Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
The performing arts did pretty well in 2012. Dance, especially, shone.
All the major dance companies made important public presentations, with all but one staging seasons of dance. However that one, L'Acadco: A United Caribbean Dance Force, one of Jamaica's oldest dance troupes, had a launch in November of its 30th anniversary celebrations, to be held this year.
Earlier in 2012, the company participated in at least two major overseas events - the International Association of Blacks in Dance in Los Angeles, USA, in January, and the Let's Dance International Arts Festival in Leicester, England, in May. At the latter, in celebration of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence, L'Acadco presented Ruckumbine, a production which looks at Jamaica's history, celebrating its heroes, achievements and creations.
For 2013, there will be a season of dance over two weekends in June and July, with different dances on the boards each night. The company has also scheduled tours to China and, for Carifesta X1, to Suriname.
A quick word on Carifesta. It will have a new look this year. That's according to Jamaica's Dr Hilary Brown, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat's programme manager for culture and community development. She was speaking at the 21st Meeting of the Regional Cultural Committee (RCC), held in Paramaribo, Suriname, in December 2011.
Referring to Carifesta, she noted (according to an online release from CARICOM) that CARICOM was at a "crossroads in the development of this highly valued regional exposť of Caribbean arts and culture".
The future of Carifesta had been uncertain since Guyana hosted, by default, Carifesta X in 2008 after the Bahamas expressed an inability to do so. For this hosting, its second of the Arts festival, Suriname will mount Carifesta XI in accordance with the new model prescribed in the Carifesta strategic plan developed by the RCC in 2004.
In the release, Dr Brown said the new and improved Carifesta aims to address several weaknesses in management and promotion of the event. The intention is to ensure that it is a more dynamic, economically viable festival, meeting the expectations of regional and international audiences. Carifesta's new approach should provide more opportunities for professional and artistic development of the region's artistes, create a permanent management structure for the festival and develop new income streams from its intellectual property value through better branding and merchandising of the event.
The professional dance companies which mounted seasons - and the ones I saw were excellent - were the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) in July; Movements Dance Company in September; Esor Dance Company and Dance Theatre Xaymaca in October; and Tony Wilson's The Company Dance Theatre, Stella Maris Dance Ensemble and Vickers Ballet Studio in November.
Schools also mounted dance concerts. Campion College mounted one in July. Thanks to the talent of the more than 80 members of the school's Dance Society, then only in its second year, and the motivational and choreographic skills of artistic director Dwight Wright, the society had earlier in the year garnered 17 or 18 gold and two silver medals in the annual Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Dance Competition.
And Wolmer's Dance Troupe, continuing to be guided by artistic director Barbara McDaniel and to present fine work, mounted its shows in September.
In the area of music (of the non-reggae variety, which this column covers), director of the School of Music at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Roger Williams, told me that he was happy with the concerts presented last year in the school's Vera Moody Concert Hall. In 2012, he said, there was a continuation of the school's 50th anniversary celebrations, begun the previous year.
The faculty performances continued, he said, and there was also a number of "final production" performances by third and fourth year diploma and degree students. As evidence that the quality of those shows "was excellent", he said, audiences "jammed" the Vera Moody Hall. In the audiences, Williams added, were scouts seeking talented graduates for their bands.
He expressed gratitude to his faculty team, including Michael 'Ibo' Cooper, Maurice Gordon, Michael Harris and a newcomer, bass player Michael Fletcher, who is also the bandleader for reggae star Shaggy. Fletcher has taken over from Cooper (now retired, but teaching part-time at the school) and is teaching fourth-year pop ensemble students.
Performances at the school ended for the year with a very well received Christmas carol concert in early December.
Another School of Music lecturer, Ann McNamee, told me she was concerned with the apparent decline in the wider society's interest in classical music. As a result, the school and the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica (NYOJ) are together currently staging "audience building" programmes. The latest of these was the organisation of training sessions for numerous musical groups led by the Guapos Brass Quintet of Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida, over the last fortnight.
McNamee's concern may be justified with regard to purely instrumental classical music; audiences don't flock to those recitals. But classical music events which include classical singing - even in part - tend to get good houses. I refer to the Soroptomists International Club-organised Classics in June and the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company's (JMTC) annual concert series. The former had its eighth annual concert last year, while the latter had its 150th production - full musicals included.
Folk singing continues to be popular and both the Carifolk Singers and the University Singers (who, of course, also sing classical and religious pieces) staged successful concerts in June. Later in the year, the Jamaican Folk Singers had their concerts.
Good jazz can still be heard at the annual Ocho Rios Jazz Festival (but don't go to the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival expecting jazz) and the bi-monthly Jazz in the Gardens concerts at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. Sadly, we heard last year from executive producer Nancy McLean that the hotel is no longer a direct sponsor.
For the past three years, theatre productions in Jamaica have hovered around the 30 mark annually. Not surprisingly, the lighter fare continues to be the most popular; this is so the world over.
I don't have the details of the productions staged in Montego Bay, but the 28 Corporate Area productions which opened last year (with many still running) break down as follows - comedies 12, dramas nine, musicals/revues three, comedy-dramas two, and musical dramas two.