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Stomp the yard

Natanga Smith-Hurdle

Stomp the yard

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Valencia James was spending a much needed break from her vocation in Hungary and happily agreed to a Q&A with EASY magazine on making her mark on the Hungarian dance scene.
The former alumnus of Combermere School and the Barbados Community College, Valencia, 24, started her training at the Louise Woodvine Dance Academy at age six, where she acquired a solid foundation and discipline for the profession. Ian Douglas, former dance officer of the National Cultural Foundation, introduced her to modern dance and improvisation. Her first attempt at choreography resulted in a solo that won the Gold Award and Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Dance at NIFCA in 2003. 
She left Barbados at age 17 to attend the National School of Modern and Folk Dance of Cuba. This was funded by the scholarship won at NIFCA. After two years in Cuba, she left for Roehampton University in London to study contemporary dance and social anthropology.
During that year she realized that conservatory-style training would bring her closer to achieving her dream of becoming a professional dancer, so she auditioned for two schools in Britain and one in Hungary. She was accepted to all three, but chose the Hungarian Dance Academy in Budapest, Hungary. She graduated in June 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in modern dance. These studies were funded by a Barbados Scholarship.
Immediately upon graduation from the Hungarian Dance Academy  in June 2010, Valencia was invited to join the company of renowned dancer, director, choereographer, Yvette Bozsik.  Valencia’s presence in the well known company has garnered the attention of the Hungarian public, as she  performs  to capacity audiences in the musical Cabaret at a downtown Budapest theatre. Her greatest achievement to date, however, is her lead role in Firebird, Bozsik’s newest dance theatre piece.
 I have to ask firstly how do you deal with the language barrier?
When I first arrived, I took two evening language classes per week for a year, in which I learnt the basics. And after the first eight months I began to understand people and ask questions about the meaning of words I didn’t understand. I’m by far not fluent, and reading with understanding is still difficult, but I get by. 
Within the professional world, people are more open and willing to speak English. Now I generally work in a bilingual environment. My choreographer gives instructions in both languages – whatever works best at that moment.
How do you create your movements? What specific movements are important?
Improvisation plays a big role in my personal creative discovery and performance experiences. I have always found release and comfort in spontaneous movement. My favourite type of performance to do is group improvisation in a setting where the audience shares the same space as the performers and interaction takes place.
What has dance taught you?
The tough physical demand of the profession requires discipline in training and rehearsal to avoid injury. Dancers must be very in tune with their bodies and pay attention to what they put into them. I never starve myself nor restrict meals, but I try to stay away from processed foods, chemical preservatives and artificial colours.
Who is your favourite choreographer, and how much has he/she influenced your work?
The work of Pal Frenak has made the greatest impact on me to date. He is one of the most influential contemporary choreographers on the Hungarian dance scene. His movements have a physicality that I had never seen before. His dancers dangle from a web of ropes five metres in the air.  I auditioned for him in 2008.  He gave me an assignment to create a piece with the restriction of staying in one spot. From this, Breakdown (2008) was born. With this solo I won several competitions and was invited to the 13th International Solo Dance Theatre Festival in Stuttgart, Germany, in March 2009.
What is your favourite moment so far?
In Cabaret, my first production with Yvette Bozsik Company, I have the opportunity to work next to Hungary’s most talented actors and actresses. It was an honour just sitting among them to listen.
Another memorable moment is standing on the beach in Oostende, Belgium, with members of one of the most famous contemporary dance companies in Europe, Ultima Vez, and its respected director, Wim Vandekeybus. I had just met Sidi-Larbi Cherkaoui, one of the hottest young international choreographers. He shared the stage with us as a surprise guest performer.
Apart from dancing, what do you do to keep your body in shape?
Cross-training is very important to avoid injury. Dance class alone does not cater to cardio-fitness and specific strength requirements of a dancer. So I try to be consistent with my Pilates, yoga and stretching exercises. For cardio fitness, I like to swim. It’s is a great low-impact workout that targets all the major muscle groups. I haven’t had any major injuries, thankfully. But there are certain weak areas that make themselves known if I neglect my strength exercises.
What genre of dance do you prefer?
I enjoy watching and learning all styles of dance. I am especially interested in folk dances and social dances of different cultures, because it gives some insight into their customs and way of life.
How much time do you practise each day?
A typical day during the creation of a new piece would start at 10 a.m. with an hour ballet class to warm up, followed by three to four hours of rehearsal. If there is a show that evening, there is a one- to two-hour stage rehearsal before. So there are days where we work 10-12 hours, especially for premieres. There are also cases when we have two or three shows in the same day.
What are some of your goals?
To be working in a dance company is a major milestone for me. So I’m soaking up the experiences with the aim to one day choreograph evening-length performances. I would like to organize cultural exchange programmes between Europe and the Caribbean. I also have interest in dance anthropology that I would like to explore at some point.
Are any of your siblings into dance or involved in anything artistic?
My younger sister Esther danced for a few years at Louise Woodvine. Since then she has crossed over from performing arts to culinary arts and now works as a chef. My little brother and sister, Vernon and Jessica, have started dance also at Louise Woodvine. They both enjoy performing as much as I do, so we will see if they will choose it as a career.
What about your parents? Did they support your passion from early and do they come to your performances?
My parents have always been fully supportive of me. They have made many sacrifices to assist my development. Without their unconditional support I would not be where I am today.
They have attended my annual end-of-year performances with Louise Woodvine Dance Academy. Nowadays I have to show them DVDs of my shows overseas.