Shake It at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Traditional mas players

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) bills its February evening millennial bash as Shake It. But, Trinidadian Canadian actress and playwright Rhoma Spencer plans to take it up a notch, dazzling, rocking and “carnivalizing hipsters who will be taking in the First Thursday party on February 1.

Shake It is meant to attract new (and younger) audiences to the Toronto art institution. It looks at traditional in a contemporary way, and as always through the eyes of the artist,” reports the  AGO.

Headlining the event will be Spencer, calypsonian Macomere Fifi, traditional costumed carnival performers, dancer Jasmyn Fyffe and New York artist and DJ Juliana Huxtable, founder of the famous New York underground party, Shock Value. DJ Nino Brown of Yes Yes Y’all  will entertain the party in the gallery’s Walker Court.

Spencer is recreating the custom of Viey la Cou (The Old Yard), where traditional mas’ was performed over two centuries ago. The Gallery will be transformed into a performance space inhabited by five traditional Trinidad and Tobago Carnival characters, scripted by Spencer.

“In 1834, when the enslaved bodies were finally freed in Trinidad, they mimicked the French elite

in the big houses.  When the bodies (emancipated slaves) took to the streets they mixed those costumes with the traditional celebrations they remembered from Africa,” Spencer told the Caribbean Camera.

Spencer has written a 15-minute script for five actors in costume that will be performed twice in the AGO’s large European galleries.   “The doors open at seven and we perform at eight. Can’t get in? Stick around. We will do it again later in the evening.”

The characters that Rhoma is bringing to the AGO are larger than life.

Dame Lorraine, a Trinidadian mas’ character of the 18th century, was known for having big padded breasts and an equally large padded butt. Dame Lorraine wore the elegant costumes of the aristocracy and would perform the dances of the day.

“Of course back then Dame Lorraine was performed by men – Trinidad’s first drag queens. Trinidadian artist and self-described Proud Caribbean Queen, Thomas Haskell, will be our Dame at the AGO.”

Spencer will be dressed as the Midnight Robber, Mickolia Salceo plays Pierrot – a Caribbean take on the historic French clown. Brett Alexander dons the costume of the Mimic. Macomere Fifi, will be portraying a member of the Speech Band of Tobago which told traditional oral poetry.  “Macomere Fifi will also be doing a series of pop-up calypso talks throughout the evening.

The AGO hasn’t had much Caribbean Carnival programming over the years.  On February 1st  it will make up for lost time!