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A Tribute to Thea Nerissa Barnes & Launch of the Thea Barnes Legacy Fund.

I discussed the great loss of my "sister-cousin" Thea Nerissa Barnes, who passed in December 2018, in previous blog posts. For our new visitors, Thea was an incredible dancer, choreographer, researcher and teacher within the dance community. She trained with The Julian Swain Inner City Dance Theatre, Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem, Igor Schwezoff, and DanceAfrica founder Chuck Davis. She danced with Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham. She taught dance all over the world and eventually became the Resident Dance Supervisor for Disney's West End production of The Lion King musical in 2001. She held this position until 2018.

In addition to her many career accomplishments, Thea was an amazing influence in my life. Truthfully, I would not have this business in the capacity that it exists today were it not for her. From her sense of style, travel adventures, dedication, humility and constant encouragement to embrace my cultural identity and inner fierceness, I evolved in many areas of my life. I am beyond grateful that I knew this beautiful woman and that we shared such a strong and intimate familial bond.

I knew Thea was special to me, but I recently found out just how special she was to the dance community when my "Ghanaian sister" Akosua Boakye BEM proposed the idea to hold a tribute event for Thea. Akosua, who was also Thea's friend and mentee, is also the founder of AkomAsa Performing Arts Academy ( and Children's Casting Coordinator for The Lion King, London. Thea believed in her abilities and so I jumped at the chance to collaborate with her. However, I had no clue that the event would quickly become what it did. I was deeply moved when I learned about all of the people who signed on to volunteer their time, expertise and/or resources to assist with the event. I was honored to not only design the booklet for the event, but to also travel to London with my sister Kamilah to attend and represent the family at the event.

We were given tickets to see The Lion King the day before the tribute concert. It was bittersweet as the last time I saw the show, it was with my mom and Thea during our visit to London in 2011. However, the show was excellent and it was a special gift to see the show that Thea had worked on for the past 18 years, again.

After seeing The Lion King, we were treated to a delicious tapas dinner with Darcel Osei, Francisco De Souza Lins, Celise Hicks, Michelle Allen, Diane McLean and Marey Griffith.

The tribute concert was held at the Lyceum Theatre, the theatrical home of The Lion King, London.

Countless performers and speakers took the stage or provided videos to pay tribute to Thea. Dancers performed choreography created especially for her, singers sang songs, excerpts were read from her published works, clips of her dancing were shown and more than 860 people filled the theatre's seats to witness it all. Everyone had undoubtedly been impacted by Thea over the course of her extensive career. I was deeply moved by the concert and those who had traveled from other countries, like my sister and me, to be in attendance. No one was paid for their attendance, yet they felt it was important for them to be there.

Urdang Academy, choreographed by Nathan "Neo" Gordon, kicked off the tribute with an explosive performance set to the music of Beyonce's "Freedom," featuring Kendrick Lamar. Photo by Christopher iCHA

Dr. H Patten, Artistic Director of Koromanti Arts and Yassmin V. Foster, Lecturer in Dance Practices at Middlesex University, read excerpts from Thea's research on Fanga. Photo by Christopher iCHA

Award-winning West End actor, Matt Henry MBE and West End performer Rachel John sang "Home" from the musical "The Wiz," which Thea performed in the film and Broadway productions of "The Wiz." Photo by Kamilah Cummings

Matthew Shelton and Patrick Webster from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance where Thea taught classes when she first arrived in London more than twenty five years ago, performed. Photo by Christopher iCHA

AHRC and Midlands3cities Doctoral Training Partnership candidate Tia-Monique Uzor and actor, singer, dancer and musician Geoffrey Berrisford who worked with Thea extensively, read excerpts from "Trails of Ado: Kokuma's Cultural Self Defence," Thea's contribution to the book Narratives in Black British Dance: Embodied Practices edited by Dr. Adesola Akinleye. Photo by Christopher iCHA

Bawren Tavaziva, who met Thea when he was a dancer and she served as his Artistic Director at Phoenix Dance Theatre, choreographed a piece for the tribute.

My cousin Cheryl Barnes, who is Thea's sister and also a brilliant dancer, choreographer and teacher, contributed content for the event.

Tanusree Shankar, one of the leading dancers and choreographers of contemporary dance in India, introduced Germaine Acogny. Photo by Christopher iCHA

Considered the mother of modern African dance, Germaine Acogny traveled from Senegal to perform at the tribute. Photo by Christopher iCHA

The Lion King cast members performing "Still I Rise," an incredible piece dedicated to Thea which was choreographed by David Blake and Ingrid Mackinnon.

Known around the world for his choreography of Broadway's The Lion King, Garth Fagan paid tribute to Thea by providing a heart-felt video for the event. Photo by Kamilah Cummings

Akosua Boakye BEM and Duane Cyrus introduced the Thea Barnes Legacy Fund. Cyrus was a member of the original Lion King London cast. He had also performed with Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham. Photo by Christopher iCHA

The tribute concert also served as the official launch of the Thea Barnes Legacy Fund (TBLF). The fund is the result of ideas Thea had decades earlier to provide scholarship to those in the dance community. It is a donor supported independent fund to support individuals in creative areas that reflect Thea’s interest in arts and academia. The areas of support include: Dance & Performing Arts; Academic researchers in arts and creative industries; and Mentoring / guidance for those in arts and creative industries.

The fund is established with donations given in memory and in support of Thea Barnes’ legacy, by people known to Thea and advocates of the creative industries. Donate to the fund here.

Thea supervising The Lion King, London dancers during rehearsal. Photo courtesy of The Lion King, London.

Thea instructing "Simba" during rehearsal. Photo by: Johann Persson

Children from AkomaAsa Performing Arts Academy took the stage last. Their performance, choreographed by long-time friend and mentee Akosua Boakye BEM, combined singing, Djembe drumming and dancing. This performance was symbolic as it demonstrated that Thea's devotion to dance will live on through the teachings of instructors like Akosua Boakye BEM and the students who are willing to devote their bodies, minds, hearts and souls to the dance art form.

Following their spirited performance, AkomaAsa, was joined on stage by all of dancers who had performed earlier. Together, they danced an fantastic finale. Once the drumming and movement stopped, the dancers all parted and looked behind them as Thea's image appeared on the projection screen. This silent gesture of gratitude was the exclamation mark on a breathtaking afternoon. Whether directly or indirectly, Thea had inspired the lives of those performers and really everyone in attendance. She would have been proud. I was also proud of the outpouring of love for my cousin and to see that the dance community will move forward in the same grace and spirit that Thea had intended. Her journey was not in vain.

The children of AkomaAsa Performing Arts Academy took the stage to perform "Expressions of West Africa," choreographed by Akosua Boakye BEM. Photo by Kamilah Cummings

All of the event's dancers including host Akosua Boakye BEM, returned to the stage for one huge dance finale.

The end. Photo by Christopher iCHA

Following the group performance, the dancers took a moment to reflect on the woman who brought us all together.

Akosua did an amazing job arranging the event. I'm forever grateful for her love, support, creativity, drive and determination. She too, is an inspiration. After the tribute, Kamilah and me tried to meet and greet as many of The Lion King, London staff and performers as well as Thea's friends and colleagues as we could. We wanted to thank them for their generosity as many of them participated in this event on their day off. We wanted to also thank them for their continued commitment to excellence. We laughed, exchanged "Thea stories," and then headed to a Ghanaian restaurant for a scrumptious final dinner with Akosua. This was the perfect ending to a wonderful event. Words cannot truly express my gratitude to all of those who played a role in bringing this dream to fruition. Again, Thea would have been proud.

With Akosua Boakye BEM and Celise Hicks.

With Akosua Boakye BEM and The Lion King, London cast member Etian Almeida

With The Lion King, London cast members Franciso De Souza Lins, Darcel Osei (pictured with her cute baby), and Crystal Nicholls

With The Lion King, London cast members Karlene Wray and Tramaine Lamy

Please help me keep my cousin's legacy alive by taking the time to donate to the Thea Barnes Legacy Fund. Donate to the fund here.

Receive 15% off your orders with code: GLOBALTBLF19 I will donate 5% of all sales to the Thea Barnes Legacy Fund.

Ciao for now!

Kabria C.

Founder, Global Attic LLC


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