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Raising the 'Barre' And Pushing Boundaries - Neila Ebanks and Oneil Pryce

Neila Ebanks performing 'Becoming' choreographed by Oneil Pryce

Gallery 1 at the National Gallery of Jamaica was transformed into a dance space as the talents of Neila Ebanks and Oneil Pryce combined on the final day of Kingston on the Edge 2013 which had served up a diverse fare of the arts.  The two delivered the solo piece ‘Becoming’ choreographed by Pryce and performed by Ebanks two artists determined to raise the ‘barre’ and push the boundaries of dance as a tool for exploration.

As the two ran from the gallery floor signalling the end of the performance, the sense of awe that was almost palpable in the audience suggested they had done just that.

The KOTE event had been twinned with the NGJ’s ‘Last Sundays’ monthly event which also marked the closure of their Natural Histories exhibition. The NGJ also screened Dickie Jobson’s film Country Man.
Neila Ebanks and Oneil Pryce
‘Becoming’ had been created for a contemporary dance festival in Tobago in April of this year which Ebanks had entered under her company eNKompan.E. Pryce and Ebanks, who both dance and choreograph, have been working together for several years, one of their earliest collaborations dating back to about 2001 when they were a part of the quartet performance Destination Self: Four Poor Dancers.

‘Destination Self’ performed in collaboration with Kafi Jones and Kevin Moore, had certainly marked Pryce and Ebanks as interested in steering their own path and over the years both have built up an impressive repertoire. Indeed, Pryce explains that while he is not currently working on a dance piece, he is working on creating his own style. He will also be presenting on this at the World Dance Alliance in Canada, later this year. As he works toward developing his own language, Ebanks body provides a great space on which to work out its vocabulary.

“We've collaborated on a lot of things, because Neila is kind of my muse,” Pryce admits. He explains that when he is exploring an idea he a dancer who is interested in furthering that research.
“I like to work with someone who is willing to go beyond what I give them,”
Neila Ebanks performing 'Becoming'
Ebanks expresses equal appreciation for the stimulation that working with Pryce brings to her development in dance. She explains that this year she has decided not to choreograph for herself.

“I want to use my body in the service of other people,” Ebanks says. She explains that over the past few years she has been focused on exploring the body and this year she decided that she was going to move on from that as she suffered the danger of telling the same story all the time.

Yet working with Pryce provides her with language that she understands and can translate well.

“In a way he's [Pryce] become my catalyst for this other stage in my life as a dancer,” Ebanks says. “It’s almost as if it was coming out of my self with the things he was asking me to do.”

Currently, ‘Becoming’ is a 15 minute work but Pryce admits he would love to extend it and that as yet it is a work in progress.

The dance was staged at the NGJ for KOTE2013"I want it to live as a work in itself," he says. He explains that there are several elements of the piece that have not yet been performed including multimedia portions as the dance delves into rediscovery and finding the self.

Yet the idea of staging a Jamaican full-length solo dance work would be somewhat revolutionary and it’s a little unclear as to whether the dance arena is ready for this.

“They better be ready,” Ebanks declares, saying that the time for such a step is now. Pryce points out that while local choreographers have been experimenting and pushing the boundaries their efforts have not received the same level of support as choreographers from abroad.

"We have a quantum leap that we need to make in the art world,” says Ebanks, “and we need to do it quickly."