Saturday, February 17, 2018

Staying on tap


HOW IT'S DONE: US-based director/choreographer and dancer, Chloe Arnold, centre, works out children during the workshop at the Little Carib Theatre. —Photo: NIGEL TELESFORD.

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"The young people are the future of film making. To create films on a mobile phone is the wave of the future — as a matter of fact, it is happening right now on YouTube. Many artistes are making their marks with something that they created with the most grassroots equipment available to them: a cellular phone!"

— Chloe Arnold, US-based director/choreographer and dancer

Mere days before the launch of the sixth annual Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, American dancer, actress, choreographer, director and producer, Chloe Arnold visited our shores to host and help launch the inaugural Caribbean One-Minute Mobile Film Festival, the brainchild of Trinidadian and culture lover, Lawrence J Chestnut. The festival opened at the Little Carib Theatre, Woodbrook with a screening of films from a number of young participants, as well as presentations to the competitions' winners and performances from Arnold and pannist, Mikhail Salcedo.

"I met Lawrence Chestnut at a film festival with my father many years ago and that was the beginning of our relationship. He's grown to know me and watched my career — starting as a dancer, but then putting my dance on film, studying film and becoming also a director and producer. When he presented the idea of a one-minute mobile film festival, I said I would love to be involved and we decided that since it's a new project being launched here in Trinidad — involving entertainment would be a great way to get people motivated and excited," Arnold said.

For Chestnut, it's a dream come true to bring Arnold to his homeland, to have her interact with and influence the local community and to introduce something new on the calendar of events.

"In talking about it, we said: how wonderful it would be to use the art-form of tap dancing because tap had such a major influence on films. So to me, it seemed like a natural fit to work with a tap dancer, who's also a film-maker. It's all an effort to bring young people together and hopefully inspire that creative energy so that next year, people are more confident and excited and ready to come strong and be risk-takers and adventurers and artistes. Trinidad is full of talent, but what's lacking are opportunities and mentors — people who can show the younger generation that an idea they may have is actually possible for them to achieve because someone else has done it before them."

Arnold made the most of her short time here, sampling the local cuisine and bustling nightlife, visiting the beaches on the North Coast and even interacting with pupils at a public school — where she gave them a crash course in her favourite pastime: tap dancing.

"This is my first time in Trinidad," she enthused, "But of course, I've heard so much about it. I've been here two days so far and I went to a school and we talked to them about the film festival and I performed for them and they were so enthusiastic and asked such great questions. I think the kids are really smart and creative here. One of them, just 10 years old asked if he could submit an animated film next year. Ten years old and he's already thinking of clay animation, so I guess he'll do still-shots on his phone and then put that into a moving picture maybe. I don't know how he'll do it exactly, but I have faith in this kid and I think he's brilliant and that's what we'll see coming out of this festival — the brilliance and creativity of the next generation.

"Thus far, the experience has been priceless for me and I hope for the participants as well and I look forward to a great future with this festival and I hope to stay involved with Trinidad."

Arnold began her career at age 10 when she performed in Savion Glover's All Star Tap Revue, which starred Gregory Hines, the Nicholas Brothers and Jimmy Slyde and was held at The Dance Place, Kennedy Center in Washington DC. At 16, she was cast in Debbie Allen's production of Brother's of the Knight and continued to work with Allen for over a decade in various roles and productions, including: television shows like Nickelodeon's The Brothers Garcia, Discovery Channel's Time Warp, the CW's One on One and The Parkers. She has choreographed and appeared in various music videos for a number of chart-topping acts and also served as the dance double for Beyonce in her music video, Upgrade You and as her body double in Diva. Having graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Film Studies, Arnold also made her film debut in Outkast's feature film, Idlewild and Dean Hargrove's award-winning, Tap Heat.

"Life is really wonderful these days," she revealed. "I'm on tour right now, but because Chestnut reached out to me early enough, I was able to schedule the visit here. Right before this I was in LA, before that Vancouver, Croatia, Prague and after this I'm going to NY, DC, Boston, Toronto and then back to LA. I'm very thankful that this career is flourishing and that I'm able to dance and do work that I love and be around wonderful people while I'm doing it.

"To those who don't know: tap dance is an art-form that is not just dance, it's also music. That makes it accessible to every age, every race, every gender can do it. There's no limits cause you can play any kind of music with your feet. Is not like when you learn a specific style of dance which is usually accompanied by a specific type of music to go with it.

For example: if you dance hip-hop then you need hip-hop music — you don't have to, but typically you do — but with tap, we can do Bob Marley, Sean Paul, Jay Z, Mozart, Soca, Steelpan, Jazz, African and even Latin music. We can literally do any type of music and I think that's what makes it so reachable across the globe because everybody has percussion in their music and everybody like to move their bodies.

"The other great thing about tap is you can move your body however you want to. It's really all about your affect on footwork as we saw with the kids tonight — they only learned for 10 minutes today and already they were mixing it up and incorporating different movements that they felt comfortable with."

"I think tap speaks to the fact that Trinidadians already have so much musicality and incredible natural rhythm in them, so this is a natural part of our ancestry because if you go back it all stems from Africa — the rhythmic footwork of the South and West African dancing which is also based on the drum. So it's just a natural art-form that people are not necessarily aware of in the Caribbean, but I hope to build awareness and build an appreciation for over time," she added.

To view the winners of the inaugural Caribbean One-Minute Mobile Festival visit and like the festival page on