Photo: Sjoerd Derine

‘People can hardly believe it, but I am completely self-taught’

“One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever done.” Looking back on working with fourteen dancing seniors for her Good [old] Times production Luna, Junadry Leocaria gets ‘excited’. “Everyone was so happy afterwards. That joy, that passion, that’s what I’m going for. That’s like a drug.” After Luna’s success at the beginning of this year, she is now working on a trio for a new project of Introdans and Holland Dance Festival, performed by a ‘mixed-double’ of a dancer with and a dancer without disabilities.

“Is being a choreographer a profession? I never thought about the possibility at all”. Junadry Leocaria (34) came to the Netherlands at the age of two from Curaçao and she already made ‘choreo’s’ when she was in grade 5 of elementary school. “I made dance pieces for friends, at school. But my mother – apart from two years of jazz ballet – didn’t have money for any dance lessons. People often can’t believe it now, but I’m completely self-taught.”

She says she was especially lucky. “The luck that people, over the years, always saw something in me.” It started when she was fifteen, when she was asked to join the urban street dance group Double Faces. Three years later, the group’s mentor, who now also works for the well-known ISH Dance Collective, said: “You have to audition at ISH. I thought whatever, I didn’t even know what ISH was”. For more than eight years she worked at ISH – “a beautiful, but also tough time” – and after that she worked at urban dance company Don’t Hit Mama and at women’s dance crew Femme Lethal, where she could really work on her big specialty ‘waacking’. “Femme Lethal is the first group to put waacking on the map in the Netherlands and Belgium. You could call this dance style the expressive sister of ‘voguing’. Waacking is a very individualistic way to express yourself as a dancer, related to the glamour and style of the old Hollywood movies, but born out of the oppression the LGBT community experiences in the United States”.

Flamboyant appearance

Whether it was ISH, Don’t Hit Mama, Femme Lethal or other groups: everywhere Leocaria was given the opportunity to further develop her choreographic talents and thus became an important and flamboyant key figure within the urban dance field. When asked by Holland Dance Festival whether she wanted to create a new choreography for a group of dancers aged 55 and over she had zero hesitation. “No, not at all,” she says cheerfully. “Last summer I had already given a Good [old] Times summer workshop. And that was so much fun that I immediately said: if you are ever going to make a Good [old] Times production again, please think of me!” Just like with the workshop Luna‘s cast immediately clicked. “I use old-school music: Diana Ross, Prince, Michael Jackson, a lot of disco and funk, and that did something to them. They soon loosened up, showed themselves in all their fragility; it’s so great to experience that effect on people”.

Together with dramaturgist Leo Spreksel, Leocaria selected the cast for Luna. “We mainly looked at how freely people moved, at the pleasure they radiated and not at how well they performed certain movements. We were mainly looking for passion, for personalities. My starting point for Luna was the energy which the moon releases in me, but that was just a thread, a frame, which the dancers – between 55 and 82 years of age – then used to tell their own personal stories. I also wanted to give everyone his or her own moment, his or her chance to ‘shine’. And precisely because it was about real things, real pain, real shame, the production emotionally touched a lot of people. Me too. I found it incredibly rewarding to do. I would do it again without hesitation and made friends for life”.

Diner show with a hint of sexy

During her work on Luna, the idea arose that Leocaria would contribute with a new duet to a documentary made by the EO about DanceAble, the inclusion dance program of Holland Dance Festival that brings together dancers with and without disabilities. “That would have been so cool. I think it’s great that Holland Dance Festival stands for inclusiveness in the performing arts. Also, the duet would not only have been shown on TV, but also during Free To Move, the gala that Holland Dance Festival organises annually in August for the benefit of the Princess Beatrix Spierfonds. But unfortunately, the event had to be cancelled due to Covid-19″.

However, she is still going to make the ‘mixed-double’, but now as a trio. And this time for HubClub, a program that Introdans from Arnhem will present comin season in collaboration with Holland Dance Festival and other organizations that all work hard for inclusion dance. “Very exciting! Soon the first talks with Introdans will take place, but I already understood that it is a kind of ‘dinner show with a sexy touch’”. Laughing: “Sexy in terms of entertainment, not in the relational atmosphere”. “For me”, says Leocaria, “working with a large company like Introdans means another step up the ladder that I’m now making as a choreographer towards the professional dance field. But I’m in no hurry, I still have a whole life to raise my profile and sharpen my own signature. Go with the flow, that works best for me”.

Author: Astrid van Leeuwen