Tuesday, 11 March 2014

DANCING FEVER: Boundless energy, dazzling imagery at excellent Jamaica Dance Umbrella

 IN LIVING COLOUR: Performers in action onstage at JDU 2014.

"Dance is memory that takes you over, a state of consciousness which invades one's being and makes him free himself," argues Miriam Soulanges. "Dance is movement; expression giving meaning to movements," concedes Clive Thompson. Both observations could not be more suited to the annual Jamaica Dance Umbrella extravaganza, which just wrapped its fantastic 2014 iteration (over four evenings) at the Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona campus. 

I like to think of the JDU as a mini-Olympics of Afro-Caribbean dance assembling the very best of Jamaican dance theatre supplemented by works from international delegations (this year's cohort representing Belgium, Canada, Guadeloupe, and the United States) to create a kaleidoscopic tapestry laden with infectious rhythm, visceral imagery, and no shortage of athletic, lose-your-breath choreography and wildly imaginative creativity. 

This year's performers were more than up to the task at hand, and any of the works worth singling out for special mention must include the NDTC's consistently riveting remount of Rex Nettleford's "Dis Poem," which kicked off the weekend of performances on Friday, with its potent militancy and irresistible rebel energy firmly intact. 

Other noteworthy moments: Ashani Dances (hailing from Seattle) thrilling with their minimalist opus "Three"; Beam Dance Theatre Company offering a jolt of jazzy pizzazz with "Flourish" and "Wrapped Up", as the Company Dance Theatre dazzled with a few choice selections from their canon. (Anything from the Tony Wilson camp tends to score high marks.) 

Still, of all the works that we saw, two fantastic pieces left the most indelible impresion. First, Belgian soloist Cindy Claes, who gave us "Is My Whining Winding You Up?", a rigorous, techno-heavy piece (with reggae and dancehall inflections) that demanded constant body contortions and boundless energy from the heavy-set dancer. Secondly, Movement's "Wrath of God," choreographer Christopher Higgins' dizzying all-black meditation on defiance and destruction that holds you spellbound with its pulsatingly menacing soundtrack and enthralling take on stagecraft. Truly edge-of-your-seat stuff. 

"Dance is what our bodies do when our hearts and souls are too full to stand still," posits key organizer Michael Holgate, emphasizing the twin idea of rapturous motion and relentless energy, which remains a hallmark and indeed the core appeal of the JDU, a hotbed of electric talent, youthful exuberance and creative excellence.

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