Like fine wine
Michael Reckord, Sunday Gleaner Writer
The annual Easter-morning concert presented by the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) and the Little Theatre Movement at the theatre has been getting longer.
Originally, the Morning of Movement and Music was an hour long, give or take a few minutes. Then it went to one hour, fifteen minutes, then one hour twenty. On Sunday last, it was a full hour-and-a-half.
But nobody's complaining. Why would they, when each minute added over the years has been another minute of excellence?
In fact, more and more patrons have been attending the concert. On Sunday, you knew the theatre was full even before you got inside. Patrons' cars not only filled the in-compound parking areas, but they stretched for chains on the sidewalks north and south of the premises.
The concert was most enjoyable. The dancers were in top form, the costumes colourful, the recorded music inspiring and the NDTC Singers in good voice.
Those who like a lot of items for their money must have been satisfied. No less than 20 dances and songs were packed into the intermission-free show.
Of particular interest to dance aficionados was the fact that five new dances were mounted. They are mentioned in their order of presentation.
Patrick Earle's 'The Call', choreographed to Oh Give Thanks, sung by Carlene Davis, featured six of the company's female dancers in gold or red tops and brown skirts. The work has the dancers happy and smiling, weaving interesting floor patterns on the full stage as they move to the bouncy reggae gospel song.
Kevin Moore's 'My Journey, His Mercy' is a slower, more deliberative piece, which perhaps takes its mood from its first song, I Want Jesus to Walk With Me. There is a lot of walking and beautifully controlled movement in the five-person dance.
The versatile Moore was the solo dancer in the next 2011 dance presented, Philip Earle's 'Dear Jesus'. Dancing, in a red T-shirt and pants, to the spiritual Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, Moore was a (motion) picture of distress. His fists clenched, his body contracted, his arms were flung despairingly in the air. A lot of the dance takes place on the floor, which is where it ends, with the dancer on one knee.
'His Song, Her Song', choreographed by Chris Walker, was up next. It began with Kerry-Ann Henry in a brown-orange shift dress, with split sides, dancing solo to William Chapman Nyaho's His Song, a jazzy piano number. Then, while she stands upstage centre, back to audience, Moore and Marisa Benain enter. Their choreography, to Bobby McFerrrin's 23rd Psalm, includes dazzling lifts and leaps as well as unusual poses. The dance ends with the three in a 'freeze' suggesting a cross.
The fifth new work was Marlon Simms' 'In The Son', choreographed to the Katalys Crew's song Can't Take My Lord.
This lively dance featured the full company in full white, their faces full of smiles. Live drumming augmented the recorded music.
This dance's joyous mood was echoed in the one that followed, 'Psalm 150'. It was choreographed by the late Rex Nettleford, founder of the NDTC, to music for the psalm composed by Noel Dexter. It was the final item for the morning, and is in fact the closing number for all the company's Easter morning concerts.
A couple of other dances are noteworthy, not only because the dancing and choreography were excellent, but because the entire concert was dedicated to two former NDTC members who died over the past year. One was Sheila Barnett, whose 'The Rope and The Cross' (1974) was poignantly danced by Tamara Noel (as Mary, the mother of Jesus) and Keita-Marie Chamberlain (as Judith, the mother of Judas).
The other dance was 'Freedom' (1999) choreographed by MoniKa Lawrence and Patsy Ricketts, which was dedicated to the memory of Company stage manager Anthony Locke. A solo piece, it was danced by Benain with such style and vibrancy - including a dash of the head- rolling 'dutty wine' - that it evoked both applause and cheers.
Aside from the new dances, the concert's other major new component was the contribution by the NDTC Singers.
This year, the Singers appeared more frequently than usual - no less than eight times onstage by themselves, as well as at other times accompanying the dancers.
With the women in blue dresses and the men in grey suits, they sang in a variety of styles and genres. Always euphoniously, they seduced the audience with spirituals, hymns, classical pieces (Psalm 23 from Tchaikovsky's Symphony #5, and Bach's sublime Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring) and folk songs.
And they were onstage singing O Praise Ye the Lord (Psalm 150) as the spirit-lifting concert ended. Large sections of the audience rose to award a well-deserved standing ovation