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Taking the lead

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Artistic input: Dominique Willis (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Dominique Willis has travelled the world with dance and is now ready to do her bit at home.

She will lead Bermuda Civic Ballet’s summer intensive this year, cast in the role of acting artistic director following the resignation of Coral Waddell, who guided the programme for more than two decades.

“I’m so excited about its growth and where we go next,” she said.

“It will be a little bit nerve-racking, but I think it will be a good break for me from company rehearsals — once I get in shape and ready to go.

“Everyone who has run Civic has done a really good job and I have a good relationship with Coral so if I need help, I can ask.”

Ms Willis studied dance locally before taking advanced lessons at Dean College in Massachusetts and the University of North Carolina.

She then went on to perform as a soloist with North Carolina companies Caroline Calouche & Co, Gaspard & Dancers and Movement Migration as well as Bodiography Contemporary Ballet in Philadelphia.

She did not take her first lesson until she was 11.

“I was a gymnast before then,” she said. “But then my mom said it was becoming really expensive.

“I liked floor in gymnastics anyway, so it worked. I like moving, performing.

“Growing up, it was a way to express myself in a way I didn’t feel I could do with words. Creating pieces is very healing for me. I feel it pushes me through new barriers — whatever I’m dealing with. It brings perspective to yourself.”

Her first experience with Civic was in 2008 when she flew in to be a part of the annual summer event.

“People sometimes don’t understand what it is,” said the dancer, whose career has taken her around the world and most recently to Italy for the DAP Festival in Pietrasanta.

“It’s not a dance school. It’s a charity that runs a programme. They’ve been doing it for decades so local students can take the classes and have opportunities to interact with overseas choreographers.

“It’s for people who are serious about the craft, for students who come back from college for the summer, for kids in local programmes here. It’s open to anybody 11 and up who wants somewhere to dance in the month of July.

“I’ve always loved it. Dance is a good way to express yourself — which is another reason why I like Civic.

“Dance is a catalyst for social change. If you go back in history you can see how things played out through dance, through the pieces created.”

Bermudian Rikkai Scott, artistic director at London, England’s BDblaq; Maria Caruso, artistic director of Bodiography Contemporary Ballet; Pablo Ruvalcaba, of Movement Migration; and Precious Adams, of the English National Ballet, are all on board.

Apart from her work as a soloist, Ms Willis taught dance in private studios in North Carolina where she lived with her husband, Dreyan, and their three children. When the family moved to Bermuda last year, Ms Willis was determined to get involved in local dance again.

“I e-mailed Civic this year to see what was happening because I knew [Ms Waddell] and she said she’d retired.

“So I sent an e-mail asking if [the summer intensive] was happening. They came back to me and said we don’t think it will happen this year.”

Ms Willis put together a proposal and presented it to the Civic board who agreed to “run with it”.

“I’ve secured the choreographers, done all the administration,” she said. “Normally [the summer intensive is] four weeks long, this year it’s two weeks. There are now four technical classes and two repertoire classes. They will learn four pieces in the two-week time frame.”

Graham modern technique and repertoire, urban contemporary, jazz and African dance and yoga, have also been added to the programme.

The Bermuda Civic Ballet summer intensive runs July 15 to 26 at CedarBridge Academy. Tuition is $550 or $135 for evening classes only. For more details: civicballetbermuda@gmail.com; 293-1550. Look for Bermuda Civic Ballet on Facebook

Lifting the spirit: Bermudian dancer Dominique Willis performs with Brian Winn for the North Carolina company Caroline Calouche & Co (Photograph by Michael Church)
Dominique Willis
Dominique Willis, acting artistic director of Bermuda Civic Ballet (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Dominique Willis (Photograph supplied)