"... the sure touch of poet".
-Eva Yaa Asantewaa
MAKEDA THOMAS is a dancer, choreographer, artistic director, writer, and curator. Marked by radical interdisciplinarity, her recent work in dance theatre, performance, installation, and visual art exhibition has been presented at NYC’s El Barrio Artspace, Winnipeg’s Gas Station Arts Center, the Delaware Museum of Art, Turchin Center for the Arts, Trinidad’s Centre for Creative & Festival Arts; and in the context of Carnival. These works live at the intersection of dance, Black feminisms, African diasporic theory, and Caribbean performance aesthetics in a discourse inextricably linked to spirit.
Makeda Thomas has created several works through cross-disciplinary collaboration with artists around the world: "Sighting Freedom", a site-specific work at the Buffalo Canal Harbor with violinist Henri Muhammad and storyteller Karima Amin; "FreshWater, a multidisciplinary solo work that was embedded into MIT’s “Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies”, scored by Trinidad sound designer, Keshav Singh and designed by Robert Young; "Costa Del Alma", filmed in the Indian Ocean with Finnish cinematographer, Panu Kari; "Moving Still", with German photographer, Stefan Falke; the short film, "Ramgoolie Trace" with Tobago-based multi-media artist, Elspeth Duncan; and the internationally acclaimed "A Sense of Place", for which Graça Machel (Former First Lady of South Africa and Moçambique) served as the Honorary Patron. Her choreography has been presented internationally at The Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York Live Arts, HARLEM Stage/Aaron Davis Hall, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and BRIC Arts, Seattle’s Broadway Performance Hall, Maputo’s Teatro Africa, Port of Spain’s Caribbean Contemporary Arts and Queen’s Hall, at The National Gallery and 7 Arts Centre in Zimbabwe, and Teatro de la Ciudad for Performática and Festival Barroquismo in Mexico.
Thomas was Resident Choreographer of Companhia Nacional De Canto e Dança de Moçambique during its 25th Anniversary season, later developing work as a Cultural Envoy for the U.S. Department of State in Africa. Her artistic relationship with the artists of Moçambique continued when she remounted FIN by contemporary African choreographer Augusto Cuvilas, which saw performances at The Baltoppen in Copenhagen, Centre Culturel Franco Mozambicain and Teatro Africa in Maputo, and Zimbabwe’s Reps Theatre. Named Cowles Land Grant Chair Visiting Artist as part of "Continuously Rich: Black Women in Cultural Production" at the University of Minnesota, Thomas has also served as a Lecturer at the University of the West Indies; a Visiting Artist at Yale University, Long Island University, and Hollins University, Artist-in-Residence at Middlebury College, Associate Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and as Faculty for the American Dance Festival.
Awards include a Performing Arts Award from Creative Capital, Young Maverick Award from COCO Dance Festival, Caribbean Hall of Fame for Excellence in Dance in Jamaica; and commissions and creative support from the National Endowment for the Arts, 651 ARTS Black Dance: Tradition & Transformation, CUNY Dance Initiative, Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the U.S. Embassy, NYS Dance Force, Puffin Foundation, NYS Council on the Arts, and Bossak-Heilbron Charitable Foundation. Thomas is the Founding Director of The Dance & Performance Institute - an international community of dance and performance artists, a forum for exchange, and a series of programs on contemporary dance and performance based in Trinidad & Tobago. Since 2010, the Dance and Performance Institute has engaged over 800 artists from around the world through its programs. Placed within the multiplicity of the Caribbean historical and cultural context, the Institute has served as a site of creativity, experimentation and critical thought about contemporary art-making processes engaged with community. A Founding Executive Board Member of the Collegium for African Diasporic Dance, Thomas has been described as “belonging to that new breed of contemporary artists, the postmodern African Diasporan dancer-scholar whose work goes beyond stereotype and the market appetite for clichés regarding the black dancing body”.
Thomas’ inquiry into the performance knowledges, technologies, disciplinary and conceptual frames of Carnival has evolved through performance, writing and publication, in theatres and the streets. Works of mas for Trinidad Carnival include “Carnival Baby” (2019) in collaboration with Berlin-based visual artist, Shannon Lewis and “Spirit Dolls” (2020), in collaboration with Trinidad-based visual artist, Brianna McCarthy. “Whitewash” and “Blue Blue”, a collaboration with Tracey Sankar-Charleau, were presented for Brooklyn’s West Indian American Day Carnival in 2017 and 2018, respectively. “When Dolls Dance: Belmont Baby Dolls” was published in “My Voice, My Practice: Black Dance” (2020) and “Dance Like Douen” is to be published in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Black Dance Studies.
Her writing is also published in “CURATING LIVE ARTS: Critical Perspectives, Essays, and Conversations on Theory and Practice” and SmallAxe, a platform for criticism primarily concerned with thinking in and through the regional/diasporic Caribbean. Her scholarship has been presented for the Collegium for African Diasporic Dance, Congress for Research on Dance, Society of Dance History Scholars, Dancing the African Diaspora, New Perspectives in African Performing & Visual Arts, The Center for Ideas & Society, and the University of the West Indies. As a dancer, Makeda Thomas performed internationally in the companies of Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, URBAN BUSH WOMEN, and Rennie Harris/ Puremovement. She began her study in Brooklyn, New York with Michael Goring and Eleo Pomare, continuing on scholarship at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, The Paul Taylor School, and Hofstra University where she earned a B.A. in Dance and English. She holds an MFA in Dance from Hollins University. Thomas continues to create and perform internationally while living in New York City & Port of Spain.