An Interview with Ella Mesma by Samantha Mashuta
I had lots of fun interviewing The Real Ella Mesma!
Question (Q): So who is Ella Mesma?
Answer (A): Ella Mesma is the real me, the named came from an amazing artist called Claudio Kron Do Brazil. In Portuguese ‘Ella’ means her so its funny because people would always say “but yeah I’m not talking about her l’ am talking about you, what is your name?”, so I would always have to explain that no its really my name, I am not joking ‘E Ella Mesma” and from there that’s where the nickname Ella Mesma came. But also because a lot of my work is questioning identify, looking at different perspectives of ourselves, so the name was perfect for the company.
Q: You have Two companies-Ella Mesma Company and Element Arts… how did it all happen?
A: Ella Mesma was in 2011, I had an amazing idea for a piece it was quite deep and a bit scary and I worked with an amazing man called ‘Jonzi D’ whi runs Breakin’ Convention and many supportive artist programmes like ‘Back To The Lab’, which at the time was called the Surgery and is about helping young artists to make work put it on the stage. I worked for about four days with Jonzi, Sparkii and another amazing man called ‘Athony Ekendayo Lennon’ on this idea I had and turning it into a performance piece. To be honest it was a very scary time and it was controversial the idea I had had, and as it was a solo it was quite scary for me- it was my first solo piece. So out of that I needed to have a name for the company and I chose Ella Mesma Company. Since then I’ve gone on to make yearly work, but that was really the starting point of everything!
Q: Element Arts Company what was the starting point?
A: So I was living in Leeds at the time and not much was happening well nothing was happening *laughs* in for Latin performers. At that time I only danced Latin styles-Salsa and Samba and I really wanted to perform. I had just moved up from Bristol and there I had ben doing lots of shows with lovely the Militsa Stojanovik and her company called Rebelado and I thought, ‘Why couldn’t we do it in Leeds too?’ so I decided to start something. I actually started roughly in about 2004 working with Elisa Aloe and Zeina Hechme and we had a little dance group called Menina Danca, meaning ‘girl dance’ like the charity in Brazil that Elisa had read a book about. The charity still exist today- I still donate to them every month, raising money to help girl street children get off the streets in Brazil, and we were moved by it!
So DJ Lubi- a very important DJ on the UK Latin scene used go help us to get work and we were really the only thing that was happening in Leeds at the time. But when Zeina moved back to Antigua, and Elisa moved into other work I continued but changed the name to ‘Samba De Oxum’. Even then I was very interested in Orixa (Deities from Brazil and Cuba) after my trip to Brazil in 2004 raising money for Brazilian Street Children with the ABC Trust. That group was myself Ama Rouge, who is still performing with me now and is a wonderful dancer and person, and Eneyi, who has now had a baby and is living in Bristol.
Ama moved to London, and a girl called Emi joined us, so then it became Ella, Emie and Eneyi doing all the shows. After one show at a salsa congress, a guy called Shaka Brown- an amazing Salsa dancer from LA I believe said ‘Hey your “Ell ’Em ‘En why don’t you be Element?’ So I was like yesss! And we became Element Arts that was in 2006 so its stuck from then ever since… and now the name has grown to have lots more meaning in the ethos of how I teach, the topics I like to explore…
Q: I can imagine creating your own company/companies was tough so how was your first year like?
A: Urmmm.. I think in 2006, I was just the keenest person and I am naturally a ‘lets just go’ person, but back then, I was working full-time in other jobs and dance was something I was aiming to do, but at that point I realised ‘this can happen’ so I just really worked hard to make my dream come true. We did a lot of school workshops, shows in salsa congresses across the UK , in salsa clubs and there wasn’t really a pressure it was more like ‘lets just see what happens’. Now there’s much more pressure since the company has grown- there is pressure to get enough work for everybody, and also an integrity in everything I do to make sure it is the best it can be.
With the Ella Mesma Company I guess the same- there was a natural progression in the growth of the Company, but in a much more mature way. So the first thing I did was the solo I mentioned before ‘EvoL’, and then I made another solo and by the time it got to group work I knew a lot more about how to get funding, how to do things properly, how to look after the company, the dancers. I had a lot more experience behind me so its been a good challenge and good experience. Because were project based, we have go get funding for each thing, so first we have to make sure we have everything on point to get the funding. Unfortunately if we don’t get the funding we can’t always do thing we want to do, but we are a strong group and we can try.
Q:Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone who wants to start their own company?
A: Yesss! Try get some training before you do *laughs* so um, over the years it feels like I’ve gone backwards! I mean from when I started with Element Arts as there were so many gaps in my knowledge… Actually no! If you’re feeling brave go for it guys! But if you can get some knowledge, look into it first and see if its for you and just try things out and see how its going because its a big responsibility but I also say GO FOR IT! BOLDNESS IS POWERFUL…just trust yourself and make your own path…
Q: How long have you been dancing for?
A: I first started when I was 14 , I went to a friend of mine- Alice… well her Dad’s partner was Brazilian and had a Latin night and we all went down there. That’s where I first saw Samba for the first time and began to dance Salsa. Actually funnily, I saw this girl in a Samba costume I was very very shy and self-conscious then, and i thought ‘I would never wear that!’ But yes so that was when I really started dancing. I was just doing Salsa and Samba. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to take dance more seriously and seek out other things, more training etc.
But it was a journey because with Salsa and Samba dancing, your talent is in freestyling and in following the leader so then to have to remember choreography is so hard and there was so many things that were challenging! But it was totally worth the journey.
Q: What’s the one thing you love about dancing?
A: I think it changes all the time. Right now its emotions and expression, how important the story is and kind of putting much more on top than just doing a dance and moving your body.
When I first realised the moment I wanted to do Samba it wasn’t about what the dance was, I had no idea of what the costumes looked like, it was ‘this music is my music’ so I guess drums… Yeah emotions and drums are what I love about dancing.
Q: Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
A: Er Yes! I like to be by myself just before the performance… First I like to get a bit hyper also around people- I run around, I kind of expel energy and jump about and I like to listen to Kizomba or Kuduro, and then I usually go into my quiet time and just sit still and really think about the piece and the emotions involved so once I get my hype up I know I can give big energy so then its about really finding the feelings inside of me… maybe also making a few prayers, doing some yogic breathing…
Q: What gives you inspiration?
A: My friends, Music and Ideas… maybe because I did a Politics and Sociology degree I’m a thinker, so I guess world issues, women’s issues and people’s issues… fighting for something and working towards something.
Q: What Choreographers or Performers have been the most influential?
A: Lets go back, so when I first started it was ‘Iris De Brito’… She is my real life heroine. I met her in 2006- on the same night she met her husband which is quite cool! I was so shy because I thought she was so amazing! She’s a Latin dancer with a background in breaking, samba, contemporary, jazz and I just loved how she fused things so she was my first hero!
I mean there is so many people that I love to watch Frankie Martinez from New York is an incredible mover, Yamulee (also from New York)… Now my heroes are Mestre Ponciano a Brazilian dancer and Capoeirista who has just got me into capoeira and his a contemporary dance is just phenomenal. But a lot of my dancers really inspire me too! Rita Claro is incredible- she’s in my Orixas piece and I just find her dedication inspiring. Shelly Maxwell who was my mentor for the piece Orixas, also Miguel Gonzalez, one of my Orishas teachers. Globally and long term I guess Martha Graham I went to the school last summer for the whole concept of her school and the way she teaches and explores moving into emotions. Alvin Ailley- I think that’s the Company are amazing and the dancers are just incredible. Carlos Acosta I know he is also interested in pushing things seeing new styles and bringing Cuban into other works.
Q: So do you think emotions and drums also inspire you to keep dancing or is it more than that?
A: I think that’s the thing that’s most important on the dance floor, for example I went to a Salsa night on Sunday and it was one song and you know when you feel like you just have to respond to these drums like there calling you. Emotions- I guess it’s more in performance on the stage and how much more you can bring to a show and if you can connect with the concept of what is there.
Q: Whats the best things thats happened in your career?
A: Hmm… There have been so many, but maybe when i was performing in New York at the Joyce Theatre with the Russell Maliphant Company… maybe also performing in the Olympics Opening Ceremony- that was pretty magical!
Q: Now linking to the first question whats the worst/challenging thing that has happened to you in your career or in life?
A: I think one of them was realising something had to change when i was training at Laban Dance School. I was working so hard, trying to earn enough to pay for the course, earning enough to live in London so luckily I was invited to to pack my bags and go abroad to Turkey and work with a company who were interpreting a hip hop version dance to Romeo and Juliet. I played Juliet which was fun and definately a needed change in lifestyle!
The other has to be working with bullies-just like in any other job, but unfortunately little is done about it in dance.
Q:Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: With babies haha! Yeah I see myself with children but I see myself being a Choreographer
Q: Where do you see dance in 10 years?
A: The level is going up and up- dance is always changing and people are being more creative so I think there will be a massive jump in level. I hope that Latin Dance Theatre becomes more recognised too so we see it on stage alongside Contemporary and Ballet!
Q: A unforgettable memory?
A: Running down the road and Jete-ing in Rio after a carnival rehearsal once I got into the Ala Passista. It was raining but it was warm rain, it was the best feeling.
Q: If you didn’t pursue a career in dance what would Ella Mesma be doing right now?
A: I think I would be travelling, maybe teaching English, definitely speaking and learning another language. I guess maybe I would be a writer well … something creative.
Q: What advice do you have for dancers both new to re dance scene and those stepping into the professional ranks?
A: Work hard, listen to yourself and don’t take no for a answer. Make sure your doing it because you love it and don’t take yourself too seriously-meaning don’t overthink just do it, go with the flow yeah just dance!
Q: Best Advice you’ve been given?
A: I always look to ‘Maya Angelou’ for advice and I love her quote:
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty”.
I think she’s so wise and I loved the fact that she has made mistakes in her life and she’s not afraid to say ‘I messed up and that’s ok’ I think there is a lot of pressure to be perfect, especially females in our society- we are expected to be pretty, happy, smiley all the time. Its nice for someone to say just be yourself and accept every side of yourself… and to be proud to tell the world about it.
Q: 5 words that sum up Ella Mesma?
A: Bold, Creative, Influential, Caterpillar on the journey towards being a Butterfly!
Q: Your Last passport stamp?
America! Yeah I love the USA and its about to be Cuba in the summer!…Actually Dubai this NYE with TOB!
Q: Whats something that people would be suprised to know about you?
A: I love watching Japanese Animation
Q: The last song you listened to?
A: Johnny Colon- New York Mambo
Q: Any pet peeves?
A: People forgetting to recycle, too much negativity…and Oppression of any kind definitely.
Q: Lets say you could go to one place tomorrow, on your chosen transport with 1 item of your choice and 1 person… what would it be?
A: Ha I have 2 answers for that is that allowed? The first one I would take my boyfriend. We would fly to Japan, with our bicycles! The second one- I would take one of my best friends Anna and we would go fly New York and take our dancing shoes!
To sum everything up I think its impossible, the interview with Ella I actually have no words for as I am currently undergoing a placement with Ella this interview I had with her gave me an insight into “the real Ella Mesma” the behind scenes of her life through her journey into dance, her life before and after dance and much more which was definitely beyond interesting, surprising and some Oh my gosh phrase moments with most of the things discussed in this interview I wasn’t aware of until the interview.
For me Ella Is truly someone I can say is a inspiration in Breaking, Latin, Contemporary well in the dance industry and also in general and I have had a new love for dance, amongst other things which I have learnt from being her intern and she is unbelievably talented and her journey for me is still peaking.
Written by Samantha Mashuta