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 (www.akomaasa.com) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Founder, Global Attic LLC