A retrospective evening with the NDTC
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
Apparently in a retrospective mood, the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) mounted only one brand new dance last Sunday, as its month long season of concerts at The Little Theatre continued.
That dance, Patrick Earle's Aboriginal Mix (also called Didgeridoo), was choreographed over the last two months. To be fair, however, another dance presented last Sunday, Chris Walker's Mountain Climbing, was only formally added to the NDTC's repertoire this year and it is listed in the printed programme as a new work, though it premiered at the Edna Manley College's first Rex Nettleford Arts Conference in 2011.
As if they had been warned that last Sunday's programme would not include the three pieces that, according to the buzz in dance theatre circles, are the 'hot' ones this year, people stayed away in their hundreds. That left the theatre only about one-third full.
The three 'hot' dances referred to are Walker's Rough Drafts (2014), Oniel Pryce's Traversing: More Than Just Speed Bumps (2014) and Clive Thompson's Malungu (2013).
In an evening with too much low energy from the dancers, the most exciting work was the oldest, the 31-year-old Gerrehbenta, choreographed by NDTC co-founder, the late Rex Nettleford. The other co-founder, Eddy Thomas, died earlier this year, and the season is dedicated to him.
Over the years, Gerrehbenta has been kept as an active part of the company's repertoire and used to close many shows. (The name, incidentally comes from a linking of 'gerreh', a traditional rite practised in the parish of Hanover, and 'benta', a musical instrument used in the dinky-mini rite practised in St Mary).
One reason for the dance's continuing popularity is that it has an exciting score, comprising Jamaican traditional folk songs dynamically arranged by Marjorie Whylie, which is sung live by the NDTC Singers as the work is performed. For much of the dance, the stage is ablaze with colourful costumes. Those worn last Sunday appeared to be new and they literally sparkled in the stage lights, especially the one on the 10-ft tall Horse Head character.
Gerrehbenta closed the show, which opened with another Nettleford creation, Spirits at a Gathering (1995). As the former was full of verve and vitality, so was the latter bereft of it. Faces as expressionless as their bodies, the dancers seemed to be merely going through warm-up exercises. The communal feeling, which is supposedly the theme of the work, was neither generated among the dancers nor transmitted to the audience.
Up next was the NDTC Singers with a suite of folk songs. All involved some activity or the other - children playing, friends greeting each other, men and women partnering in dance, people working, etc. And the singers danced all around the stage as they sang the songs, which included Jane and Louisa, Dis Long Time Gal, Manuel Road, and Ladies May Curtsy, Gentlemen May Bow. Their costumes were attractive, their voices beautiful, the movement was appropriate and, all in all, the performance was delightful.
Kerry-Ann Henry and Mark Phinn showed they were in top condition, as they performed an excerpt from Arsenio Andrade-Calderon's 2004 work, Dimensions. The dance, to dramatic music, calls for a slow, controlled series of gymnastic movements, poses and transitions.
Elaborate contortions of the body, risky lifts and intimate contact are involved. The couple were outstanding and the audience showed its pleasure with enthusiastic applause.
Dis Poem is both the title of Mutabaruka's ostensibly self-deprecating, but really powerful poem, and of the Nettleford-choreographed dance based on the poem. The dance shows the country to be initially in danger: the performers wear gas masks and grey uniforms, albeit with Rastafarian colours brightening them. But a jaunty, self-assured Rasta (Marlon Simms) comes bouncing through the grey army in his red, green and gold outfit, dispersing them. More people dressed like him enter, dancing, and the piece ends in a celebratory mood.
Earle's Aboriginal Mix was presented after the 15-minute intermission. The choreographer's intention, he told The Gleaner, was to present a non-Jamaican folk dance, and he succeeded to a degree. The distinctive lowing sound of the didgeridoo, a musical instrument used by the Australian aborigines, was heard throughout, at varying speeds; and the loose hairstyle of the female dancers, as well as the nature colours of the costumes and set, all suggest a native Australian setting.
However, questions could be asked about the authenticity of the dance vocabulary, pleasant though the piece is.
The solo dance, Mountain Climbing, gave Henry another chance to show what a fine performer she is. In a dance of defiance and abandon, Walker starts off in a short white dress, sheds it later to reveal her green slip and then takes that off to end the piece in only panties (or a dance belt looking like panties) and a tube top. She danced not only with her flexible torso, with her expressive limbs and face, but towards the end, with her voice. She screams, apparently in agony. The dance closes with Walker upstage, her back to the audience, swaying, snake-like, to the floor. A powerful performance.
Though not the strongest of the season's programmes, last Sunday's show did have a number of high points. The season, which began July 25, ends August 17.