Enthusiastic reception for NDTC’s 54th season
Mixed in with the audience's enthusiastic applause and laudatory comments on Saturday night's show by the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) was a voice of complaint. She would have to return to The Little Theatre on another occasion, the complainer said, to see her favourite dancer as the soloist in Christopher Walker's 12-minute-long tour de force, Mountain Climbing (2014).
The enigmatic work was superbly danced that night by Kerry-Ann Walker, with the alternate dancers being Gillian Steele and Tamara Noel. The latter presented her interpretation of it on both Friday - the opening night of the NDTC's 54th annual season of dance - and Sunday.
Of course, the positive thing about a return visit by the patron is that she will be able to see dances that were not staged on Saturday. What she did see apart from Mountain Climbing - on what turned out to be a night of remounts - were Rex Nettleford's Ritual of the Sunrise (1998), David Brown's Labess (2002), Troy Powell's Unscathed (2015), Renee McDonald's Into the Blue (2015) and Nettleford's Gerrehbenta (1983).
She did not see any of the other five dances - three brand new, one reworked for this year and one revived- that are to be slotted in over the course of the season. But she did see, and more importantly, hear the NDTC Singers and Orchestra, both in their main presentation of songs promoting Caribbean unity - an item called You/We - and in their accompaniment of Gerrehbenta.
In fact, the accompaniment was much more pleasurable than You/We, as the words in the latter were difficult to hear. While it seemed to me that the difficulty lay in poor diction, a prominent choir director said the orchestra was simply overpowering the singers. Still, Kevin Moore's staging of their movement was a delight, and the costumes were gorgeous.
Its name suggests that Ritual of the Sunrise is a good item to open a show, and its unabashed good humour, beautiful costumes and the superb execution by the dancers made it, in fact, a great choice. Considering that most of the visuals - the colours and cut of the costumes and the dance moves - are based on the sights of a yard of fowls, the dance is amazingly complex. Watching it build, movement by movement, section by section, to its climax to David Rudder's exuberant High Mass is pure joy.
Labess, a more sombre work, shows off the technical skill of the well-trained company. The members' strength and agility are called on as they do difficult steps and lift each other from unusual positions. Very obvious is the subversive tone of the piece, with men lifting other men and women other women.
Unscathed was choreographed by American Troy Powell, the artistic director of Ailey II, surely a celebrity worthy of more fuss than he has been given. Described to me by Henry as "a generous soul" with "wonderful energy", he also choreographed a piece for Campion College Dance Society's season of dance last weekend.
A noteworthy feature of Powell's complex, powerful, ritual-filled NDTC dance that suggests an obstacle-filled movement of a people towards an important objective was the fine dancing of Kemar Francis, a young man who - in Henry's words - "has grown a lot since last year" and is now "connecting with the audience".
Of Into the Blue, NDTC Artistic Director Barry Moncrieffe states in his Message in the printed programme: "Rising local choreographer Renee McDonald has ... extended her 2015 dance work for the season." Now a rich, textured piece, it features many interesting poses, spectacular lifts and really risky leaps by women into men's arms. A still photographer would have a field day shooting the dance's numerous excellently composed scenes.
In preparing and rehearsing for Mountain Climbing, Henry told me that she had to dig deep mentally, physically and spiritually to dissect and understand each movement. While Walker was quite specific with most of the action he wanted during the different phases of the music, he at times allowed her to interpret moments for herself. That meant, Henry said, the three soloists could present somewhat different dances.
She said the dance's themes included Jamaica's culture, a journey of self-discovery, building on the past, and a homage to our women.
"It shows the nation climbing the mountain to the future, but not forgetting the past," she said.
Apparently, the company's preferred closing work, Gerrehbenta, was, for both the dancers and singers, as energetic as ever, and for the audience, as enjoyable. The season ends on August 14.