First published in the Mirror Newspaper Friday December 8, 1995 – The St. Lucia School of Ballet has contributed to the cultural fabric of this country for the past 15 years. Are the attitudes of the community opening up to accept the enrichment? “They have suddenly revealed how starved they were … children are just blossoming… There was a starvation. They’re responding so positively. They didn’t realize that this could ever exist for them”.
Traditionally, one gets the impression that ballet dancing belongs to a certain class. Not so in St. Lucia. The St. Lucia School of Ballet caters to a wide cross section of children, because “dancing is for everybody. Dance is for the world”.
Recently the Ballet School staged a major production involving all the students currently enrolled at the school. The production He Came, He Saw, He Conquered was a tremendous challenge. What was going on in the producer’s head up to the time of production? “I realised it has to be a biblical story that could utilize all the children of all the different levels; that was the idea – a biblical story that would demonstrate the power of the God we serve”. So why biblical? Theresa Collymore sits back and takes a moment to think. “Oh yes, this is my offering to the Lord. All the big productions involving the whole cast are this way”.
The concept was a big one. To take the audience back to Moses, the baby, and his release on the River Nile, to his conversion and ultimate confrontation with Pharaoh. The audience was riveted as the seven plagues came and went; as the Staff was turned to the serpent, as the waters turned to blood, as death stalked the land. And the audiences walked with Moses as the people walked over into the Promised Land! Breathe! Breathe Again!
People’s reactions? “Tremendous. Wonderful. Excellent. People were emotionally moved. People came back stage. Tears”.
So how did the bush burn? “The Burning bush came one day – I was on my bed; burning bush – right; got a picture. Flashes in my mind. Burning bush must be bodies; flames must be real bodies”. And there they were. Grade 5 students, flitting and fluttering as the wind blew, and burn they did.
But what about the frogs? Weren’t there frogs in the original biblical story? Did Theresa Collymore get what she wanted from the frogs? “Innocence – what innocence can do. They are so not inhibited. It’s amazing how they have such natural freedom to express themselves…”
A production of this magnitude would have its problems. Coordinating the total piece would have to take time, energy, patience, more time, more energy, more patience and love. “My class rehearsals, are very intense. When it comes to rehearsals, very intensive. I just do what I can. They have to know their cues and not have this constant supervision… and there was Ty Asha … and Michelle helps”.
In spite of the rush, of this moment of success, there is still an underlying sadness in Theresa. “We still feel alienated. From Government. They help us in a small way. The Department of Culture alienates us more than other sections of Government”. And it is even more depressing, she opines, that the Bolshol Travelling Dance Company would arrive in St. Lucia, and that the St. Lucia School of Ballet would be denied the golden opportunity of seeing them perform.
And from here? “To build our school at Tapion. I love it. I’ll never give it up. Jesus is Lord; He’s my strength and without him I wouldn’t be able to cope, because there are a lot of pressures from all directions, but I have him and…so all is well with my soul”.
So we in the audience will hold our breath, again, and wait for the second coming. Congratulations to the St. Lucia School of Ballet. Well done job!
2017 UPDATE: Where are they now? We have not been able to ascertain that. But we keep trying, especially since 2017 has been an explosive year for the arts in Saint Lucia, with many notable highlights. We lost The Honourable Sir Derek Walcott.
We lost his childhood home which, in 2016, had been designated a national treasure, a mini-museum, and was part of a larger redevelopment and rehabilitation project. That got shot to hell.
And to add insult to injury, the latest discussion involves the closure of the National Cultural Centre, or at least the movement of said National Cultural Centre away from its only home on Barnards’s Hill to an undisclosed location. Radio Saint Lucia, dubbed the “Nation’s Station” for over 40 years, is set to follow suite. The good news is that it won’t be moved, it will be transformed into another entity. We wait with bated breath for updates on this new entity.
All of this comes long after after the death of the revered Harold Simmons, described as “friendly, garrulous, versatile, always a joy to be with. Most of all, he stayed in St. Lucia throughout his tragic life to fight colonial philistinism while others left. He spurned the ‘pleasures of exile’ to embrace the thankless task of bringing culture to the anarchy of a narrow-minded society that gave him back little but neglect and contempt. The new West Indian society of the future – which this book only implicitly describes – will, let us hope, one day pay him his full reward”.
This new West Indian society of the future is no where in sight. It is certainly not the Saint Lucia we live in in 2017, which is in no way ready to reward any artist. Harold Simmons died in 1966, before I was born.