Words by Blacka Di Danca, Photos by Ukay—
New York City-based dancer and choreographer extraordinaire Blacka di Danca has been traveling the world spreading the gospel of dancehall through classes and appearances at top dance studios and clubs from Mexico to Siberia. For his latest adventure, he’s tackled a project much closer to home: bringing the first full dancehall theater production of its kind to the stage, right in his backyard in Brooklyn, NYC.
For the past few months, I’ve been extremely busy. Yes, I travel a lot, but that’s not what has been taking up most of my time… I’ve been working on a crazy project here in NYC that is definitely going to change the game for dancehall. It’s called Fiyah Dancehall Theater. Yes—Dancehall in a theater show!
Jessica Phoenix, the show’s creator and director, came to me over the summer and told me about her plans to bring a dancehall theater show to NYC in the fall. Right away, I thought it sounded dope. “Dancehall in a theater like Broadway?” I asked. When she said “Yes!,” I was immediately down. I was asked to be the co-choreographer for the show, taking care of most of the male choreography, and I was pretty excited. This was to be my first time putting my choreographing skills to use in this manner. Being born and raised in Brooklyn, I’ve always loved dancing, I’ve always enjoyed parties, and I’ve enjoyed creating routines and choreography for performances and dance classes… But a theater show? This involves acting and scenes… This involves placement and movement… Now this is the next level.
We held auditions at the famed Broadway Dance Center in Times Square and Jessica, myself, co-choreographer Yaminah Legohn (they’re the two girls with me in the picture above), along with three judges from Jamaica—Latonya Style, Famous and Matthew Richards—picked the finest participants. We held a three-hour audition where Yaminah taught African choreography, I taught Back-to-Basics and male choreography, and Jessica taught female choreography. It was hard choosing from so many talented dancers, but we picked the strongest, most versatile and creative of the bunch, and I couldn’t have pictured a better cast. The dancers were locked in, and now it was time to prepare.
Since August, we’ve become a team and a family, rehearsing tirelessly as many as six days a week. Some rehearsals have lasted more than six hours. Most of us have busy outside lives—sometimes I come from a flight directly to rehearsal—but we’ve dedicated ourselves fully to this project. I have to say that we have the best group of dancers. Everyone is from different dance backgrounds, but they all work really hard, and are really good at what they do. They all have picked up good dancehall style and are always willing to learn. I have the most faith in our cast, and no doubt that the shows will be crazy. But wait… I still haven’t explained to you what this dancehall theater is.
We are bringing REAL dancehall steps, songs, techniques and character to a live stage—almost a dozen scenes with acting and role play and a bit of improv to the dancehall music we all love. Not just the commercial steps and songs but also ones we grew up hearing and the hardcore ones we love today. I’m talking about Kartel, Beenie Man, Tommy Lee! Buju! Imagine hearing your favorite songs, but then seeing them acted out in a full scene with crazy talented dancers, and you’ll get the idea. There’s comedic scenes, dramatic scenes, sad scenes, happy scenes, everything. Trust me, if you love dancehall, it’s going to be one of the craziest things you’ve seen.
So, yeah, let it sink in. A FULL dancehall theater production! And this is just the beginning—next stop Broadway! And you can be part of it this week! Our two-day event takes place this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8 and 9, at the Roulette Theater in Brooklyn, right by the Barclays Center. You can purchase tickets here.
These past few months of sweating and bleeding, limping and dancing together have been so special. Now, we’re ready to make history. I definitely have to large up the creator and director of Fiyah! Dancehall Theater, Jessica Phoenix; Yaminah Legohn for her amazing work, and, most importantly, the cast. Wherever this show goes through the years, they were the first—They deserve all of the credit.