Lessons in our time

Immigrant Lessons performs at the Vines Festival. | Photo by Sheng Ho

Multimodality is what comes to mind while watching Immigrant Lessons perform. Multimodality describes communication practices using a variety of modes such as visuals, audio and movement to relay a message.

In an upcoming performance at the Roundhouse in Yaletown on October 21, the group of experienced young performers will relate a rigorous tutorial through their unique artistry.

The roots

In 2014, Kevin Fraser wanted to give voice to his roots as well as bring street dancing to the forefront. The concept became reality when Fraser moved to Vancouver and met Alyssa Amarshi at the Urban Alchemy dance event. Together, they became the directors of Immigrant Lessons.

“Immigrant Lessons is based on the love we have for our immigrant parents,” Fraser says.

Throughout Immigrant Lessons’ growing pains, they have seen collaborators come and go until last year when they solidified the seven-person collective. All of its members are of first and second-generation immigrant people of colour and are LGBTQ. Immigrant Lessons is a new dance/art collective that came on the scene to expose viewers and participants to various genres of dance and movement, which have existed on the fringes of society.

“It is about paying homage to all the dance movements and where they came from,” Fraser says.

Immigrant Lessons brings together hip hop, dancehall, house, pantsula, voguing and waacking to create a strong storytelling voice within the performances. It has become the collective’s main objective to seek and promote cultural relativism through their fashion, art, dance and music. In doing so, each performance stands on its own giving rise to new ways of seeing and being.

Surfacing with New Works

New Works was founded in 1993 as a vehicle for the development, production and presentation of contemporary performance-based work and to provide support and performance opportunities for artists working in contemporary performing arts. One of the reasons New Works brought on Immigrant Lessons into their performance series was due, in part, to its mandate.

“[All of the] performances have a mandate of diversity, accessibility
and inclusion. Immigrant Lessons’ work talks about migration and identity as it represents voices of those that are living here,” says Adriana Contreras Correal, Director of New Performance Works Society.

Initially, Immigrant Lessons became aware of New Works by way of a past employee, who took notice of Lessons on Facebook. This introduction started the ball rolling and Amarshi contacted the organization. Following this, Carina Nilsson, New Works Executive Director, saw them for the first time at the 12 Minute Max performance held at the Dance Centre in February 2018. Nilsson booked them for two of the New Works Series: All Over the Map, which took place in July, and Dance Allsorts, which takes place at Yaletown Roundhouse on October 21st.

Rising above

As a couple of young directors, Fraser and Amarshi have faced challenges both professionally and personally. However, in the group, as well as with each other, they have found a unique sense of stability. Amarshi compares the group to ‘being family.’

“Out of darkness comes light and that is also a testament to the immigrant journey,” she says.

Immigrant Lessons, comprised of Kevin Fraser, Alyssa Amarshi, Sharon Lee, Sophia Gamboa Laurio, Jason Bempong, Marisa Antoinette Gold and Joshua Ongcol, are now focused on their current project called Immigrant Lessons 101.

“This project is basically an ode to the university experience that we shared,” says Amarshi.

Even though, the group gained momentum rapidly, they are still humbled by how far they have come.

“Lessons is also learning to be thankful for what we have and finding ways to give back,” Fraser says.

Immigrant Lessons are as much about learning as they are about teaching.

For more information, please visit www.roundhouse.ca/events/dance-allsorts-immigrant-lessons.