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No support for From Den Til Now - Jamaican Dancehall Musical

Published:Wednesday | October 17, 2018 | 12:06 AMKimberley Small/ Gleaner Writer
Orville Hall plays a pastor in the church scene of 'From Den Till Now' in the 2017 staging.

The public's response to the restaging of a presentation of Jamaican dance through the ages, From Den Till Now, has left much to be desired.

Put on by Orville Hall of Dance Xpressions, the musical was originally scheduled to run for the entire month of October, but a lack of sponsors and a low turnout have caused the cast and crew to throw in the towel.

"This is something that has the potential to become something produced on Broadway. As much as I say it's a dancehall musical, it shows the history of dance in Jamaica, because it ends with dancehall, which is so potent, and conditioned into this culture. We have one of the richest cultures in the world. In recent times, a lot of people have shown that they are not aware of the strength, history, or importance that dance plays. It's important now more than ever," Hall told The Gleaner.


Meagre Turnout


From Den Till Now is currently being shown at The Phoenix Theatre on Haining Road. However, a meagre turnout is forcing the dance educator to close the production earlier than planned. Instead of at the end of month, the 'edutaining' production will close on Saturday, October 20.

"We need more rotation. I had to wait a year to get Phoenix Theatre. No one person should be holding a space for one whole year. We need new things and new people and to focus on quality of production. This kind of production is not what the average theatre person does - it's a musical," he continued.

Hall approximates that an average scaled production may have five actors on stage in addition to the technical and box-office support crew, but From Den Till Now has 12 dancers. "That's almost 20 people on the cast, and this is out of pocket."

Available space aside, another issue plaguing productions like Hall's is lack of sponsorship.

"We still have problems with sponsors coming on and just trusting the process. A show of this magnitude needs sponsors. Not having sponsors means we can't place radio and television advertisements, so people can hear about it. We're going off social media, but that strength can go so far and no further. It's like people don't believe in it. It has to be working first, but there's isn't the support to help it work," he surmised.

Echoing the sentiment and mirroring the vision of other theatrical groups like the Ashe Company and the Jamaican Folk Singers, Hall describes From Den Till Now as 'edutainment'. "There's a great divide, especially in schools. The youngsters don't have any concept of the history of dance," he laments.

"They don't know which dances have European influence and which have African influence."

He notes that his production is a comprehensive demonstration of Jamaicans' journey from traditions like the quadrille up to contemporary dance styles like Ding Dong Ravers' 'Flairy' or 'Cha-Cha Boy'. Hall reports that the production had a full house of students last Friday morning. "We asked questions and it was heart-warming to hear them answer. They were involved," he said.