentrate on exporting Jamaican cultural overseas.

Do they have a mission or specific goals they are trying to attain?

The ensemble continues to seek to further the quest for a truly indigenous expression by giving young people a sense of pride in their own heritage. Since 2005 the late Rex Nettleford, artistic director of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica has given two of his major works to them for performance in their yearly season of dance, making them the only company apart from the theatre company to perform his works. Since 2004 to present, the ensemble has represented Jamaica at The Black Academy of Arts And Letters, the Dallas-based organisation that has been one of the United States’ leading multi-disciplinary arts organizations for more than 25 years. The ensemble received standing ovations for their performance during the season. The ensemble has conducted workshops for children and young adults yearly in Dallas Texas.

They have also performed and conducted extensive workshops in Los Angeles for young community schools and groups.