Award-winning Choreographer and Dancer Confronts Pervasive Issue of Shadeism Within Communities of Colour
TORONTO, ON — In a searing world premiere, choreographer and dancer Esie Mensah presents Shades, a deeply personal dance theatre exploration into the discrimination between lighter-skinned and darker-skinned members of communities of colour known as shadeism, September 27 to 30, 2018 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario. A visceral and urgent work, Shades examines the deep generational trauma that shadeism has imprinted on Mensah, its six artists, and society at large.
Carved from real-life experiences by Mensah and her cast of ground-breaking collaborators including Canadian-Jamaican dancer Tereka Tyler-Davis and Allyson Trunzer of Antiguan & Barbudan, and German descent, the stunning highly athletic full-length work features award-winning Mensah alongside her ensemble of six outstanding artists as they recounted moments of discrimination, pain, and healing.
Allyson facilitates dance workshops with schools in Ontario, as well as in Antigua and Barbuda. Along with her dance career, she is working towards developing and implementing community arts and education programs for youth in the Caribbean. She is a graduate of Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts (Ontario Scholar/Senior Dance Award Recipient), as well as Ballet Creole’s Professional Training Program in Toronto, Canada. Allyson has worked with multiple companies and independent choreographers including Kevin A. Ormsby, Lua Shayenne, Debbie Wilson, Patrick Parson, Ian Douglas, Arsenio Andrade, Christopher Walker, Ronald Taylor and many more.
Allyson was awarded the Access and Careers Development Grant by the Ontario Arts Council in 2012, which funded her studies at The International Visa Program at Peridance Capezio Centre in New York City. She continues to develop her artistry through performance, instruction, and collaboration.
Tereka Tyler-Davis is a first generation Canadian-Jamaican. Tereka has worked with Esie Mensah since the inception of Shades in 2016, bringing her personal experiences with shadeism into the development process as an artist who straddles light-skinned and dark-skinned spaces but fits into neither.
She is most recently the recipient of a Dora Moore Award for Best Ensemble (Dance) with the cast of Holla Jazz Floor’d. Tereka is a passionate, emerging dancer/performing artist. She has spent 4 seasons with KasheDance most recently performing the successful Facing Home: Love and Redemption (choreo. Kevin Ormsby and Chris Walker) including tours to Kingston, Jamaica, New York, Wisconsin, Madison and Carifesta XIII Barbados as well as a presentation of Recalcitare at the Re:generations Festival in Birmingham UK.
She has also worked with various Contemporary, Afro Diasporic, Musical Theatre and Burlesque artists including Jose Carret (DanzaCorpus), Arsenio Andrade (Kashedance), Ronald Taylor (Ronald Taylor Dance), Ballet Creole, Adrianna Yanuziello (Dance Migration) Victoria MataSoledad (MataDanze Collective), Jasmyn Fyffe, Wind In the Leaves Collective and Expect Theatre. Highlights include Shades (Esie Mensah) Tribute to Harry Belafonte (Melissa Noventa), White Light Follies and Portrait of a Scandal (High Society Cabaret), Sister Act (Lower Ossington Theatre) and Shameka Blake’s Artists in Motion in a 2018 Dance Ontario Commission of Child Soldier.
“I’m interested in exploring the ugliness, the pain, and the truth of shadeism,” says Mensah. “In 2018, shadeism is still a reality, constantly dividing us. Shades is my unapologetic confrontation with this all-too-common actuality in communities of colour. While shadeism is explored through my lens—it is not just my story. It would be selfish to present something so universal as just my own—and that’s why I value the stories and experiences of my artists, creative team, and mentors.”
Originally developed in 2016, the now full-length 75-minute work will fearlessly examine the question of how communities of colour became fractured around the notion of skin tone but also becomes an undeniable opportunity to start a conversation of healing across all Diasporas. In today’s world, this discrimination can often be subtle and insidious, whereas in the past shadeism was commonly used to unofficially rank enslaved people in many countries around the world.
Mensah is greatly affected by the lengths people of colour, the world over, have taken to permanently alter their skin tone in a quest for a distorted beauty ideal. Countless reports abound of dangerous and sometimes illegal products purporting to lighten or even bleach skin tone—all suggesting an ingrained psychological belief many ethnic communities have towards social acceptance, perceived value and attractiveness. While Shades doesn’t shy away from confronting the ugly truths of shadeism, Mensah feels the piece is a restorative balm through which to mediate the pain.
Toronto-based Mensah is a highly respected choreographer and dance artist. She is the 2014 Black Canadian Award Winner for Best Contemporary Dancer, the 2015 recipient of the Cultural Promotion award from the Ghanaian-Canadian Association for her 2015 production of Akoma and was named in 2017 as one of 100 Black Women to watch in Canada. She has worked with some of the industry’s biggest icons such as Rihanna, Drake, Janelle Monae, French Montana, Francesco Yates — the Canadian opener for Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods Tour — and has collaborated with companies like Coca-Cola, Luminato, TIFF, Estée Lauder, FIFA, WE DAY, and more. Within the realm of the performing arts, she has worked with Shaw Festival, Soulpepper Theatre, and Obsidian Theatre, where she gained both experience and knowledge to help her create.
In addition to her accolades, Mensah is committed to bringing her own unique style of Afrofusion dance into the industry that includes movements from traditional and contemporary African fused with commercial, urban, and contemporary styles. As a choreographer, Mensah uses each artistic opportunity to express her creativity through the art of dance and theatre. She designs and directs performances that have inspired others to share in her innovative ideas.
Shades features Mensah alongside an ensemble of six highly athletic and accomplished artists, coupled with the luminary creative team including actor Akosua Amo-Adem (Soulpepper’s The Crucible, Nightwood’s The Penelopiad) as dramaturge, and triple Dora Award-winning playwright, director, and scholar d’bi.young anitafrika as Mensah’s artistic mentor.
During the performance, the dancers will interact with an inherent physicality while recounting moments of rejection, pain, and discrimination. Percussionist Santosh Naidu and bass player Ian DeSouza will compose original music as they create a soundscape of pulsing African rhythms and musical flow. Audiences will discover that Shades will be an experience to remember.
For tickets and information please visit esiemensah.com