Interview with Dr. Sade Bully, MBBS, Artistic Director, CDT
A lasting impact on the world.
A gift that is passed down through generations.
Company Dance Theatre took to The Little Theatre stage for the first time after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in Jamaica. They emerged on Saturday, November 19 and Sunday, November 20, 2022, with spectacular dance pieces choreographed by Tony Wilson, Dr. Sade Bully, Renée I. McDonald and guest choreographers: Llyod A. Boyd III, Michael Holgate, Nijawwon Matthews and Hélène Taddei-Lawson. After the show, we took a moment to catch up with Dr. Sade Bully to get more insight on the vision of The Company Dance Theatre’s ‘Legacy’ dance show.
Here are the questions we asked and her responses:
1. After being unable to perform a ‘traditional’ dance show on a theatre stage due to COVID-19 restrictions, how did it feel to be back on the stage with a live audience?
Simply amazing. During the covid-19 pandemic, we accepted the challenge of exploring creative ways of continuing to dance and bringing dance to our audiences. We learnt a lot from the pandemic, and I believe that both we as a people and the arts are forever changed by the experience. Hence my decision to include some video elements in the performance – using footage from virtual performances we held during the pandemic. It was a reminder of what we had been through and how we adapted and overcame. Regardless, dance in its truest form is ephemeral… a living exchange between dancer and observer… and to be able to experience this again is truly priceless.
2. Why was it important to name this dance show Legacy?
CDT is a ‘legacy company’, created with the purpose of continuing Mr. Tony Wilson’s legacy of bringing dynamic, highly-technical, cutting-edge modern dance to the Jamaican stage and beyond. It is only fitting that our first season be named after this intention, as it is our truest commitment, and sets the tone of who we are and what we are determined to bring to our audiences now and in the years to come.
3. From the beginning of time, Dance has been used to tell many stories about people and society. Explain the significance of using dance as a medium to start the conversation about the topics/storylines explored in the dance show.
Dance is a physical expression of the human spirit, where the body becomes the voice. Some say it is our first language, and is the Universal language. The great Nina Simone famously stated, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times”. As artists, I believe, we have a responsibility to tell our stories. All CDT’s choreographers create from a deeply personal space. We see it poignantly in Renée I. McDonald’s “Divulgence”, where the women of the company are fighting to ‘get things off their chest’ and break free of the constant censorship imposed on them; Mr. Wilson’s work, though many deem ‘abstract’, is a physical expression of the power and resilience of our people. In “Calabash”, the dancers are depicted as Kings and Queens wearing gold crowns, homage to our ancestors. Whether blatant or subtle, one can always find stories within a dance, and dance has the power of awakening that creative imagination and challenging us to look within ourselves to find deeper meaning and to connect with the work.
4. Explain the significance of the highlighted storylines throughout the dance show.
The storylines highlighted throughout the performance are all chosen by the choreographers and subject to the interpretation of the viewer. What you saw and felt is correct. There is no wrong interpretation of any dance. Your interpretation is a reflection of the story your heart needed to hear, and what makes it significant for you, is why it is significant.
5. From inception to execution, how did you feel seeing the dance show finally come to life?
Proud. These dancers and our entire artistic, technical, executive and administrative team worked very hard to pull this off, and I am truly proud of what we were able to accomplish.
6. What was your favourite dance piece to watch from the show?
This show feels like a child of mine, all the pieces are my babies – I don’t have any favourites (laughs). In truth all the pieces bring out something different in the dancers and in myself as I watch.
7. Which piece was your favourite to choreograph? & What was your inspiration for the piece?
I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process for “Gamma Gamma”. I started the piece last year with the middle section, by exploring movement phrases with the dancers in company class- it was when we were still getting to know each other, and I was experimenting with defining a style. The first and final sections of the piece were inspired by my sons and my experiences with childbirth – the pains and the joys. My 3 year old, specifically inspired the opening section- his fearlessness and vitality; and the final section I conceptualised while pregnant with Zen, who is only 3 months old. The piece’s sub-caption is “Life” – and I see it as a cross-section of a life well-lived, starting from the youthful, naivety and verve for life and growing into a state of peaceful acceptance of the highs and lows that come with it.
8. Which piece took the most from the dancers emotionally and physically?
I really saw the dancers stretch physically in Michael Holgate’s “Creole Blooming”. The piece is a joyful celebration with a high energetic demand that the dancers were committed to maintaining. They laid it all on the floor every night! Emotionally, the females of the company were required to take a bold leap for Renée I. McDonald’s “Divulgence”. McDonald quotes John Locke, in her blurb on this piece: “I close my eyes, take a deep breath and let it out completely”- and the dancers have to do just that in a moment on stage where they have to trust each other completely, and with all their courage let out the emotions they are holding closest to their chests.
9. How has this dance show, ‘Legacy’ impacted you as an individual, in this particular time of your life?
“Legacy” has given me a sense of creative purpose once again. When transitioning from a performer to a choreographer, and personally also to being a mother, there is a lot of uncertainty as to what form this new direction will take. “Legacy” has given me a new space to explore artistically and to channel my love for this artform, while passing on what I have learnt from my career and from those who have mentored and guided me, on to the next generation.
10. What level of impact has Tony Wilson and The Company Dance Theatre had on shaping you into who you are today?
Mr. Wilson was essentially one of the first persons to recognize my potential as a dancer, and to truly invest the time and energy into honing my skills and nurturing my passion for the art-form. He invited me to The Company Dance Theatre when I was only 13 years-old, and it was there that my love for dance matured into something I saw myself doing full time- despite being on a trajectory to the medical field at the time. He was my first director and mentor in dance and his voice is the voice that, then and now, gives me the confidence to go after my wildest dreams as an artist.
11. Most memorable lesson from The Company Dance Theatre that has helped you throughout your dance career?
Joining The Company Dance Theatre so young, I recall being encouraged to study the older dancers and understand that I had much to learn from them. I recall emulating their every move and carrying this respect and admiration for those who came before me everywhere I went. Throughout my career I found myself seeking guidance from my predecessors while forging my own path. This guidance, I believe, is responsible for my grounded and fruitful career in dance.
12. For a production of this calibre to be executed, a well coordinated and in sync team is crucial, how remarkable was it to have Renee McDonald, Steven Cornwall, Colin Blackwood (to name a few) by your side?
This production would have been impossible without the full team of CDT Directors. Renée I. McDonald, Associate Artistic Director of CDT to start, is as generous and passionate a director as it gets. She held the fort while I was on maternity leave, and brought an unmatched positivity and joy to the studio, while setting the bar for excellence, and challenging the dancers with her compelling choreography. Having an Executive Director for a dance company in Jamaica is not quite the norm, however, it has been an invaluable asset to CDT. Colin Blackwood, our executive director, is an architect and strategist who channelled a path towards the founding of CDT to execute our first season of dance and continues to give us the support we need to thrive as artists. Steven Cornwall, is Associate Director of The CDT School, and so will be stretched mostly during our school production next month. He, however, had an indelible role in keeping our affiliated dance school running smoothly throughout this event while performing as principal dancer in the show.
13. What’s next in store for you and The Company Dance Theatre?
CDT’s purpose is to continue Mr. Tony Wilson’s legacy of bringing dynamic, highly technical, cutting-edge modern dance to the Jamaican stage and beyond. Dance is story-telling through the use of our bodies. I believe we are limitless, so my questions are: how can we expand as dancers, and as creatives, how can we find new ways of telling our stories? CDT’s story is just beginning and I look forward with optimism at what the future holds.
Photos from the dance show
Photo Credit: Stuart Reeves
Mr. Tony Wilson has surely made a mark on the hearts of his dancers and those who have had the chance to experience him then and now. Dr. Sade Bully has certainly achieved great feet with The Company Dance Theatre as part of her dancing foundation. She is devoted to charting a path that honours Mr. Tony Wilson’s legacy all while tapping into the evolution of the dance industry. The CDT dancers have touched many hearts and have ignited many dormant dreams and thoughts for their viewers. We hope to leave you [reader] feeling inspired and ready to pursue the thing that sets your heart ablaze.
As we witness the passing of the torch and the eruption of smaller flames [CDT team] waiting to spread their fire to the world around them, we must acknowledge that the legacy of Mr. Tony Wilson has officially begun to run its marathon. We say, “run on Company Dance Theatre, run on.”
About Dr. Sade Bully (MBBS), Artistic Director, CDT
Photo Credit: Juan C. Irizarry
Her dance journey
Sade Bully is a Dominican-born medical doctor, dancer and choreographer, who started her dance training in Jamaica at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts and The Tony Wilson School of Modern Dance. She was one of the youngest persons to join and perform with The Company Dance Theatre at age 13. After 10 years with the company and excelling in her medical studies at the University of the West Indies, Sade moved to New York where she studied at the Ailey School and performed with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater before becoming a principal dancer and soloist with the world-renowned Garth Fagan Dance. The New York Times describes her “razor-sharp extension and silky gusto”…as “elegance-the blazing sort.”; while the Los Angeles Times calls her, “a captivating, versatile and resilient force.” Sade has performed and choreographed extensively throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and the Caribbean region, and is a recipient of Dance Caribbean Collective’s “New Traditions Choreographic Incubator Award” (New York, 2018). She is the proud mother of two beautiful boys, and is truly honoured to return “home” to continue the legacy of her beloved first director and mentor, Mr. Tony Wilson, as artistic director of CDT and The CDT School.