Monday, 11 November 2013

THEN AND NOW: Mixing new works and classics, Stella Maris Ensemble offers a dazzling 20th season

COLORED GIRLS: A quintet of female dancers in the spotlight at the Little Theatre.

When it comes to a Stella Maris dance recital, it's a given that the presentation will feature some measure of spirituality and praise music, bold new works and old favourites. By all accounts, it's where the troupe's core strength lies. Little wonder then that their just-concluded 20th season stays true to that vision, while not only exploring aspects of our Jamaican heritage and Afro-Caribbean identity but also stirringly examining themes of fortitude and faith. 

A powerful revival of H Patten's 2001 opus Gye Name (Except God) opens the repertoire, with agile dancers ably demonstrating the magic that can manifest when real strength brings about the union of man and woman, spirituality and tradition. 

While Neila Ebanks' In Moving Mind, a brand-new work, takes on similar themes, it's far more concerned with ideas of beauty and delicacy and the progression of thought to action. Its best asset is its poignant imagery. Opening with red-clad dancers writhing centrestage before springing to life, overall it's a curious, can't-look-away mix of intrigue and way-outside-the-box creativity that reminds one compellingly of Ebanks' gift for avant-garde in Jamaican dance theatre. 

The evening's accolade for Most Delightful Surprise, however, must go to Monika Lawrence's Where Is Maria?, a remount of her 1998 magna opus, full of youthful vigour, gloom and rejuvenation, light and shade. A dance in several movements, its grows in power and appeal, culminating in an ending that's nothing short of spectacular. You simply must see it for yourself. 

Meantime, similar feelings could be cited to describe the mood and magic of Liza, a flawed but sweeping dramatization through dance of the popular Jamaican folktale) marked by youthful angst and a cast of ubercolourful characters; the energy and Afro-Cuban attitude of Kariamu Asante's Sankofa-Ja; the mystique of the existential Sensacion Locas from Abeldo Toki Gonzalez; and a freshly emotive take on Tribute to Cliff, Rex Nettleford's masterful 1974 tribute to the iconic Jamaican musician.

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