EN CORPS: "The essence of who we are as a company is still the same," notes co-director Conroy Wilson.
Long, long before the birth of Quilt, Tableaux, Beam Dance Theatre Company and the like, there was Ashé. Today's generation of youthfully exuberant and rapidly emerging performing arts troupes practically live in the house that Ashé built.
After two decades (the company turns 21 this year!) of electrifying audiences with their hyperkinetic mix of dance, song, drama and storytelling and crowd-pleasing stagecraft, the iconic ensemble has parted ways with several of its key founding members and most dazzling talents, but the group's evolving and continuing success, not to mention this incredible new milestone begs for pause, reflection, and strategic plotting for the next 20 years and beyond.
"After two decades, I am proud of us because the essence of who we are as a company is still the same, and when we perform our audiences still feel that vibe and give that same kind of enthusiastic response," says co-director Conroy Wilson, seated behind his desk at their Cargill Avenue base in Kingston following another rigorous rehearsal session with the crew. "The fact that we still command that kind of respect for what we do as a performing arts group is amazing."
Even so, the fact that these are indeed fiscally challenging times isn't lost on Wilson, who currently steers the ship alongside another Ashé veteran, Michael Holgate, presently the Philip Sherlock Centre's do-it-all maverick. And, truth be told, like peers in the industry, Ashé has been feeling the pinch. So how has the company been keeping its profile aloft? By smartly recruiting fresh legs and exciting voices, diversifying the brand and widening its reach with endeavours like an outdoor cafe. "We're also looking into setting up an outdoor theatre, which is part of our plan to be a self-contained facility.
Intent on broadening their edutainment initiatives as well, Ashé has sought to collaborate with corporate bodies and such government entities as the health ministry to push forward a progressive agenda centred on critical issues like planned parenthood and the war on HIV. "We hope that we will get our curriculum for training in the performing arts accredited," Wilson notes, alluding to their lengthy list of long-term goals, "and set up a school that teaches traditional subjects but using the arts to teach them."
Reaching your 21st birthday is quite an accomplishment in the life of anyone, but for The Ashé Company it's extra special, representing a coming-full-cirle of sorts. "The company was started on the idea that the performing arts is a viable means of survival," Wilson recalls, "and even though these are extremely difficult times economically, we still hold on to that."