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Some younger dance practitioners have found the festival transformative. For Anika Marcelle, COCO was a dream come true. She has participated every year since its inception, and loves the annual challenge to stretch herself as a choreographer.

“She mad?” someone asks in the background. On screen, in the YouTube video, Binahkaye Joy is barefoot, dressed in jeans and a pink top, and she is dancing — to no audible music — in the Tunapuna Market on Trinidad’s Eastern Main Road. None of the vendors or shoppers takes any notice of the dancer from Washington, DC, as she twirls and twists, bends and breakdances in time to the rhythmic clang of metal coming from some unseen source.

Not content to risk being carted off in a straitjacket, the visionary “space activator” — as she describes herself — decided to take her dancing to the streets. As part of the 2010 COCO Dance Festival’s “Moving Movement Museum”, Joy danced along the pavement in Woodbrook, west Port of Spain, followed by a small crowd as she whirled and leaped. Cars slowed down and passersby gaped as Joy, a self-declared “liberated booty coach,” paused and wined back limbo-style, doing what Jamaicans call the Bogle.

This unnerving, interactive type of contemporary “street art” is what COCO Dance Festival — the name is short for Contemporary Choreographers Collective — is all about. The festival started in 2009 in typical Trini fashion, when dancer and choreographer Sonja Dumas approached fellow veteran choreographers Dave Williams, Nancy Herrera, and Nicole Wesley with the insane idea of taking over the dates booked at the Queen’s Hall performance centre by the National Dance Association — the organisation was unable to stage its annual show due to a lack of funds — just three weeks before the opening night.

Dumas was well aware of the NDA’s funding problems. Despite being the birthplace of the late, legendary Beryl McBurnie and Dai Ailian, “Mother of Chinese Modern Dance,” Trinidad and Tobago has never given its dancers (indeed, some would says its artists on a whole) the sort of financial recognition and support that their counterparts elsewhere in the Caribbean enjoy. While the world’s most acclaimed male ballet dancer, Carlos Acosta, can point to the Cuban National Ballet as the source of his training, and the National Dance Theatre Company in Jamaica carries on the legacy of the late Rex Nettleford, Kumina king and Oxford-educated “don”, T&T’s dancers and choreographers have no national dance company or arts council on which to depend for funding.

With just three weeks in which to put together a festival that would showcase contemporary movement, when there had never been such a thing in Trinidad, most people would not even have entertained the thought of trying to pull it off. But Dumas, Williams, Herrera, and Wesley are a formidable quartet. And with more than a century of collective dance experience among them, the COCO Dance Festival has grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years.

“COCO has evolved from the hastily arranged show that happened by default, and is now an annual dance festival in which many established and emerging artists aspire to participate,” explains Dumas. “I’m always excited about each installation of the festival, since every year there is a different, diverse menu of dance, and I get to see what young members of the dance community have to offer. So far,” she adds, “we have been blessed with a high level of interest from the artistic community and tremendously committed artists who want to showcase their work in the most professional way possible.”

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