Joy with the NDTC and the University Singers
Two of Jamaica's leading performing groups, the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) and the University Singers, were on stage on Easter Sunday morning and afternoon, respectively. The NDTC performed at the Little Theatre in its 37th Morning of Movement and Music concert, while the University Singers celebrated its 60th anniversary with its appearance in the University Chapel, Mona.
Both concerts hugely entertained audiences, as evidenced by the frequent cheers and bouts of applause. The lucky ones who attended both shows would have noticed that Noel Dexter's musical version of Psalm 150 was a shared item. NDTC's Easter concerts always end with the piece, which was choreographed by the late Rex Nettleford, who also used to choreograph the movement for University Singers concerts.
The Psalm was sung by the University Singers (and the audience) on Sunday because Dexter was for many years the director of the group, and the man who currently holds the post, Franklin E. Halliburton, singled him out for special mention.
"The choir rose to great prominence under the baton of Mr Dexter," Halliburton told the audience, "and I faced a daunting task when I was asked to take over. He's a living treasure, and he's here today. We're grateful for all he's taught us, and I'm honoured to take up the mantle."
Stating, too, that he was grateful that he could still call on Dexter for advice, he asked the choir and audience to stand and sing Dexter's Psalm 150. It was the penultimate item on the two-and-a-half hour, 20-item programme.
A delightfully varied one, it had a judicious mix of full choir, small group and solo pieces, and included classical works by heavyweights like Pietro Mascagni (Ave Maria), Felix Mendelssohn (If With All Your Hearts from Elijah), and Beethoven (Hallelujah Chorus from Mount of Olives). It had well-known hymns (like All Things Bright and Beautiful and For the Beauty of the Earth) and spirituals (Ride on King Jesus, Give Me Jesus and Ride the Chariot). There was even an instrumental item, Be Still & Be Thou, arranged and played on the piano by Christopher Whyte.
There were nine solos, one by Halliburton himself, and all were well received; however, the songs by the full choir were most impressive. That was not just due to the high quality of the singing but because, as Halliburton pointed out, the choir had been augmented by alumni, and when the 50-odd members sang, stuff in the sturdy stone chapel shook.
NDTC CONCERT NEWS
As The Gleaner entered the Little Theatre from the overflowing car park minutes before 6 a.m. on Sunday, NDTC board member Bridget Spaulding announced, "We're over sold out." That meant there were about 600 people to notice the things that were new with the NDTC that morning.
Marlon D. Simms has replaced Barry Moncrieffe as artistic director and Heston Boothe is the recently installed acting musical director (taking over from Ewan Simpson); which may be why many of the usual voices among the NDTC Singers were absent and had been replaced by new ones.
Additionally, the contribution of the Singers was comparatively less this year: the usual suites of songs were absent, and more use was made of soloists. Still, the quality of the voices remained really good.
The programme contained one new dance, out of the 11 presented. Choreographed by Sherona McCallister and Charissa Allwood, Shabach is a bright, bouncy work created to Tye Tribbert's uptempo composition African Medley. The full company was all smiles as they danced in their glitter-splashed, white, gold, blue and red outfits.
Practically every one of the concert's 16 items was applauded and cheered as it ended, but since dancing alone on the Little Theatre stage calls for extraordinary skill, the excellence of Tamara Noel, Kerry-Ann Henry, Mark Phinn and Marisa Benain in their solo turns deserves special commendation. Henry must have been extremely tired at the end of the show, after appearing in eight strenuous dances.