Jennifer Schwartz and Mel Bell-Grey are two artists whose planets orbited into each othersʻ paths in a chance meeting in Leicester Square, London, England May 19, 1997. Jennifer was in the last year of training in the acclaimed Royal Ballet School Teachers Course, and was in her last year of her degree in teaching from the Royal Academy of Dance. Mel Bell-Grey had recently returned from a musical tour with the Arts Convoy (British Media title of event here) bringing music to the war torn people of the former Yugoslavia and performing in the Black Forest of Bavaria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria & Croatia.
This meeting was a course changer. Neither one could have known just how profoundly the other would be impacted and that this meeting would result in 17 years of collaboration in the arts. The partnership of these two artists partners has impacted 3,000 performers and has been viewed by thousands of theater goers and over the internet. An all of this has happened on a remote little island in the middle of the Pacific, Kauai, Hawaii.
Jennifer’s family roots brought her back to Kauai after graduation. After the tragic loss of her mother, Mel came to aid in stewarding the family estate. For 13 years with no means of selling the property Mel & Jennifer went from being city dwelling Londoners to a couple of local Kauaians tending organic date palms, avocado, mango, lychee, coconuts and various citrus trees.
Because of their great love of the arts and extensive training in the field of dance, they started a dance school. After the first year there were a good number of students ready to perform in a show.
Here was the deciding moment…what was the show going to be? Ballet teachers on Kauaʻi had traditionally performed “Nutcracker” at the Princeville Hotel for a decade prior to Bell-Grey’s coming to Kauai. Now there seemed to be an opening and opportunity for a fresh new work…something of the times.
Global media reported worries about Y2K and possible computer failure when the clocks reached the year 2000 was a hot topic of the mainstream media. Residents of Kauai became so concerned that many stock piled food in the event the computers went haywire and the barges bringing supplies to the island suddenly stopped. It was a time of concern and palpable stress.
It was Mel Bell-Grey who, having had a background in Theater production from his time as a professional dancer with Azido, Britainʻs principal Africa Dance Company, coined the concept Mother Earth SOS. Schwartz and Bell-Grey joined skills to bring about the first Mother Earth SOS show December 19 1999. Mel wrote the libretto, Jennifer and Mel devised the choreographic content and working together they designed the music land scape. Mel Bell-Grey directed the first performance.
Kumu Mauli Cook, Johnny Akana, and dancers from Papa Lauaʻe o Makana were the guest halau that performed.
Jennifer & Mel Bell-Grey married December 7, 1999, 12 days before the premiere of the show at the Princeville Hotel Grand Ballroom. The show’s success proved that it was embraced for it’s positive message despite it’s surprising title. The skillful inclusion of dancers from all ages, backgrounds and levels of dance greatly contributed to the audienceʻs enjoyment of the performance.
Audiences enjoyed the diversity and variety of the musical ranges from classical to contemporary, Bob Dylan to Debussy. Swan Lake spin offs like using Cygnets and transforming them into “Army Ants” marching in a row are among some of ideas that breathed new life in to traditional works. Featured as well were new works by emerging artist of the day Danielle Greenhalgh who contributed choreography and poetry in motion to an excerpt of Michael Nymans’ score “The Piano” . The finale was performed to an excerpt from master film composer John Williams’ musical score to the movie “Amistade”. The Sun and Moon costumes were commissioned to Magenta Billet and the dancers were Rae Nicole Jenson & Maya Maginnis performing to solo violin of Itzhak Perlmanʻs rendition of John William’s score “Schindler’s List”
In 2000 the Bell Greys further developed the concept of the “Mother & Child” and actually featured moms with their children. In 2004, Mel Bell-Grey wrote an original work of music called “My child” and this dance included mothers and fathers dancing with their children.
In 2002 Mel Bell-Grey wrote an original work replacing the Sister Sledge’s “Living in high society” featuring Advanced Ballet called “Up town girls”.
In 2003 Mel Bell-Grey wrote an original song “Are your children playing?”, “It’s a beautiful world”, “Dream Machine”, “Pray” for the Hip Hop numbers and “Listen to the rain” for a Spanish Dance piece.
In 2003 Jennifer performed solo for the first time since the creation of the show to a tune written by Cindy Lorper, performed on solo trumpet by Miles Davis titled the same name as the music “Time after time”.
In 2004 the Bell-Greys conceived and designed puppets students would use to perform. Esther Manning was commissioned to create 4 elephants, 2 giraffes, 20 big cats of either the tiger or the leopard variety, 30 flowers, 2 ballroom dresses, 1 court jester, 15 animal hip hoppers, 5 up town girls, 20 trees & 50 sunflower hoops.
Over the course of 17 years 65 new works have been created, over 30 original music pieces written, and over 40 different artistsʻ music featured, including artists like; Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Handel, Mozart, Erik Satie, Ravel and Gottchalk & Kay
Archives reveal the journey – the name of the show may have changed over the years, some of our students & families come and dance for a year, others over 10 years and have risen through the ranks
The shows have created a culture, a family and a way of doing things in unison, cooperation, and reverence. The showʻs motto “There are no primadonnas. Everyone’s a star, no matter your age, your level, your participation as a performer.”