Tuesday, 2 August 2016

WORKS OF ART: For 54th season, NDTC turns modern and vintage stories into brilliant dance theatre

FINE FORM: Dancers performing a scene from Nettleford's "Ritual of Sunrise"; (below) a passionate moment from David Brown's "LaBesse."

As expected, terpsichorean pleasures abound at the 54th season of dance of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC), which offers a winning blend of new and revived works wrapped up in tradition, style, substance and the occasional bits of experimentation. It’s a deeply satisfying two hours.

The NDTC’s marked emphasis on renewal and continuity keeps the company at the forefront of the local dance world, as they embrace new techniques and approaches in the ever-evolving dance form and provide splendid opportunities for new-school choreographers like Kevin Moore and Renee McDonald, who happen to deliver two of the season’s most brilliant pieces.

When TALLAWAH took in the performance last Saturday evening at the Little Theatre, Moore’s “Homage a Dambala” strongly opened the show. With a striking mis-en-scene (a deep passion-red backdrop, miles of red cloth hanging from the ceiling), it delves into themes of honour, reverence and belief. But it’s a very workmanlike dance, with the choreography frequently calling for fleet-footed energy and boasting imagery that leaves a lingering impression. We loved the flurry of white costumes, leading lady Kerry-Ann Henry “queening it” over the corps, and how every inch of the stage is used as the athletic dancers pay their respects to a most powerful unseen presence.

 A sense of anticipation precedes every new work by McDonald, the fast-rising dancer-turned-awe-inspiring choreographer, who got her start in Tony Wilson’s stables at the Company Dance Theatre. This year, McDonald continues her winning streak with “Into the Blue”, a blitzy rendering of regret, anxiety and despair awash with her intelligence, intellect and stylistic flourish. Her blue-clad dancers move engagingly to the alternately frantic and melancholy musical score, pulling the audience deep into a world where hope and fear seemingly go hand in hand. It’s a triumphant dance full of palpable emotion and is great to look at as it unfolds.
Are those tamarind-coloured mini-dresses the three male dancers are sporting in “Labesse,” David Brown’s equally solemn and intimate exploration of sexuality, identity and human relationships? With the stage shrouded in heavy black, the males and their female counterparts deliver lithe, in-sync movements – occasionally forming duos that switch partners. It’s a rather curious work that rewards viewers who like to pay close attention.

The same could be said of Clive Thompson’s “Folktales,” a classical-meets-urban Jamaican romp that’s more about fun and experimenting than staking its claim as a serious piece of work. Showcasing female dancers portraying dainty damsels and the men making themselves available as suitors, Thompson’s latest offering cheekily balances the playful with the romantic.

Other highlights: Clad in a curve-hugging aqua bodysuit, Marisa Benain pouring her heart and soul into the emotionally charged and expressive “Moods”, from the Bert Rose canon; the NDTC Singers preaching unity and peace with a medley of popular Caribbean tunes, including “Rally Roun’ the West Indies” and “We Don’t Need No More Trouble.”

The classic “Gherrebenta”, the night’s closing act, never fails to thrill with its hefty dose of nostalgia and vivid reminders of Rex Nettleford’s creative genius. Bringing together the entire NDTC team (dancers, singers and musicians), it’s a kaleidoscope of vibrant colour, rhythm and movement that evokes traditional Jamaican celebration motifs and the myriad pleasures therein.

> A DANCER'S LIFE: An interview with Associate Director Marlon Simms

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