Monday, 5 February 2018

THE MEANING OF 25: The Ashé story comes full circle – and continues to flourish

WE ARE FAMILY: The group brings a signature mix of boundless energy and bold choreography to their performances.

IN 1993, Joseph Robinson and Paulette Bellamy decided to launch a performing arts group fueled by passion, groomable talent and youthful exuberance. They were on to something. Today, a quarter of a century later, the Ashé Performing Arts Ensemble (now The Ashé Company) has morphed into a Caribbean superforce committed to pushing the boundaries of performance and creativity, innovation and artistic excellence.

For Conroy Wilson, one of the directors of the company (along with Michael Holgate), ushering Ashé into a bold new chapter, carrying on the work that Bellamy and Robinson started, is an exciting challenge. It’s all about keeping the vision alive as they take the company to new heights – and into global territory. In fact, they have several international engagements (a Netherland conference, a Walt Disney Tour) lined up and are planning to honour their founders in a big way with the grand opening of the Bellamy-Robinson Building (at Ashé headquarters on Cargill Avenue in Kingston) in April. 

What better way to express gratitude to the ones who laid the foundation, on the occasion of a milestone as significant as their silver anniversary? “It means a lot to be able to get to 25, especially when one considers where we are coming from and where we are now. It’s crucial to be able to continue to carry on the vision of our forebears and build on the legacy,” Wilson says, bringing TALLAWAH up to speed on the year-long anniversary plans. “Ashé came out of a desire of wanting to do the arts as a career, and at 25, to be able to do that in a changing environment and with changing governments is something we have to be thankful for.”

It’s amazing how a major milestone inspires reflection and puts things in proper perspective. Over the course of the quarter century, Ashé (whose iconic alumna includes the likes of Keisha Patterson, Sharee Elise and Rovleta Fraser, et al) has zoned in on edutainment through the performing arts as their point of reference. Now, it’s their core niche. And for the rest of the year and beyond, the aim is to expand the work islandwide (“We’re taking our social work programmes into western Jamaica,” says Wilson) and into the wider Caribbean (“We are working on a project in the Turks & Caicos, where we are building a similar group there.”)

“It’s been a really great journey of growth. Everything I’ve learned in Ashé I’ve been able to apply to other areas of my life,” says senior member Ifidel Williams, events and special projects coordinator, who has also been working as a supporting vocalist for stars like Tessanne Chin and Diana King. “Ashé prepares you for the big stage. Once you’ve been a part of this experience, you whole life transforms.”

If you thought Ashé was just into song and dance and the dramatic arts, think again. These days, they’re pressing the accelerator on their involvement in multimedia, film and the literary arts, etc. In addition to recently launching Your Empowerment GPA (a self-help book co-written by Holgate and Wilson), the company is developing their recording studio, an in-house film crew and laying the foundation for the Otaheite Kingdom, a grand fusion of all forms of wholesome entertainment, inspired by the timeless appeal of Apple Inc. and the Walt Disney brand. Says Wilson, “It’s the creative industries at its peak; that’s where we are heading.”

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