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Combining reggae and ballet to confront homophobia

How do you reconcile the themes of love and redemption in reggae music with the bigotry and violence toward homosexuals often associated with the genre?
A scene from Facing Home Love and Redemption, which opens on Thursday night. (Facing Home Love and Redemption/Facebook)

How do you reconcile the themes of love and redemption in reggae music with the bigotry and violence toward homosexuals often associated with the genre?

That question is at the heart of a new dance piece called Facing Home: Love and Redemption, which combines the music of Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley with ballet.

Kevin Ormsby, one of the choreographers behind it and the artistic director of the troupe KasheDance, came up with the idea with Chris Walker, who is also Jamaican and works in the U.S. at the University of Madison. 

Ormsby was exploring some work around Marley's music and its global influence, looking at the impact of the music and its ability to move people forward. At the same time, Walker, his co-choreographer, a Jamaican working in America, was looking at homophobia in diasporas.

The two put their concepts together.

"We're inviting audiences to think of the global influence of Bob Marley's music and its connection to larger social issues. We're inviting them to ask themselves 'when did I first hear Marley's music?' and 'when did I first fall in love?'" said Ormsby.

How do you reconcile the themes of love and redemption in reggae music with the bigotry toward homosexuals often associated with the genre? That'at the heart of a dance piece opening tonight. Matt Galloway spoke the co-choreographer Kevin Ormsby. 5:08

"We hope audiences fall in love all over again while thinking about love and redemption in light of the real stigmas of homosexuality, especially in the West Indian and Jamaican community."

Ormsby said Marley's music galvanized the idea of peace in Jamaica and well beyond. He remembers particularly the influence of it in the 1970s and 1980s, when his mother came to Toronto because of violence in the island nation.

"[His music] creates a question, how you can love that music, but at the same time, the culture around it be so rooted in hate?" he asked.

"If you put [Marley's music] against homophobia in Jamaica, it creates a difficult situation because you identify as Jamaican but the country doesn't recognize your existence. There are also issues of that within the diaspora."

Ormsby said he wants to inspire a conversation around acceptance, idea that there needs to be a collective understanding of what happens when we preach to hate.

Importantly, he said, he wants that conversation not only in Toronto, but in Jamaica.

"As scary as it might be to take [the show] there, it's important to bring the conversation there, without trying to preach to anyone," he said.
 
The show opens tomorrow night and runs until Sunday at Daniels Spectrum. See here for more.

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