Nicole De Weever. (Rachel Neville Photo)
Dancer and Deejay Bianca Dijkhoffz. (Bianca Dijkhoffz photo)
PHILIPSBURG–A record-breaking 180 creatives from Dutch St. Maarten/French St. Martin and other countries/territories are expected to attend the ninth edition of Art Saves Lives (ASL) Summer Intensive from today, Monday, July 4, to Friday, July 8. Joining more than 150 local students will be dancers from St. Kitts and Nevis, the Netherlands and Florida, USA.
The week-long programme will be conducted at three locations. There will be a music and youth orchestra programme at the National Institute of Arts (NIA) with conductor Marlon Daniel. The intensive programme will be held at INDISU Dance Theater of St. Maarten, and will include advanced hip hop, Afro-soca dance and St. Maarten traditional dance and song. The community outreach sessions, which include tap and percussive dance with Maud Arnold and West-African dance with Karisma Jay, take place in Concordia.
Started in 2013 by St. Maarten and former Broadway dancer Nicole De Weever, ASL is a registered foundation which provides young artistes the opportunity to participate in masterclasses and to be mentored by internationally renowned creatives.
“I created the programme because I wanted to provide the opportunity for young people in St. Maarten and the region, who may not have access to taking classes from some of the most respected artistes and teachers in the industry,” said De Weever, who is based in New York. “The calibre of teaching artistes and instructors every year are a selection of my dream team.”
This month, De Weever’s “dream team” of 24 includes the first African-American woman Dean of the Julliard Dance Department Alicia Graf Mack, Director of Strategy and Operations at Google Dale Allsopp, “living legend” George Faison, the first African-American to win a Tony Award for Choreographer on Broadway, and Clara Reyes, whom she calls “St. Maarten’s National Treasure” and the “gatekeeper” of the island’s cultural dance and song.
Reyes said the ASL Intensive week is a “mutually beneficial journey” for all and a complement to the year-round training local students receive at local creative institutions.
“The artistes come and find students who are prepared at a high standard to take in what they have to share,” said Reyes. “What ASL has done in reciprocity is that St. Maarten artistes are being exposed to something larger than themselves. It raises their level of development to meet the world.”
This is proven in the impact several ASL alumni are now having across the globe. Natorii Illidge, a former primary school dance teacher who attended the event in 2014 and 2016 is now part of the West End London cast of “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical”. She can also be spotted as one of the Cuban dancers in the James Bond movie “No Time to Die”.
Dancer and deejay Bianca Dijkhoffz with her iconic bright red hair and energetic moves is front and centre in music videos from Sean Paul to Chris Brown and Skip Marley. She credits De Weever and the mentorship of social media expert and coach Leslie Samuel for helping her to follow her dreams and build her brand.
“Every [ASL – Ed.] teacher I’ve connected with has tried to help in numerous ways from advice to helping me find apartments in New York, to sending me audition opportunities and overall rooting for me along my journey,” said Dijkhoffz.
The ASL programme, which was a virtual edition in 2020 due to the pandemic, is supported by locally owned businesses. This keeps it free for the students and covers the expenses of all the instructors who volunteer their time.
“I am super grateful to the community. Thanks to the consistent support of the businesses and St. Maarten Tourist Bureau for being one of my most loyal sponsors. This year, the French Tourism Department has contributed in a very significant way by purchasing the flights for 19 teaching artistes. It truly takes a village. I have leaned on so many people to assist and without everyone’s effort ASL would not exist,” said De Weever.
“It is important to create safe spaces for our young people to explore and nurture their talent. I had the privilege and support from family that allowed me to dream proactively. This is not the case for many young people. They are usually discouraged, especially in our region, from pursuing creative careers. I genuinely want to provide that opportunity for every child to explore and tap into what excites them in life. We all deserve to honour our passion and desires to be whatever we want to be in this life,” De Weever said.
The 2022 Art Saves Lives Summer Intensive will culminate with a final showcase at the Philipsburg Cultural Centre at 7:00pm on Saturday, July 9.