Dance Umbrella 2016 'Was Wonderful'
When asked about the success of the eighth staging of Jamaica Dance Umbrella (JDU) at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), Michael Holgate, the centre's tutor-coordinator, declared, "It was wonderful!"
Since he organised the March 2-6 event, as he has been doing over the years since he founded it, Holgate might not have been expected to say anything else. But, in fact, it was wonderful, and the same could be said of the PSCCA's entire International Arts Festival, which began in February, of which the JDU was a part.
The festival included the remount of Holgate's musical Riot Act; the annual Philip Sherlock Lecture (given this year by Eugene Williams, the former director of the Edna Manley College's School of Drama); and numerous dance presentations by local and foreign troupes. Even the very last JDU concert on Sunday comprised no less than 12 dances by nine groups.
Holgate told The Gleaner, during the show's intermission, that his enthusiasm this year is because "the companies have taken ownership of Dance Umbrella. This has given them a sense of empowerment, and many started calling me early".
He felt satisfied, he added, that his original intention of having Jamaica's dance companies perform together in an annual festival of dance had been fulfilled.
"The dancers themselves are now the JDU's biggest sponsors," he said.
After Holgate welcomed the large audience, dancers from Movement's Dance Company took to the stage with 'Bread of Life'. Choreographed by the group's artistic director, Monica Campbell McFarlane, the religious piece began with dancing by a man and two women in a mood of supplication to the song Lord Have Mercy. The work ends with the full company rejoicing to Your Grace Shines on Me.
Up next was a dance of a very different sort, Beam's 'Hip Hop Swagg' (choreographed by Sodanne Browne). Dressed mainly in black (Movement's dancers wore white), the dancers, with their rapid, jerky moves and "attitude", accurately conveyed the atmosphere of a hip hop session.
The quick switching of the lights on and off and a brief period of strobe lighting also helped to set the appropriate ambiance. Loud applause and cheering by the young people watching greeted the end of the piece.
Kyisha Patterson's rather depressing dance, 'Bare', about - according to the narrator of the song that introduces the dance - the pain and purposelessness of life, followed. Scenes from the dance include a girl being led around by a rope, the rope encircling all the dancers and causing them to fall down, and the rope around one girl's neck.
The piece does have a positive message, however. You're Stronger Than You Know, the closing song reassures the performers, and their movements show that they do get stronger.
The variety shown by the first three dances continued throughout the show and even when there were serious, even solemn, pieces on show, the audience was always entertained.
Music and dance fit together excellently in both the Company Dance theatre's 'Destiny', a thoughtful piece about the increasingly overcrowded cities, and Dance Ja's 'Kimiko Versatile', a sexy and suggestive dancehall number that would be called vulgar before the advent of dancehall music.
Easily the most gut-wrenching dance was Amanyea Stines' choreography for the University Dance Society 'To Each Its Own Pain'. Portraying the abuse of women, the work shows eight women being beaten, kicked, slapped, punched, and otherwise brutalised by invisible perpetrators.
An annual offering, a dance collaboration featuring a dancer working with an artiste or artistes from another discipline, this year saw the multi-talented Neila Ebanks dancing to the singing of the Black as Cole trio. Ending the concert on a high was the energy-filled 'Prisms', performed by The Company Dance Theatre.