A conversation with Nicola Haskins
Already a showing an inclination for dance coupled with a love for sport at the mere age of 5, she already knew her calling was to be a performer but little did this young dreamer know that this dream would be realised in a big way.
Nicola Haskins, like many kids, had a dream and was determined to make it a reality. After matriculating from Kingsmead College in Johannesburg in 1998 she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Drama and Psychology from Rhodes University in Grahamstown. It was here with the exposure to physical theatre that she found her niche. Excellence is certainly in her blood as she passed both with full colours. She also completed an Honours degree with distinction in Drama specialising in Physical Theatre, Choreography, Dance Culture and Education and Mime and Theatre Studies at the same institution.
During this time, Haskins cultivated close relationships with her tutors. “I was fortunate enough to have some of the best and most inspiring teachers in the physical theatre genre. Gary Gordan and Juanita Finestone-Praeg, of the First Physical Theatre Company were my teachers, friends and mentors and I will always be indebted to the effort and passion they put into my education and career. Andrew Buckland, another of my teachers was also a huge inspiration.”
After graduating, Haskins worked at the First Physical Company Theatre as a professional actress, dancer, choreographer and educational officer for three and a half years. This is where she gained vital knowledge and experience and saw it fit to open her own physical theatre company, along with business partner, Bailey Snyman. The Matchbox Theatre Collection aims to promote and provide entertainment and education at a variety of levels and incorporating her personal dance style. “I would describe my work as dance theatre. The reason for this is that the body is central to the meaning making process and I use a lot of theatrical influences in my work, so if I had to define the style I would say that dance theatre is the best term available. I draw influences from both theatre and dance and thus my style exists on the continuum between dance and theatre”.
Haskins choreographed a production which featured in the National Arts Festival titled As Night Falls which is based on Helen Martins, a woman known to be ‘different’. Speaking about her production, Haskins explains the idea behind this concept. ”I wanted to look at an interesting South African figure, especially a woman and I stumbled across Helen Martin in my research. It always helps to have a rich and diverse source of inspiration from which you can work from. Helen Martins provided me and the designer, Bailey Snyman with just this!”
One would be curious as to why Haskin’s choice fell upon Helen Martins but the successful choreographer explains how there was something intriguing and mystical about Helen Martin’s work and the sculptures she created.” I was drawn to her strangeness and found her life very inspiring and interesting. Her obsession with light and darkness provided so many theatrical devices to work with”. Haskins was fascinated by these opposites and believed a theatrical experience could be explored through it and she couldn’t ‘be more right.
The dance theatre show received an Ovation Award at the festival. According to Haskins she and her team were taken aback and felt appreciated that their work was “recognised and well received.”
Her team included students from the University of Pretoria in which she cast in an open audition and according to haskins were the best she could find.
She fondly recalls the performance of the show at the National Arts festival in Grahamstown adding that having spent 8 years of her life there, the town certainly feels like home. ”I will always have very fond memories of the drama department and where I learnt everything that I know now.” she says
Putting together such a show does have its challenges and although Haskins likes working with intense moments and scenes, she does admit that “The difficult part when workshoping is deciding what the show is actually about and what the original intention was.”
Over the years, she has performed in the Dance Umdudo, Dance Indaba, National Dance Umbrella and even Tel Aviv International Dance Festival, touring the country and parts of the world while doing so. She has also performed in renowned plays such as Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and partook in the Charity Performance for Reach for a Dream Foundation in 2007.
When considering all this, it is no surprise that Nicola Haskins has evolved from a 5 year old dreamer to a 30year old successful dance theatre maestro.