Feature story by Stephen Weir in today's Caribbean Camera
Shake it? Rhoma Spencer is going to Rock, Dazzle And Amaze downtown millennials at the Art Gallery of Ontario
The Art Gallery of Ontario bills its February evening millennial bash as Shake It. But, actress playwright Rhoma Spencer plans to take it up a notch, dazzling, rocking and ‘Carnivalizing” hundreds of downtown hipsters who will be taking in the First Thursday party this February 1st, from 7-11:30pm.
Shake It is a unique programme meant to attract new (and younger) audiences to the downtown Toronto art institution. Shake It looks at traditional in a contemporary way, and as always through the eyes of the artist,” reports the art gallery about next month’s event. “ We will be honouring the season, history of Carnival.” 

Rhoma Spencer

Headlining the event will be Rhoma Spencer, Macomere Fifi, traditional costumed carnival performers, dancer Jasmyn Fyffe and New York artist and DJ Juliana Huxtable. She is the founder of the famous New York underground party, Shock Value. DJ Nino Brown of Yes Yes Y’all, Toronto’s biggest and longest running dancehall party, will entertain the party in the gallery’s Walker Court.
Rhoma Spencer is recreating the custom of Viey la Cou (The Old Yard), where traditional Mas was performed over two centuries ago. The Gallery will be transformed into a performance space inhabited by five traditional Trinidad and Tobago Carnival characters, scripted by the Trinidadian Canadian actress, playwright and author.
“In 1834, when the enslaved bodies were finally freed they mimicked (the French aristocracy on Trinidad) they saw in the big houses. When the bodies (emancipated slaves) took to the streets they mixed those costumes with the traditional celebrations they remembered from Africa,” Rhoma Spencer told the Caribbean Camera.
Rhoma has written a 15-minute script for five actors in costume that will be performed twice in the AGO’s large European galleries. “The doors open at 7 and we perform at 8. Can’t get in? Stick around, we will do it again later in the evening.”
The characters that Rhoma is bringing to the Dundas St W building are larger than life. Dame Lorraine, a Trinidadian mas character of the 18th century, was known for having big padded breasts and an equally large padded butt. Dame Lorraine wore the elegant costumes of the aristocracy and would perform the dances of the day.
“Of course back then Dame Lorraine was performed by men – Trinidad’s first drag queens. Trinidadian artist and self-described Proud Caribbean Queen Thomas Haskell will be our Dame at the AGO.” 
Rhoma Spencer will be dressed as the Midnight Robber, Mickolia Salceo plays Perrot – a Caribbean take on the historic French clown. Brett Alexander dons the costume of the Mimic. Calypso singer Tara Woods, aka Macomere Fifi, will be portraying a member of the Speech Band of Tobago. The Speech Band spoke in rhyme and rhymes as they told traditional oral poetry. “Macomere Fifi will also be doing a series of pop-up Calypso talks throughout the evening in various AGO art spaces.
The Art Gallery of Ontario hasn’t had much Caribbean Carnival programming over the years. This February 1st they are going all out to make up for lost time!
Toronto's leading Soca DJ crew D’ENFORCAS are supplying the music in a second large room inside the art gallery. As well, Toronto dancer and choreographer Jasmyn Fyffe will dance a new work exploring her relationship to J'ouvert tradition and its emancipatory folklore.

The Carnival themed Shake It night is part of the AGO’s wildly popular First Thursday parties. Advance tickets for the 19+ event are now on sale for $13 and $16 at the door. Be forewarned that there may not be door tickets available because of strong advance sales.…


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