Shelley Maxwell building an impressive roster

Sade Gardner

April 13, 2022

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THE DISTINGUISHED — ARTS AND CULTURE

Reflecting on a life in dance, Shelley Maxwell says the art form has taught her that she is strong and capable of overcoming self-imposed and external limitations.

“It has taught me persistence,” Maxwell told Flair. “As a dancer, when learning a new step, you practise, practise, practise. Imagine when you put that level of persistence into your real life? If they say practice makes perfect, then perhaps persistence leads to success.”

Her name, in many ways, is synonymous with success. Since falling in love with the art form after joining the Wolmer’s Prep dance group, she has acquired an impressive roster of involvements, including being a founding member of the Wolmer’s Dance Troupe and Xamayca Dance Company, and also being a principal dancer at the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica and London’s Tavaziva Dance Company.

Her international dance journey started as a teenager, when she did summer classes at the Alvin Ailey Centre in New York and various dance studios in London. She also attended Cuba’s National School of Dance. Though she enrolled at The University of the West Indies to pursue actuarial science, Maxwell often found herself at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts and ultimately decided to follow her heart.

She did, however, return to the classroom to complete a degree in management information systems at the Munroe College in New York, and subsequently went on to do graduate studies in choreography at London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. She’s often said she never intended to stay in England, but explains that “something about London pulled me to stay, so I decided to explore the performance opportunities available to me on its stages. For whatever reason, London made space for me, and so I decided to continue to explore the opportunities that were coming my way. The more I stayed, the more London made room for me, and I just felt like I really wanted to see where the journey would lead.”

It has led her to major productions, like dancing in Disney’s Lion King at the West End and the National Theatre’s Fela! She’s also expanded her portfolio to movement direction, which she believes coincides with choreography.

“Movement direction involves working with actors and directors to determine the feel and flow of characters, as well as helping to colour the world in which they reside,” she said. “Choreography deals more specifically with the creation of sequences, using dance or movement sequences threaded together to also help colour and shape the world of whatever show or project I’m working on.”

Her work in the former includes being the movement director for Seventeen at the Lyric Hammersmith; being assistant movement director for Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company; and being the movement consultant for the Young Vic’s production of Cuttin It, which won the Best New Play at the UK Theatre Award in 2016.

In choreography, she won the award for Best Choreographer at the inaugural Black British Theatre Awards in 2019. She was nominated for a WhatsOnStage Award for her recent work as a choreographer for the Bob Marley musical, Get Up, Stand Up.
Post Women’s History Month, the performer spoke of women in her field whose work has inspired her craft, including seeing Dr L’Antoinette Stines’ L’Acadco piece ‘Binghi, A Mystic Revelation of Rastafari’.

“I just remembered being so mesmerised by both the choreography and the dancers. To this day, it is one of my favourite works. In later years, I was completely gobsmacked by a piece of theatre called ‘Betroffenheit’, created by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite in collaboration with Jonathon Young. I watched, completely consumed and touched by the piece, and left the theatre in awe of both the work and the mastery behind its creation. I’ve been a fan of Crystal Pite ever since.”

With evolution being part of her story, Maxwell has been exploring her interest in film and television and is currently on set for Amazon’s upcoming TV series Anansi Boys. She also writes. “Writing has been steadily burning in the background of my movement life, but I am now ready to push it forward so it can take centre stage. Ultimately, participating in writers’ rooms, having my work commissioned for television or film, and devoting more time to nurturing that side of my artistic self is high on my list for the future. My passion for writing is as big as my passion for dance, so I guess we’ll see where practice and persistence get me in that arena.”

sade.gardner@gleanerjm.com

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Sade Gardner

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