Tuesday, 29 October 2013

FAIR EXCHANGE: Market At The Lawn appeals with eclectic bounty and the great outdoors

OPEN HOUSE: Fresh air and plenty of homegrown items to choose from.

You never know what rare finds or delightful treasures and trinkets you'll stumble upon at an event like Market At the Lawn which, as its name suggests, brings an eclectic, flea-market type atmosphere (with a surplus of booths and tents) whenever it is staged on the airy North lawns of Devon House. It's a fantastic, outdoorsy assembly of artisans and small-business proprietors who, given these economically daunting times, could use the extra dollars and public attention.

On offer this past Sunday afternoon was, to highlight only a few, a feast of hand-crafted jewelry, bestselling novels, bamboo candle-holders, gorgeous plants, dazzling landscape artwork and fashionable clothes from local designers, including established labels like Mutamba.

Even non-profit bodies like the Mustard Seed Communities, the STEP Centre and the Jamaica Association of Intellectual Disabilities (JAID) were on hand to spread the word about their missions and their efforts in their respective communities.

Per organizers, MATL provides a wonderful opportunity for small-scale sellers and buyers of all stripes to meet and greet -- and hopefully nobody goes home empty-handed. "It's about helping the small people in the industry, and we really hope it will continue," explains team member Annette Scott. "We used to have it once a month, but because of the economy, we had to take a break and reassess. We plan on having three stagings in December, because with Christmas around the corner, it's the best time of year for this sort of thing."




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IT WAS THE SINGING: The University Singers remount 2013 season with passion and gusto

RAISE YOUR VOICE: The Mona-based choir centrestage at the Philip Sherlock Centre.

Black power anthems, hymns of praise, humourous folk gems: the University Singers, as is customary, reliably deliver a sense of diversity to the stage.

So full of life, these talented choristers (a family of veterans and neophytes) consistently appear to be having a ball onstage, and it was endlessly  thrilling to take in last weekend's remount of their 2013 concert season, which brought enlivening sizzle and melodic sparkle to the Philip Sherlock Centre.

Their uniquely lush choral harmonies aside, what the University Singers do so well, and indeed what sets them apart, is the opulent blend of genres (classical, pop, reggae) they specialize in, with a streak of refreshing and distinctly Jamaican tunes, timeless and modern. 

Usually given exquisite arrangements, the choir's repertory has a tendency to make vintage grooves -- and even recent dancehall hits -- feel and sound fabulously new.

>> Power and Passion: TALLAWAH'S June review of the concert season





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PEOPLE LIKE US: Russell Watson's A Hand Full of Dirt explores the rigours of family and destiny

LIFE STORY: Jamaica's Alwyn Bully stars in the Bajan filmmaker's gripping debut.

"I'm very fascinated by silence," says filmmaker Russell Watson, speaking about the making of his soundtrack-free debut film, A Hand Full of Dirt, a miniscule-budget but very well-acted production that recently formed part of the National Gallery of Jamaica's ongoing film series.

Filmed in Chicago and Watson's native Barbados, it's a quietly powerful family saga centred on fractious relationships across generations, power dynamics and struggle, domestic abuse and a sense of Caribbean history and identity. As with films of this nature, Dirt doesn't always steer clear of melodrama, but the emotions and balanced performances ring consistently authentic.

Heading the cast, Alwyn Bully portrays a down-on-his-luck businessman grappling with a failing business, an ailing father and a marriage on the rocks. Out of frustration, he hits his wife. His fresh-out-of-college son, Jay, is also struggling to find his footing in the world of work but finds solace in his mother's thoughtfulness and his relationship with his white girlfriend, who can be overly demanding on occasion. How these easily relatable characters strive to overcome their hurdles will determine whether they rise or stay down.

In short, A Hand Full of Dirt is about people facing crises of epic proportions and the lengths they'll go to liberate themselves from their trying circumstances. Watson, who wrote, co-produced and directed the film, is not the most eloquent storyteller among contemporary Caribbean filmmakers, but to his credit Dirt beautifully engages with important and timeless themes of personal independence and hope in the face of great odds. And while the small-scale production robs the film of some of its power, what it loses in that regard is somewhat restored by the strong and believable performances from Bully and co.

If only for his courage, Watson deserves kudos. "This film was really an experiment," he admits. "We were really trying to see it we could do it without any international funding." Mission accomplished. Tyrone's Verdict: B+

>> The film, first released in 2010, is soon to be out on DVD.





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SWIFTLY RISING: Dance Theatre Xaymaca lets loose the Phoenix for 18th season

INTO THE BLUE: The company in performance at the Little Theatre in Kingston.

Dance Theatre Xaymaca has come of age. At 18, the widely known Jamaican troupe has seemingly graduated to a more sophisticated aesthetic, marked by noticeably mature choreography (often with a touch of playfulness) that certainly elevated their just-concluded 2013 season, a deliriously entertaining tapestry of moods, dazzling lighting and compelling movement in keeping with this year's Phoenix motif.

Featuring nine well-executed works exploring everything from existence and the spirit of Africa to athletic prowess, spirituality and love in all its guises, Saturday night's gala performance drew rave responses from audience members. While guest choreographer Michael Holgate's "Jamafrique" is a riotous celebration of Afrocentric soul and power, Artistic Director Barbara McDaniel's "Motherland" takes a deeply ritualistic approach to highlighting the pulsating beat and (and energy) of the continent.

Among the other notable highlights: Jair Jones' stellar remounting of Dwayne Barnaby's red-hot dazzler "Quest"; Kameica Reid's fascinating survival-of-the-fittest meditation "The Hunt" and Arsenio Andrade's sporting-pride-and-glory piece "Destiny," also revived by Jones, a serious young talent to watch. Meantime, Orrett Beckford's beautifully staged "Echoes of Praise" comes off as a foot-stomping flurry of white and boldly vibrant hues, set to blockbuster singing by the Soweto Gospel Choir and the Kurt Carr Singers. 

Dancers must not only move and feel but also, as Dance Theatre Xaymaca's impressively fit and free-spirited cast makes vividly clear, rise to the occasion.





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Monday, 28 October 2013

MAN OF THE HOUSE: Winston Bell brings charisma, conviction to The Johnsons

FATHER FIGURE: The actor brings it as a tyrant of a dad in latest play.

Winston 'Bello' Bell has built an enviable acting career in theatre that includes acclaimed performances as such larger-than-life patriarchs as Old Story Time's Pa Ben and Louis Marriott's Bedward.

In his latest outing, in Angie Binn's funny but supremely lengthy family-dysfunction saga The Trouble With The Johnsons, Bell shed his wholesome paternal image to play the tyrranical and overprotective (and, yes, larger-than-life) Cornelius Johnson, a retired Army officer who, like The Sound of Music's Captain Von Trapp, governs his household with an iron fist and an ever-present whistle. Wife Crania (a delightful Rosie Murray) and daughters Chlorine and Chlamydia, whom he so named to keep hormone-ravaged boys at bay, are at his mercy, desperate to break the shackles. 

Unsurprisingly, things reach boiling point, and it takes the intervention of a rather unorthodox family counsellor (David Crossgill) and his outside-the-box methods to patch things up, during a mightily amusing house-call session. Dawnett Hinds-Frazer bags a few laughs of her own as deaf-mute maid Trixie (a name that was clearly not left up to chance) and Mark 'Bones' Brown nabs a few small scenes as Chlamydia's secret lover. 

But, ideally cast, this is Bell's show, and the ace writing-directing duo of Angie Binns and David Tulloch were wise to keep him front and centre, feeding him clever lines like "Yuh nuh haffi look good; yuh married." 




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THE NATURAL: Blogger-entrepreneur Fran Medina winningly melds her passions for natural beauty and healthy living

SHE'S GOT THE LOOK: "I have this great mission to save the world," Medina says.

Her sun-kissed radiance aside, the most fascinating thing about globe-trotting blogger-entrepreneur Francheska Medina is the story she relates of how she got her now flourishing business off the ground: As she tells it, she picked up an undisclosed illness when she turned 25 (she's now 31) that in compelling her to take better care of her health (as far as diet and fitness are concerned) ended up transforming her life in ways she never imagined.

For one thing, it gave birth to her online health-and-beauty oasis heyfranhey.com that has since morphed into a juggernaut boasting a global following, countless Jamaicans included. "I have a better understanding of who I am now. Life is great," she says of her life now.

Over dinner at the cozy all-vegetarian eatery Kushite's on Phoenix Avenue (off Hope Road) on a balmy Thursday evening, Fran is an earthy presence who chats amiably, her doe eyes large and limpid, as our conversation veers from her travels (after Kingston she'll fly to Amsterdam and The Bahamas); her collaborations with people like Carol's Daughter founder Lisa Price ("I'm her health writer.") or the secret to great skin ("Moisture. Lots of water and cut out sugar.")

Hailing from Harlem by way of Dominican Republic, the Oberlin College grad is a one-woman holistic enterprise, whose enviable day job sees her organizing retreats, which bring together all the elements of healthy living. And the passion for what she does is so palpable it isn't hard to understand why she ditched her plans to enter politics in favour of heeding her true calling. "Now I have this great mission to try and save the world." She smiles widely, then hints at a few of her long-term goals, which includes venturing into the commercial beauty industry. "I have a cool line of products that I'm working on," she says. "And it's my dream to one day open a state-of-the-art wellness centre."

>> To learn more about Fran and her global exploits, visit heyfranhey.com.





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SHE'S GOT NEXT: Theatre's Julene Robinson is a powerhouse actress for a new generation

DRAMA QUEEN: "I cannot see myself doing anything else," Robinson says of acting.

"It feels like big shoes to fill, but honestly I'm very humbled by it," shares actress Julene Robinson in response to the critical acclaim that's been coming her way in the wake of stellar performances in such memorable theatre pieces as Me and My White Boy, Hairpeace and this month's University Players musical offering Jonkanoo Jamboree, in which she impressively holds her own with the likes of seasoned stage performers Fabian Thomas and Nadean Rawlins, whom Robinson readily identifies as a major influence on her young career. 

By all appearances, while Julene is fast developing a sense of leading-lady responsibility, she brings life, a delightful sense of humour and unbridled enthusiasm to theatre. By far, a powerhouse Jamaican actress for a new generation. "I cannot see myself doing anything else," confesses the 25-year-old Alpha Convent of Mercy alum, who majored in Chemistry at Mona. "Acting makes me very humble because I get the privilege of walking in another person's shoes. That's what I respect most about it."





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THE MAS RAN FACTOR: Decades later, the cultural giant is still a man for all seasons

HIGH PROFILE: A juggernaut of Jamaican culture remembered.

On the occasion of the 101st anniversary of his birth, Ranny Williams' inspiring legacy of acclaimed performances and storytelling prowess was in the spotlight on Saturday as the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission put on a day-long retrospective (exhibition, panel discussion and tribute concert), equal parts informative and entertaining, dubbed "The Man. His Life. His Legacy," featuring contributions from Alma Mock-Yen, Dr. Brian Heap, Festival Queen Krystal Tomlinson and a host of talented young performers, including Ardenne High's drama club, the Lannaman's Prep Dance Troupe and the EXED School of the Performing Arts. Below, some choice quotables in tribute to the late great Mas Ran: 

Dr. Brian Heap, theatre director: 
"I am happy that we are celebrating the life and work of a remarkable man. But one of the questions we have to ask ourselves is Why do we know more about Miss Lou than we do about Mas Ran? Yet we talk about them in the same breath. Miss Lou wrote things down: stories, poetry anthologies. Mas Ran also wrote things down; he was a journalist, but you have to go deep into the archives to find them. One of the great things about Mas Ran is that he celebrated his cultural heritage with storytelling, and today those stories are still in the heads of older people." 

Dr. Barbara Gloudon, playwright and broadcaster: 
"People were drawn to his personality, especially when you saw him in action. Those who are studying theatre need to study Ranny Williams' style. On stage he knew exactly when to move, when to go for it. He never stopped studying. And one of the things we are not teaching the youth is that theatre, the arts is hard work." 

Alma Mock-Yen, educator and living legend: 
"Ranny Williams was a bright, creative and hardworking Jamaican man. He belonged to a tradition of service that we seem to be losing. When I remember him, I recall the words of the Scottish poet Robert Burns: "If there be another world, he lives there in bliss. If there be no other, he made the most of this." 

>> Naturally, the event took place at Hope Road's Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre and the Louise Bennett Garden Theatre.





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Friday, 25 October 2013

IN THE ZONE: Regional policymakers meet to foster collaborative humanitarian efforts in the Caribbean

ON POINT: Carby (left) and Nicholson among presenters at recent regional three-day conference.

Observing the theme "Strengthening Public and Private Partnerships Toward a Common Regional Platform for Humanitarian Action," the 2013 Regional Meeting on International Humanitarian Assistance Mechanisms was convened at the Jamaica Conference Centre (JCC) from Oct. 16-18. 

Highlights included a session centred on collaborative humanitarian efforts. "One of the biggest challenges we face in this regard is the disconnect between research and risk management, which needs to be bridged," said Dr. Barbara Carby, the former ODPEM boss now aligned with the UWI Mona campus. "Will climate change result in the ability of regional players to give humanitarian aid and the level of assistance they used to? And what does this mean in the global arena? Today more opportunities exist for regional collaboration in humanitarian assistance." 

Among the other speakers: Jamaica's Minister of Foreign Affairs A.J. Nicholson ("We cannot wait until a disaster strikes. It's our duty as policymakers to make the Caribbean disaster-resilient and validate the work of NGO's like World Vision Mexico, which Jamaican supports."); Ambassador Mexico Gerardo Lozano; Richard Thompson, ODPEM's Acting Director General; and members of the Jamaica Red Cross, who launched their 2013 international Disaster Response Law, Rules and Principles (IDRL) manual.

The three-day event also featured the adoption of the Kingston Declaration and Action Plan and the launch of the World Disaster Report.





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FIELD OF PLAY: Wavell Hinds triumphs at Courtney Walsh Awards + JADCO gets a new Executive Director

ICON IN ACTION : "[This award] encourages me to want to go on to better things and widen my scope," said Wavell Hinds in response to deservingly copping the 2013 Courtney Walsh Award for Excellence (the ninth instalment) on Wednesday night during a well-supported ceremony at the Pegasus in New Kingston. The 37-year-old former West Indies and Jamaican star cricketer, who was presented with the gigantic crystal trophy by PM Portia Simpson-Miller, unsurprisingly said he wants to use his new platform to motivate other Jamaicans. "I also intend to use it to touch people to be like me and climb the podium to collect this distinguished award." This year's three other shortlisted finalists were Olympian Michael Frater, Paralympian Alphanso Cunningham and Sunshine Girls veteran Nadine Bryan. Meantime, bestowed for the first time, the student athlete awards went to National Under-19 cricketer Mark Parchment (of Munro College) and volleyballer Janelle Dalberry (St. Jago High).

LAB WORK: "It's someone who has strong administrative and managerial skills, and that's really what we need to be able to pull JADCO together and push it forward," says sports minister Natalie Neita-Headley, endorsing the long-awaited appointment of a new executive director of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission. He is Carey Brown, a chemist who has worked with the Youth & Culture ministry, and the successor of the controversial Anne Shirley, who parted ways with the commission almost a year ago.





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Thursday, 24 October 2013

FILM NEWS: 12 Years A Slave leads Gotham Film nominees + Save these dates for upcoming nominee announcements

SCREEN GEMS: Awards season momentum is about to shift into high gear! The Gotham Independent Film Awards, which recognizes breakthrough films and performers, announced its nominations on Thursday morning. British-American filmmaker Steve McQueen's 19th-century epic 12 Years A Slave leads the pack with three bids (Best Feature, Best Actor for Chiwetel Ejiofore and Best Breakthrough Actor for Lupita Nyong'o). Among the other notable films vying for a trophy are the Sundance smash Fruitvale Station, the Coen Brothers' musical drama Inside Llewyn Davis and Woody Allen's latest masterpiece Blue Jasmine, starring Best Actress frontrunner Cate Blanchett. Forest Whitaker and Richard Linklater will receive special tributes during the December 2 ceremony in New York.

>> Mark your calendars: Upcoming nominee announcements:
Critic's Choice - Tuesday, December 10 (Friday, January 10, 2014)
Screen Actors' Guild - Wednesday, December 11 (Saturday, January 18, 2014)
Golden Globes - Thursday, December 12 (Sunday, January 12, 2014)
The Academy Awards - Thursday, January 16 (March 2, 2014)





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OUT & ABOUT: Sandrea Falconer + Ricardo Gardener + Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce + Warren Weir + Cui Yu Ying + Wykeham McNeil

AYE, CAPTAIN: Oct. 8, Trelawny. Tourism minister Wykeham McNeil takes the floor, as Mickey Mouse looks on, during a welcome-ashore ceremony for the Disney Wonder cruise ship, which made its inaugural call on the Falmouth Pier (the first of five visits for the year) earlier this month. "People know that the company (Disney) is one that tries to have the highest standards and is very discerning," McNeil said. "So Disney coming to Jamaica is a tremendous endorsement of Jamaica." (Photo: Stush)

FOR A GREAT CAUSE: Oct. 16, Kingston. Sprinter and philanthropist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce accepts a hefty sponsorship cheque from Grace Kennedy Limited on behalf of her non-profit, the Pocket Rocket Foundation. Since June, Grace has donated 10 cents from the sale of each can of Grace Vienna sausages to the foundation. (Photo: Grace)

ALL TOGETHER: Oct. 21, Kingston. The organizers of the annual Bell Ziadie Memorial football extravaganza kept their usual Heroes' Day date with Winchester Park at St. George's College, paying tribute to living icons of the sport and bringing together athletic personalities from the worlds of media and entertainment. (Photo: Ishango Photos)

PLAY MAKERS: Oct. 21, Kingston. Former Reggae Boyz skipper Ricardo Gardener (left) and Olympian Warren Weir were among the celebs who laced up to take part in the 2013 Bell Ziadie Memorial on Heroes' Day at St. George's College. (Photo: Ishango Photos)

LIVING HISTORY: Oct. 22, China. Information minister Sandrea Falconer (right) presents a copy of the commemorative publication Jamaica 50 to her Chinese counterpart Cui Yu Ying. Falconer is currently in Asia participating in a summit for information ministers of developing countries being hosted by the Chinese government. (Photo: OPM)





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POWER TRIP: Unsatisfying The Counselor lacks the wit and wisdom of Ridley Scott's best work

FACE IN THE CROWD: Fassbender stars as a high-powered attorney who meets his comeuppance.

A decidedly stark sense of gloom and doom permeates Ridley Scott's latest offering, The Counselor, a strongly acted but uneven drama/suspense thriller about greed, drug-world terror and the wiles of the female.  

Michael Fassbender (Shame, X-Men: Origins) leads an all-star ensemble in the titular role, a successful lawyer with a roguish streak who strikes up a romance with a fresh-faced Latin beauty (the always brilliant Penelope Cruz) only to have it subsumed when his world his flipped on its head, thanks to a drug deal gone horribly wrong. 

Cameron Diaz (as a dangerous, Ferrari-humping dame you don't wanna double cross), Javier Bardem (her feckless, spiky-haired paramour) and Brad Pitt (a two-faced money launderer) all turn in characteristically robust work in their sizeable supporting roles. But it's the script, penned by celebrated novelist-screenwriter Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) that I have a problem with; it's about as flat as tap water until about the halfway mark when the pieces finally start to fall into place and something resembling a respectable plot starts to emerge and thicken. 

With a Hollywood career spanning more than two decades, Scott has built an estimable body of work marked by compelling action thrillers (Black Hawk Down), epics (Gladiator), and riveting dramas (American Gangster) that never fail to reel in viewers. The Counselor, while not a complete letdown, plays more like an of-the-moment expose on the dark side of human nature than a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Overall, The Counselor conveys its point quite vividly (bad life choices often lead to devastating consequences), but in the end you simply wish there was more meat on the bone to satisfy the appetite you'd worked up. Tyrone's Verdict: B-

>> More Cinema: The Carrie remake is a hit-and-miss affair





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ALL JAMAICANS: Two creative geniuses on their work and the life artistic

GIVING THANKS: Adding to her impressive list of accolades, literary giant Lorna Goodison was on Monday presented with the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) for her decades-long contribution to Jamaican arts and letters. "I pride myself on reflecting certain things about Jamaica very well," she confessed in a recent interview. "I have turned my ear to the dialogue of the people. I am so grateful, so blessed that if I don't get one more thing in life, I am still grateful. When people come up to me in the most unlikely places and say how they have made a connection with my work, I am pleased and thankful that I made the connection." 


A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS: From provocative drama to rib-tickling comedy to farce, David Heron has always made a point of reminding us that he can perform (almost) anything. Up next for the multifaceted Jamaican stage and screen star is the demanding lead of Shakespeare's war epic Coriolanus for a limited New York engagement, starting at the end of the month. For Heron, it's Shakespeare with an ethnic twist. "The characters, storyline and Shakespeare's language all remain unchanged. However, the feeling of the tale will have a distinctly African flavour in its presentation and production values," Heron says of the show set to play Oct. 31 to Nov. 10 at East Harlem's Poets Den Theatre as the final main-stage offering of the Harlem Shakespeare Festival (harlemshakespearefest.org). On being offered the lead after auditioning for a smaller part, he admits, "I was honestly petrified to accept it at first. It's so much larger than anything I've done. All you can do is dive in and give it everything you've got."





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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

NEWS + NOTES: Four finalists shortlisted for 2013 Courtney Walsh Award for Excellence

WINNER TAKES ALL: A terrific quartet of sporting stars comprise this year's batch of shortlisted finalists for the 2013 Courtney Walsh Award for Excellence. Olympian Michael Frater and former national senior cricket captain Wavell Hinds are nominated alongside Paralympic gold medallist Alpahanso Cunningham and senior Sunshine Girls skipper Nadine Bryan. The award is presented annually to an outstanding male or female Jamaican anthlete who has represented the country with distinction at the senior level. Past recipients of the prestigious honour include Jimmy Adams, Deon Hemmings-McCatty, Elaine Davis and Veronica Campbell-Brown

TAKING THE LEAD: Joining a select group of women so honoured for the work they have done in improving society and inspiring others along the way, PM Portia Simpson-Miller was inducted into the International Women's Forum (IWF) Hall of Fame and presented with her award by Jamaica's own Pat Ramsay, during a ceremony in Vancouver, Canada last week. The IWF Hall of Fame includes such global icons as Madeleine Albright and Maya Angelou

BORN TO WIN: On the weekend, dancehall-pop megastar Sean Paul got his third lien on a Music of Black Origin (MOBO) award, winning for Best Reggae Act at the 2013 event held in Glasgow, Scotland. The Grammy winner's next album, the guest-heavy Full Frequency, is due out in November. The CD promises appearances by Damian Marley, 2 Chainz, Konshens and others.

COLOUR THEORY: In anticipation of his long-awaited new album, Tru Colours, Wayne Marshall gives fans a primer of what to expect from the disc by putting out an EP (also titled Tru Colours) on Nov. 26. The official album, executive produced by the Marleys' Ghetto Youths International label is scheduled for a January 21 release, with distribution to be handled by Thirty Tigers/Sony Red.





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