Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Campion dances to changing beat

Published:Friday | July 22, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Campion College's principal Grace Baston.
This couple performed a well-received duet in Pulse, the Campion College dance society' sixth season, held last weekend at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, St Andrew.
Campion College dance society members take a bow as the show ends.
A moment of anguish in 'Anthem of Praise'.
Dancers before a zinc fence in 'Ghetto Story'.
In 'Pier 1', a bevy of beauties surrounds a sailor.
The Junior Troupe make merry in Recess during Pulse, the Campion College dance society's sixth season, held last weekend at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, St Andrew.
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Campion College's dance society staged its sixth season of dance, Pulse, at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, on the weekend. In the opinion of its artistic director, Dwight Wright, the society's "biggest accomplishment yet is a change in the stereotype of [the] school being known only for academics".

Wright appears to be downplaying the importance of the school's two performing arts groups, which would also have helped make the change. Those people who, before learning about the dance society, knew the school "only for academics" would certainly not include the dozens of parents and relatives whose children are members of the college's chapel choir led by Randall Campbell, or the drama group led by Damion Radcliffe.

The choir has had several public performances since it was launched in 2014, and Radcliffe took some members of the drama group to England to perform earlier this year. The trip was their prize for having won a Shakespeare in Schools competition with their 30-minute Jamaicanised version of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Now, the change in outlook that Wright refers to is the general public's. However, in the concert's printed programme, he writes about a perception shift of his own, after initial "fear and insecurity" and "anxiety and doubt" about being a male dance teacher. Fortunately, his "passion for the art form" and desire to start the dance society overcame the fear.

How, though, does he plan to deal with the anxiety and doubt of parents who, in the weekend shows, watched their teenaged children (including those in the junior and intermediate troupes) performing sexually suggestive dancehall movements in tight, skimpy costumes? The debate about the appropriateness of very young children doing dancehall on stage in festival competitions is perennial; now it could spread to Campion.

Principal Grace Baston was in the audience and even appeared briefly on stage, which suggested she endorsed the dances. Her husband, Robin, designed the show's excellent, mood-inducing lighting. He made way too much use of the smoke machine, though. After the fifth or sixth time, the smoke obscures the dancers and gets more annoying than spectacular.

The themes of the 16 dances making up the programme were varied and interesting. Their titles suggested their topics. The cheerful Reggae Vibration (choreographed by Wright), Recess (Wright) and Bacchanal Fever (Oraine Frater) were put in the first half, with the sombre Tormented (Orville McFarlane), From the Ashes (RenÈe McDonald), and Conflicted (McFarlane).

In the second half, Wright's joyous Anthem of Praise preceded McDonald's dramatic The Heist, a realistic depiction of a bank robbery. McFarlane's Silenced ends with a screaming girl's mouth being clamped shut by those around her. Ghetto Story (Wright) is about life in the ghetto, including abuse by the police. Pier 1 (Frater) shows half a ship upstage (to the back of the stage) left (from the audience's point of view) and tells the adventures of some sailors being propositioned by numerous sexily-clad women.

Nine-Nite (Wright), the final dance, a great disappointment because it has so much potential. It is supposed to be a dance drama, but turned out to be more naturalistic than artistic. There is very little dance and too much milling around a Nine Nite yard by the entire dance society, colourfully costumed as a multitude of characters.

Dance dramas are supposed to tell stories, with a beginning, middle and end. I could discern no storyline.

Generally, the dancers showed that they have a lot of talent - undeveloped at this stage, of course, as their main focus must be academics. So readers of the principal's message in the programme would not be surprised at the news that 13 members of the dance society have graduated to dancing with the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC).

The programme also reveals that four members of the society's executive body are moving on to higher institutions of learning this year, so there will be many new faces next year, which may or may not be for the good. New dancers have to be trained.

But Wright definitely has good news for dance aficionados. He writes that since "every year past Campion dancers express a desire to continue dancing with the society", the graduation of so many dance society members this year may lead to the formation of a professional dance company.