Creative approaches of two Christophers
Lovers of the performing arts in Jamaica probably know Christopher Daley and Christopher Walker. The former is a director, actor and comedian. The latter is a university lecturer, dancer and choreographer.
Recently, I watched them demonstrate their talents. Daley can be seen at The Theatre Place, Haining Road, New Kingston, in Dahlia Harris' comedy Ol' Fyah Stick. Walker's lecture-demonstration, Contemporising in Reverse: Folk Origins, Contemporary Aesthetics and Dancing in the 21st Century, was on Wednesday, February 25. It was the 2015 Philip Sherlock Distinguished Lecture at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), UWI, Mona.
Walker is a graduate of and former lecturer at the School of Dance, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and former dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC). He is now assistant professor in the Dance Department of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and artistic director of a number of dance groups.
A PSCCA email sent to me stated that Walker has developed a choreographic approach to devising contemporary experimental theatre. It "is rooted in creative and somatic movement practices and helps students navigate their voices and experiences and creatively problem-solve to find the appropriate medium for their stories."
That approach was taken by some very animated and vocal members of Walker's dance groups, featured in video clips which preceded his talk which had a question-and-answer format.
One early rhetorical question was (and I paraphrase), how do you present an edutainment work and honour the idea of a formal lesson? Walker's approach is "to use art within a traditional lesson-plan structure with performance being the medium through which it is delivered." He performed quite a bit during the talk.
Walker also asked what is the role of dance in Vision 2030? How are we going to act to encourage dance development? What will information gained from the exploration of Jamaican and Caribbean realities mean for dance in the 21st century?
Walker said that his process addresses "creative problem-solving that can be attached to academic pursuits or in art presentation." It is a process that, at its core, is "an act of centering". It aims "to decode cultural information and academic theory and is rooted in one's experience." This is both the folk and the urban experience, Walker said.
"The primary tenets of this process is that the self, informed by the lived and bequeathed cultural knowledge, directly impacts how we access space and place and how we engage time," Walker said.
Stating that he wants to represent under-represented Jamaican and Caribbean artistes, Walker also hit out at uninformed criticism. Too often, he said, "work that is created and developed in this space for this space is criticised through a lens that is not reflective of this space." It is criticised by people who are "different and separate from where we're from and (with a tool that) is not reflective of the philosophies that ground the work."
He reminded the audience that the Caribbean was shaped by "an extremely violent act" by Europe. While there has been a creative synergy from the interaction of the two cultures, it is necessary to investigate our "uniqueness," Walker said. Hence, he is very interested in African and diasporic material.
Often illustrating his points with contortions of his body, Walker spoke glowingly of the terpsichorean work of former School of Dance head, Barbara Requa, the late NDTC artistic director Rex Nettleford, Movements Dance Company's artistic director Monica Campbell, L'Acadco's artistic director Dr L'Antoinette Stines, and Dr Monika Lawrence, artistic director of Stella Maris Dance Ensemble.
Though Walker praised the creativity of Jamaican dancer practitioners, near the end of the lecture, he asked yet another question. In the past 50 years, we have stayed "in our silo" to develop what we have developed, but what will we do in the next 50?
As if answering, Walker urged dance practitioners to help one another. "Collaboration is important," he said. "We've got to share knowledge and build together. We have to develop collaboratively."
Walker's audience was welcomed by PSCCA drama tutor Michael Holgate, who invited us to the Jamaica Dance Umbrella's presentations now on at the PSCCA. The four-day festival of dance began last night and continues until Sunday, with shows at 8 o'clock each night.
The festival features performances by the NDTC, The Company Dance Theatre, Dance Theatre Xaymaca, University Dance Society, L'Acadco and several freelance dance practitioners. This year's staging (the festival's seventh) will feature unique collaborations between dancers and various well-known singers and instrumentalists.
We met Chris Daley in the 1980s as mischievous little Johnny on the popular television series Lime Tree Lane. His acting skills have developed tremendously and Ol' Fyah Stick gives him lots of opportunities to show off his talents.
He alternates with the more nuanced Desmond Dennis (who is also very good) in the role of Delroy Bailey, security guard for the complex in which the main characters, Joseph Moore (Volier Johnson) and his helper, Betty (Deon Silvera), live as man and wife.
That relationship is abhorrent to Moore's daughter, the status-obsessed Margaret (Dahlia Harris), who is visiting from America, and she tries to separate the two. Delroy is happy to become her ally, as he wants Betty for himself.
Conflict is the heart of drama and, because the playwright frequently throws Delroy into conflict with the other characters, Daley is able to show versatility in several different situations. He is romantic with Betty, fearful of a jealous Joseph, and stubborn with Margaret.
The situation, and his emotions, can change abruptly. Daley's facial mobility, which enables him to hilariously reflect those changing emotions, is an asset. Interestingly, Walker also has that ability which helped him transform a quite technical lecture into an enjoyable performance.