Associate Choreographer Niquelle LaTouche Talks … Once On This Island

Please introduce yourself:

I am Niquelle LaTouche, an artist-educator from Hackney with roots in the Caribbean (Dominica) who uses art to challenge social norms and bring people together. I am the Associate Choreographer on Once On This Island.

Why Once On This Island?

When I was offered Once on this Island, I read the novel My Love, My Love, or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy and saw a sensibility that subtly explores the complexities of colonialism and alludes to economic power, race relations, linguistic hierarchy, spirituality and class. The Caribbean is not monolithic and this has taken some elements of the book to create a light-hearted version which alludes to the brutality of the French who like the Portuguese, Spanish and British have widespread attitudes which still affect the modern world. Once on this Island offers a glimpse into the variety in the Caribbean outside of the more well-known islands like Jamaica and Barbados which as a “small islander” is very important to share.

Tell us about your team …

Throughout this project, I have collaborated with movemetition Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy who is a phenomenal example of prioritising the work over ego, remaining present, responsive, and solution-oriented. We both love a system and very quickly found our collaborative process. We are both quite cerebral and visual when creating I am sticky notes, textual analysis and behind-the-scenes logistics. Ken is formations, music breakdowns and notation. We have quite contrasting movement qualities and specialisms but found a synergy which has fostered a trust, which I am
grateful for. Ken is also a great cook and often brought big containers to feed us, that village mentality is innately Caribbean and I will treasure those lunchtimes with the cast.

Working with the stage space at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre how does it affect the choreography, is there anything else you need to consider with it being outside?

Whilst working at the Park, I have learned to come up with contingency plans A B and C. The rehearsal room and stage are very different and what we rehearsed changed a lot because we had to factor in mud, grass, water, daylight, acoustics, steps, ramps and fire in ways that could never be replicated in the studio. Our biggest enemy has been the rain. It rained throughout the technical rehearsals and first dress which meant there were a lot of poncho runs, cold nights and stop-starts and we cancelled our first preview to allow everyone, one dry run all the way through. It sounds obvious, but we are in a park so pollen, pigeons, a resident fox, and all of the elements decorate the space, and we are very exposed to the temperamental English weather much like the market sellers
in ‘We Dance’.

What does the story of Once On This Island mean to you personally?

This has reignited a desire to delve deeper into my language and history because it unites so many of the islands. The voice and dialect coach Aundrea Fudge took so much care in supporting the delivery of the Haitian accent which is not easy. I never realised how close Haitian Creole was to my own and I feel encouraged to take Kwéyòl Domnik – Dominican Kwéyòl for Beginners by Sylvia Henderson Mitchell to work more often. The diligence and love the cast have taken to try to get the accent, I really respect, and I hope to find more spaces that take this level of care to try and find an authentic representation like this.

Tell us about a challenging moment during this project that you had to dig deep to get through it?

This overall process has been “playing to the end” which has forced us to create without being precious and we are constantly brainstorming and experimenting to find the general direction. Multiple elements continued to shift and change which meant teams have been working to quite tight time restraints, and very big elements like acting, dance, music, costume, stage management, props and sound took a while to come together. I find myself functioning in a pastoral space working with chaperones, the park and the cast to bring as much joy, and fun into the process and keep anxiety to a minimum. The first time we ran ‘One Small Girl’ it was a real show and prove moment for the children, and they are phenomenal. Those young girls have such a bright future ahead of them and
they make me so proud.

Ensemble and Asaka – Image Credit: Marc Brenner

Tell us a memorable moment from rehearsal

Doing ‘Waiting for Life’ was the first moment I felt team music, directors, costumes, props, accents, stage management and dance in a united flow, every suggestion was helping to amplify the vision and support logistically. The cast succumbed to Kenrick’s ‘9 Square Wall’ format, which is a key framework in one of Boy Blue Entertainment’s most notable pieces ‘Emancipation of Expressionism’ I cued the lyrics, the cast worked selflessly to make sure every cutlass swing, sugar cane pull, and “ohh laa” meant something to the audience.

What best defines what you love about this project?

I love Papa Ge played by Lejaun Sheppard and laugh hearing Papa Ge curse kwéyòl swear words at the start of ‘And the Gods Heard her Prayer’. This character represents so many parts of how our African spirituality has been misconstrued and demonised, yet monopolised in Western culture. The Gede family have been reappropriated in so many films, cartoons etc but their Vodou roots are rarely spoken about and often Papa Ge figures are quite reductive. Melissa Simon Hartman has done an outstanding job on costume and I have enjoyed Ola Ince’s choice to reclaim the Gods in this play. Our Papa Ge is fair, funny and good but ultimately has a job to do, Lejaun really shows this light and shade and gives us way more than just a “sly demon of death” (We Dance).

Considering your career evolution, where does this project sit on your checklist?

This has been my introduction to the musical theatre world and it has allowed me to combine my expertise as an English teacher and artist in one space. I love how it ignites several of my passions for music, movement, storytelling and craft and I would love to see how other theatres and spaces function. I am glad I said yes to myself and this project and brought my authentic self, which has felt so fulfilling. I love theatre.

What’s next?

I am taking this time to pour into my own cup this summer and finding somewhere with sun for a writing retreat for my debut collection, doing some producing work through East London Dance, beginning an artist development programme called Brainwaves that builds the well-being, resilience and positive mental health for artists and waiting excitedly on the roll-out of the new AQA GCSE Literature specification hitting classrooms. I love collaborating with new artists and creatives and have newfound inspiration to incorporate some non ”boomkacks” (a nickname the cast team dance) into the development of my own company work M(other)land which has been on the back burner since lockdown. This process has left me brimming with ideas for music, costume, direction, voice work and gems in the script.

How do we keep up to date with you and your work?

You can find me on Instagram/Twitter under Niquelle_L and some of my company work is online at www.niquellelatouchearts.com


Once On This Island runs until 10th June @ Regent’s Open Air Theatre

8,842FansLike
45,826FollowersFollow
19,997FollowersFollow
1,350SubscribersSubscribe

Latest articles

Related articles