Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
A major annual event on our entertainment calendar, the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) Season of Dance begins today at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, St Andrew.
At the time of writing, two new dances by veteran choreographers are generating quite an anticipatory buzz, though still in the rehearsal/creation process. They are Jackie Guy's Bankra, which will be presented tonight, and Clive Thompson's Malungu, which will be staged later in the season.
Last week, I spoke to both men about their work.
Bankra, Guy said, is a reworking of a folk dance he created for the University Dance Society in 1986. The 19-minute work is being presented as a tribute to the late NDTC artistic director Rex Nettleford who, according to Guy, had liked it.
The word 'bankra', Guy said, refers in Jamaica to a large basket and derives from a Ghanaian word. Created in three sections - Sunrise, Heritage and Celebration - the dance has music based on the traditional polyrhythmic drumming of Africa's Gold Coast.
Though it does not tell a story, Guy said, the dance, does have themes. Among other things, through Jamaican traditional dance the choreographer attempts to show that Jamaican men can be good fathers, grandfathers and brothers and do support the women in their lives. More specifically, Guy wants the work to help to raise the self-esteem of Jamaican youths.
Speaking with great earnestness, he told me "whether it's the Government or the Church, somebody has got to save Jamaican males. A lot of them come from dysfunctional homes. If I was a 12-year old boy in Jamaica I'd feel very negative, because I'd be thinking of myself as a victim and not a victor".
He admits to encountering challenges during the remounting, mainly with regard to the musical accompaniment. "I'm not just taking a piece of taped music and choreographing to it," he said. "It has meant working with a full orchestra, drummers and dancers, and partly recorded music coming from Ghana."
Guy has been creating dances for decades and his biggest choreographic assignment to date has been for the musical The Harder They Come, which is
based on the iconic Perry Henzell film of the same name. It opened at the Stratford Royal East Theatre in 2006, moved later to London's prestigious West End theatre district, and went on to tour both nationally and internationally.
Thompson, too, said he was facing choreographic challenges. Malungu is based on the life of the renowned Jamaican trombonist and composer Don Drummond (March 12, 1932 - May 6, 1969),one of the original members of The Skatalites. Malungu is the name given to Drummond by his girlfriend, the exotic dancer Margarita, whom he killed during a period of insanity.
Thompson confessed to being "very nervous about the dance", partly because it is the first of some 18 that he has created for the NDTC that is about real Jamaicans - and Jamaicans with well-known and controversial histories.
"A lot of questions about them have not been answered and will never be," Thompson said. "And though people have set ideas about them, I chose to interpret things my way."
Thompson, who begins the story with Drummond entering the Alpha Home for Boys at age nine years old, pointed out that Drummond's music alone could not support his entire life, which began before he started music at the institution.
"This is a narrative ballet," Thompson told me, "so what's needed is music that expresses the urgency and passion of the story. Audiences will hear Don's music, with him playing, as well as others for drama."
The music for the work includes that of Drummond, The Skatalites, Anita 'Margarita' Mahfood, Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Ewan Simpson (the new musical director of the Company), and the NDTC singers and drummers.
Thompson sees the story as a Romeo and Juliet-type tale of doomed "star-crossed lovers" and is asking the three women dancing Margarita (Kerry-Ann Henry, Keita-Marie Chamberlain and Tamara Noel) to portray her as a strong, independent 21st-century young woman born too soon in the 20th century.
Referring to Margarita's unfaithfulness to Drummond, Thompson opined: "Her actions then are what people often do now as the norm, [but] her behaviour made her an outcast, the black sheep of her family."
With a chuckle, Thompson admitted that some of the dancers don't agree with his interpretations.
In discussion with NDTC artistic director Barry Moncrieffe, co-designer of the costumes for the dance, Thompson learnt that Moncrieffe had seen Margarita dancing. "Barry and I are both of that era," Thompson said.
Taking "artistic liberties" Thompson explained, he and Barry agreed that the character dancers would be dressed in costumes that were more sophisticated than the ones actually worn by Margarita. Audiences will see the crinolines and hobble skirts with side slits of the 1960s.
Of the décor, which is being designed by Michael Lorde, the choreographer said he wanted the "magic" that Lorde usually creates with the sets he designs for Little Theatre Movement pantomimes. The lighting designer will be Nadia Roxburgh, of whom Thompson declared he is a "fan".
Looking to the future of what will undoubtedly be a "hit", Thompson has plans to expand the dance, now less than 30 minutes, into a full-length musical.
The 2013 NDTC Season of Dance closes on August 11.