EARTH MOTHER: A 1940s portrait of Manley by Arnold Von der Porten. Below, student dancers performing Notes from Edna.
The quest for meaning behind the deeply personal thoughts and writings of a legendary creative soul is at the heart of Notes from Edna, a site-specific dance recital put on by the School of Dance recently as part of the 2013 Kingston Book Festival series of activities.
Laden with pure, beautiful imagery, a watery score, and lithe, fluid movements, the piece (choreographed by Neila Ebanks) was performed by a septet of second-year students (6 dancers and a flautist all attired as nymphs/muses) interpreting selected quotations from the Edna Manley: The Diaries, the very icon after whom the arts-based institution is named.
Ebanks said she was inspired to pick up the book last summer and was simply riveted by what she was reading. As fate would have it, the staging was born from a request from the KBF for a “book dance” to lend a sense of terpsichorean variety to this year’s festival. More to the point, Notes from Edna served to highlight the evocative poetry to be found in Edna’s diaries, which were compiled, edited and published in 1989 by her grand-daughter Rachel Manley, herself a writer of much repute.
Though she's primarily regarded as the mother of Jamaican art, and her name is synonymous with such phenomenal works as “Negro Aroused,” “The Beadseller,” and “Horse of the Morning,” Edna’s writing is replete with a poet’s lyrical musings, poignant imagery, and the sort of longing and passion that no doubt fuelled her art. On September 11, 1971, she confessed, “All day I felt strange, as if I were hanging, floating above life, unable to move away on a journey, unable to detach myself, and out of it a drawing is coming – an Easter drawing…”
Edna was also, without doubt, a thinker, given to haunting philosophy. “Why do we hide our freedom from ourselves? We are free to come and go, free to love or hate,” she wrote in 1972. “So what ties us to some situation, some involvement and makes us behave like puppets on a string? And whose hands pull the string?”