Natasha Powell, alongside Jasmyn Fyffe, is the co-creator behind the spectacular dance production Gimme One Riddim, which is having its third run at the Harbourfront Centre’s national dance series NextSteps,
between March 27 and 29. We chatted with Natasha recently about the show and her journey to become a professional dancer.
What was it like being part of the creative process with Jasmyn for Gimme One Riddim?
It was a very good experience. It changed my mindset. It was my first time producing a show and the first time Jasmyn and I worked together. It was interesting having 2 sets of eyes on the same objective. She and I have very different training backgrounds and expertise. It was wonderful bringing them together and working on a big project like this.
What was it like working with the musicians and other dancers on the show?
It was really good. The dancers were really talented and naturally self-taught. It was very collaborative and not dictatorial in the least. They had ideas and suggestions to help us and we allowed them to be themselves.
This is my first time working with live musicians. Before, with the recorded music, the production was set in stone. Improvisation is built into the structure of ska, and when our musicians improvised we improvised and changed our movements. So, we’ve redesigned and redefined the show. The brass section is what originally drove the music and put the heart and soul in ska. This year, we got a wonderful bass guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, saxophonist, trombonist and trumpet-player.
How did you know you wanted to be a dancer?
When I was 9 my parents put me in a dance class. I’d tried piano and soccer and didn’t like either of them. But with dance I found a way of expression that I really adapted to. I studied ballet and modern dance. As a naturally shy and quiet person, it enabled me to express my thoughts and feelings. Dance is my strongest mode of communication. After high school I travelled across Canada and the USA to train and perform.
What has your journey been like?
In early 2005 and 2006 I spent 2 months in LA training at studios including the Millennium Dance Complex and the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio. I quickly realised LA was not the place for me. I came back to Canada and then moved to Vancouver for 2 years, between 2007 and 2008. I did work on the L Word series and Nickelodeon’s original movie Spectacular! The exposure to film and TV was great. I was training and choreographing at the same time. However, I missed my family in Toronto and wanted a different project. I started a company with my friend Janet Castillo called Catalyst. This was a platform for our own ideas. I travelled to New York and still travel to New York for training and research. I think it is important as an artist to leave your home city to grow and develop yourself and your craft.
What have been some of the challenges and most enjoyable aspects of your career thus far?
As a female artist working in a commercial setting, it’s very difficult being typecast. You’re judged on how you look and not on what you can do. As a black female artist, it’s more pronounced. You wonder if you’re too skinny, is your skin-colour or hair texture is right. I understand it’s a part of the business, but what you have to offer as an artist is discarded. Artists also get put down as being lazy and not producing anything valuable or worthwhile. It’s also difficult not having a secure pay check.
Positively, dance allows me to transcend the daily challenges of my life. It takes me to a place of joy, creativity and freedom and allows me to express things I cannot usually talk about. It’s my heartbeat and I love having it in my life on a continual basis.
What recommendations would you have for anyone following an artistic dream?
Listen to that inner voice inside of you that is nudging and kicking you, and won’t go away. Follow your heart and your passion. It’s not glamorous or easy, and a lot of people will put you down. But, if you are ready for that challenge, GO! And keep a group of close friends and supportive family members around you.
Show times are Thursday, March 27 at 8pm, Friday, March 28 at 1:30pm and 8pm and Saturday March 29 at 8pm. For further show information please contact the Harbourfront box office at (416) 973-4000, press 1.