From the Arts with Love: A reflection on service
The choreography prepared for dancers as young as four years old on to those in their 20s, made for a delightful season of dance that ended with Sunday's performance of From the Arts with Love: Decennium.
It was especially exciting for us - having a seat backstage.
Behind the curtains is a show of shadows, quiet chatter and activity as if an unseen hand was directing the movement of almost 100 dancers, with twice as many costumes. Most, if not all, of the dancers performed multiple roles that required quick stagehands and changing-room assistants.
The artistic director, Stacy-Lee Myrie, appears on edge but is put at ease by her amazing support group. She tells The Gleaner, "Many of the persons that are here backstage are parents, but some are friends and well-wishers that know what we do is from our heart and for charity, so they do give their resources and time to help, free of cost."
By the time part one of Decennium starts, some of the dancers are tired, having endured Friday night's dress rehearsal and Saturday's opening night, only to do it all over again. But they continue moving, using the seconds to stretch, otherwise practising the routine in their minds or talking among each other or to themselves.
In the prologue alone, the production features 78 performers in bright 'Colours of Praise', as act one is titled. The Arlene Richards-designed costumes, put together with the talent of seamstress Maxine Harrison, were made to perfection.
The groups talented dancers transitioned from a test of pace to stamina, as well as artistry and technique. In act two, 'Restore My Soul', a collection of four choreographed pieces featured the girls performing arabesque extensions without a partner, and equally as many lifts.
"A lot of the girls have been dancing with me from the age of five and are now in their 20s, while a few are only now just starting at that age, and, of course, we have the babies (pre-juniors and juniors), so you find that the level of experience, emotion displayed on stage and technicality are quite mixed," Myrie explained.
She continued, "I go through the emotions with them. Sometimes I will watch from front of stage, especially if I am worried about a particular piece. I am always concerned how I can get the dancers to improve for the next night or for shows in future."
The production also included various short skits, where the message of the spoken word matched the movements. This version is one that Myrie created to represent the 10 years of From the Arts with Love. "A reflection on service, looking back to what we have done, using talent and time to reach out to others in a way that matters - to give healing," she explained.
"Life is what it is, and at times, persons find they are at their lowest, but for me, it has always been [that] no matter how low I find myself, I must find a way to rise. All the shows we do have that feel to it - to take persons through a journey."
And although the journey was rough - several months of preparation - she says that the thought to do good for others was always at the centre of everyone's minds.
Part two of the show, acts five to eight, with titles like '1838', 'Street Hustle' and 'Razzle Dazzle', appeared dedicated to the evolution of music from ska to dancehall and the inclusion of various cultures in Jamaica's already diverse collection including soca, jazz and Afrobeat.
Teamwork was significant for the choreography, and onstage coaching could be seen in part, with the little ones making hand gestures to each other in some pieces. But overall, the group met the challenge. In the finale, there was an obvious sense of accomplishment from the dancers, skipping and clapping as the audience thundered their appreciation.