Quality, versatility at range of events
What a packed week it was up to Sunday! Apart from the regular entertainment events - movies, plays, night-clubbing - last week saw the convergence of a couple of annual events with an established bi-annual one, plus a visit by an internationally acclaimed choir.
One of the annual events was the Kingston Book Festival 2015, organised by the Book Industry Association of Jamaica (BIAJ). It ran from Sunday, March 1 to Saturday, March 7, sometimes with four events in one day. It started with the University of the West Indies' (UWI) Love Affair with Literature reading at UWI, Mona Campus and ended with a day-long book fair at Devon House.
One of the festival's most unusual functions was the adults-only Late Night Lit, subtitled A Raunchy Night of Literature', organised by the Jamaican Writers Society (JaWS) and emceed by poet-journalist Mel Cooke. He and Kellie Magnus, Kalilah Enriquez, Owen 'Blakka' Ellis, Sharon Leach, Tanya Shirley and Richard 'Dingo' Dingwall read their own works.
At Ellis' request, comedian-actor Tony 'Paleface' Hendriks read (powerfully) a poem by Ellis about his aunt, which the author felt unable to read himself. Cooke promised that the event will be annual.
The second annual event was the four-night Jamaica Dance Umbrella (JDU), which, now in its seventh year, has become the English-speaking Caribbean's premier dance festival. It was presented by the UWI's Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, with the Centre's drama tutor, Michael Holgate, being festival director.
The festival was launched on Thursday, March 5, with the honouring of two stalwarts of Jamaican dance, Dr L'Antoinette Stines - artistic director of L'Acadco: A United Caribbean Dance Force - and Barry Moncrieffe; artistic director of National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC). JDU 2015 featured numerous dance companies, groups and individuals. It ended on Sunday.
The bi-annual event was the faculty concert by the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts' School of Music on Sunday. It featured more than a dozen musicians (mostly faculty, but there were some guests) in the college's Vera Moody Concert Hall.
And visiting Jamaica for the second time in four years was the renowned Southern Chorale of the University of Southern Mississippi. Hosted by the UWI Development and Endowment Fund (UWIDEF), the chorale began its concert at the UWI Mona chapel an hour after the School of Music's concert started.
Sunday's performance, one of several by the chorale in Jamaica, included a suite of songs by the University Singers. The concert was part of UWIDEF's 25th Anniversary observations and all proceeds will go towards scholarships for students at UWI, Mona, who are involved in the performing arts.
There was just too much going on for me to see all the shows. I missed the opening and closing nights of JDU and the second half of the School of Music concert. Still, I saw a lot and realised again how talented we are in the performing arts.
Friday's JDU programme included dances by the NDTC, Vickers, Danceworks, Arabesk and Quilt. On Saturday, the main dancing came from L'Acadco, Beam, Tribe Sankofa, Xaymaca and eNkompan.e.
Additionally, on both nights there was an innovation, a dance "coLAB" featuring dancing to what sounded like improvised music.
The collaboration on Friday was by dancer Naala Nesbeth and musicians Maurice Gordon (guitar) and music technology wiz Michael Sean Harris, who got weird sounds from a laptop computer and a handheld gadget with a lot lights. It was something I'd never seen before.
On Saturday night, the collaboration was by pianist Stephen Shaw-naar and the NDTC's Mark Phinn performing I Find No Peace, choreographed by his fellow company member, Kevin Moore.
The collaborations exemplified a willingness to push boundaries, a characteristic I found in most of the other items over the two nights.
True, the NDTC's Dialogue for Three, (an old Rex Nettleford work about a man torn by his love for two women), and two brief ballet numbers by Vickers' girls were totally traditional, but generally, the festival was innovative.
Costuming (some dancers were completely covered up), decor (some dancers interacted with videos projected onto the backdrop) and music were often used in unusual ways. And everywhere there were young dancers energetically leaping and twirling and running and rolling about the stage, but they moved with great control and I left both nights feeling that dance in Jamaica, which has been at a very high standard in the past several decades, has a great future.
Meanwhile, over at the School of Music, because the concert was put on by the faculty, it naturally featured more mature musicians. However, there were some young musicians playing, including Darren Young on the viola. He was accompanied on the grand piano by department head Ann McNamee, executive co-ordinator of the concert.
Roger Williams, the school's director, started off the evening by informing the audience that as Sunday was International Women's Day the concert would focus on female composers and arrangers. The first Jamaican one featured was Allison Wallace who, on piano, accompanied Rafael Salazar (clarinet) to do A Jamaican Folk Medley.
The delightful piece, the highlight of the first half, included sampling from a number of well-known folk songs, including Tallyman, Dis LongTime Gal, Linstead Market, Ladies May Curtsey, Evening Time and Mango Walk.
The other Jamaican composers and arrangers were panist Gay Magnus, Paulette Bellamy and Marjorie Whylie. Both Magnus and Whylie also played.
Expressing her delight with the concert, McNamee told me that the twice-yearly concert provides a useful opportunity for lecturers to perform for their students.