Wednesday, 12 August 2015

FANFARE & FLOURISH: NDTC’s superb 53rd season mixes striking new works and timeless classics

IN FINE FORM: NDTC dancers in Powell's critically acclaimed dance-work “Unscathed”. (Photo: Stuart Reeves) 

When Shelly-Ann Maxwell introduced "Beneath My Skin" to dance audiences a few years ago, people were left in awe of her mesmerizing blend of mystique, intellect and spirited choreography to paint indelible images of female sensuality and identity that resonate to this very day. (The piece’s ending is classic NDTC.) Though Maxwell has since relocated to the UK, popping into the island only occasionally, her out-of-this world artistic sensibilities remain as sharp as ever.

Consider her latest masterpiece, “Six”, coming nearly a decade later, which premiered during this month’s 53rd anniversary season of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) at the Little Theatre in Kingston. A sure-footed and a tad mysterious piece, it demonstrates anew Maxwell’s fine ability to thrill dance lovers and provoke thought, while exploring – with intriguing results – concepts centred on identity, ambition and the pursuit of success and happiness in this circus called life. But at what cost?

Five dancers appear centrestage, clad in white and black ensembles straight out of business class. They move in sync in impressively clean lines, and then before you know it the stage becomes a mini racetrack for breathless sprinting and other high-energy movements that make ample use of space and represent the very definition of athletic choreography. Given the dance’s mystery elements, “Six” ultimately comes off as a puzzle to be solved, moreso when a male dancer (Paul Newman) joins the other five at the very end to provide the six of the title.

Another breathtaking new work that fascinated and challenged the mind was Troy Powell’s “Unscathed”, which featured an army of red-clad dancers moving to a robust score and conjuring up sequence after sequence of striking, snap-worthy moments and images. For what it’s worth, Kerry-Ann Henry is simply brilliant in it and her presence as the female lead makes the piece, the grand flourish of a conclusion in particular, all the more thrilling to behold.

As we all know, no NDTC season is complete sans a few pieces pulled from their massive archives to be stirringly revived and enjoyed anew. For us, this year’s highlights were a terrific remount of O’Neil Pryce’s “Barre Talk,” an avant-garde piece whose long metallic props lend the piece some grit in stark contrast to the graceful movements; and Nettleford’s “Drumscore,” a transporting presentation fuelled by spirited live drumming (by the NDTC musicians) straight out of the Motherland in tribute to the ancestors. Then there’s “Kumina,” yet another Nettleford classic that, in our book, represents a jubilant coming-together of deep social forces, captivating movement, and time-honored Jamaican tradition.

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