Joy, sadness in The Music of The NDTC
Midway through an evening of sheer delight at The Little Theatre on Tuesday came a moment of sadness for many when the tragic passing of a veteran theatre practitioner was announced. George Carter, pioneer lighting technician and designer and former manager of the theatre, died in the United States some three months short of his 100th birthday. The news was conveyed to the audience attending The Music of the NDTC (National Dance Theatre Company) concert by friend and fellow theatre practitioner Barbara Gloudon.
"George Carter was very special to us," she began, and later concluded, "For us as a theatre family, it is time for reflection. He is gone, but his memory lives on."
Giving a thumbnail sketch of Carter's life, Gloudon said, "He started working for theatre from the early 1940s at the Ward Theatre. He was one of the people who began to Jamaicanise the process of the annual pantomime. Mr Carter worked here as manager of the theatre and of other things.
"When he retired, he went to live in Florida with his family, but ... he often came home. Recently, I and other members of this theatre went to spend a few hours with Mr Carter. He was nearing his 100th birthday, [which is] in early April. This year, something strange happened. He left his family in Florida and went up to North Carolina, which he visited every summer to see his eldest son, a lecturer at a university there ... .
"But this time, he left in the midst of the storm period. He stayed with friends, but the blizzard was so heavy that it cut away all of the electricity and the house had no heat. They left to go to somebody else ... where there was heat. On the way, he started shivering ... and they decided to go to the hospital, where he died.
"It is a great loss - of a father, a friend and an uncle ... . We here mourn and celebrate the life of George Carter. He had a long run. He did a lot for theatre lighting in Jamaica and ... taught a lot of students over at Edna [Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts]."
Gloudon delivered the news from the stage during the intermission of the 21/2-hour-long concert, which comprised mostly music, though it closed with a modern dance piece by the NDTC dancers. It was an excerpt from Rough Drafts, choreographed by former NDTC member Christopher Walker.
The brainchild of NDTC Musical Director Ewan Simpson, the excellently structured concert featured folk, popular and sacred music, and with most of the singing by the NDTC Singers, there was dancing.
Two guest instrumentalists, Tafane Buschaecab and Jon Williams, entertained on the saxophone and violin, respectively.
During the segment on ring games, one of the singers, Leighton Jones, provided recorded voice-over-music narration on the value of ring games, a "source of Jamaica's dance culture".
He said that they provided "a wide range of developmental experiences - physical, mental, social and emotional - while at the same time nurturing creativity.
"Traditionally, on the plantations, the games were performed outdoors by both adults and children, particularly on nights when the moon was full. Each game had a purpose, he said, and they were often representations of real life situations, with a sense of humour."
He added: "They help us develop an understanding of ourselves and others and make sense of the environment."
The game, Bull in the Pen, deals with captivity and freedom and shows the value of unity and working together, he said. Manuel Road is traditionally a work song where all share in common activity.
He advised that ring games "promote personal identity and self-expression, leading and following, respect, breaking bridges and barriers to enhance friendship and tolerance ... and are part of a larger system that links the present with the past."
The dozens of songs and medleys of songs sung were familiar, but the delivery was fresh, thanks to the new arrangements given to them by Simpson and the interesting visual elements accompanying them. Those elements included the varied mood lighting by designer Michael McDonald; the beautiful, colourful costumes worn by the singers; and their movement around the stage.
Additionally, there was a fair amount of drama by the singers, who often acted out the stories on which the folk songs were based.
One of the high points of the concert was the singing of the romantic song Make You Feel My Love by Kaydene Gordon and Akeem Beezer, who serenaded each other soulfully from their positions on either side of the stage. They received enthusiastic applause, as did the religious items - an excerpt from Marjorie Whylie's Mass in A; Thou O Lord sung by soloist Joseph Roach; O Happy Day, arranged by Simpson and featuring soloist Conrod Hall, as well as the NDTC singers and musicians; and My Praise, with soloists Jones, Simpson and Patrick Earle.
Usually, the NDTC Singers appear as a supporting act to the dancers in the company's annual season of dance in the summer. On Tuesday, they proved they could be the main act.