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'Nina Simone is my biggest inspiration'

IN FULL FLOW: The dancer in action

NINA SIMONE was much more than a smoky-toned jazz and blues singer. Through her life and music she epitomised the essence of the black American – and especially the black female – experience.

The best way to capture the cultural legacy of someone like Simone is to listen to her music.

Her 1958 single, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, gave the feeling of pride, worth and hope for an equal place in the future, despite seeing the horrific images of the violence perpetrated against young blacks involved in the Civil Rights struggles in the South.

French dancer, Antoinette Gomis, explores the inspiration, meaning and personal attachment to Simone’s liberating and timeless messages in her music through her original performance piece, Images.

“Images is a tribute to black women,” the skilled dancer tells The Voice.

“Through the work of art of Nina Simone, we tried to do a tribute to black women – to all women. We can see in the piece the evolution of the character I am playing. This woman changes throughout the piece. She’s going through different emotional stages.”

The dancer adds: “Nina Simone is a big, strong woman and she’s the biggest inspiration in my career.”

Preparing to perform Images at this year’s Breakin’ Convention, she expresses her joy of being part of the popular, international dance festival.

INSPIRATION: Late jazz singer Nina Simone

“Performing at Breakin’ Convention is important to me because it’s such a big festival,” Gomis says. “It’s an international festival in a big, beautiful theatre. And I like the UK audience because they are real. When they don’t like something, you can see it directly, and when it’s good, they express it. I really like that.”

The original performance of Images was first created in 2011 for a video, but Gomis adapted the dance for stage when Breakin’ Convention’s founder Jonzi D approached the dancer to perform at the festival for a third time.

Dancer, choreographer and model, Gomis is a leading dancer in the French street dance scene. She started dancing, when she was six years old and embraced the hip-hop culture as a teenager in her hometown in the suburbs of Paris. Locking was her first major influence, but she discovered other styles as she grew up.

“In France, street dance is very underground. These two fields – commercial and underground dance – are really separated in France but in the UK everything is mixed.”

After studying entertainment and art, she began a career as a dancer winning several street dance competitions and battles including Funkin’ Stylez in Dusseldorf, Nike’s Bring Your Troupe and Soul Session in Sweden. Chosen by Puma to be part of their Puma The Quest campaign her charisma led her to become key hip-hop performance luminary Salah’s assistant for Cirque du Soleil as a dance captain.

“When I dance, I feel real, I feel authentic. I feel like I’m myself, like I don’t have to lie or hide myself or play a role,” she says.

Antoinette Gomis performs Images at Breakin Convention on Sunday May 1 on the main stage

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