Dance Theatre of Harlem builds up to the online premiere of the Geoffrey Holder masterpiece “Dougla” with a series of talks and workshops in its Virtual Ballet Series, Wednesday through Saturday, July 22-25, 2020.
The ballet is a lush costume parade of a wedding ceremony. South Asian weddings go on for days with many costume changes. Style is an important sign of status in most cultures. A Caribbean metaphor for a wise person is the one with a good haircut.
New York Times dance critic Brian Seibert liked the ballet when it was restaged in 2018, but criticized Holder’s “cartoon imitation of Indian dance.” What Seibert probably didn’t realize is that in the Caribbean we make fun of everything and cultural transfer begins with “gentle” mimicry.
Imagine you just saw Indian dance for the first time in your life. When you got back to your family and friends, you might have said something like, “You won’t believe what I just saw. The dancer looked like she was on fire.” Then you did your cartoon version of the dance. Everyone had a good laugh and that’s the precise moment when the cultures began to blend. Your friends mocked you for more laughs. The next thing you know, everybody was doing it. Voila! We blended.
The same thing happened when Spanish flamenco mixed with African drums in Eastern Cuba. Actually flamenco has Indian and African roots, so in a way it really was the same thing.
If we can laugh at each other, then we can love each other.
Wednesday, July 22 ~ Christopher Charles McDaniel talks with Dougla alumni on YouTube Live at 8pm.
Thursday, July 23 ~ “Dougla” composer Tania León talks with Virginia Johnson about composing and conducting the work on YouTube and Facebook at 8pm.
Friday, July 24 ~ Learn a phrase from “Dougla” on Instagram Live at 3pm.
Miyesha McGriff and Fábio Mariano give a live makeup tutorial on the iconic “Dougla” look on Facebook at 8pm.
Saturday, July 25 ~ The full-length “Dougla” premieres online with interactive chat by Company artists on YouTube at 8pm. What a wonderful way to see a ballet ~ with the artists. That’s kind of like hanging out with them backstage.
In Trinidad, a “dougla” is a person of African and South Asian descent. There is actually a plurality of Trinidadians with a South Asian heritage from workers who came after abolition. The term is also used in Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname.
It used to be considered a bad thing to be mixed race, but now people get along much better. In the Caribbean, we are very mixed.
Trinidadian calypso mixed with South Indian rhythms into soca which is now one of the most popular musics of the West Indies. You hear lots of soca at Brooklyn’s Labor Day Carnival West Indian Day Parade. That would be a cool place for a “Dougla” mas.
Geoffrey Holder (1930-2014) was a Trinidadian-American actor, dancer, musician and artist. He was born in Port of Spain, trained as a dancer in New York, then danced with the Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway, before becoming an actor.
He worked with Alvin Ailey. Holder married renowned New Orleans Creole American actress, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade. She helped Dance Theatre of Harlem restage the ballet. It was part of the company’s renaissance.