Wednesday, 22 November 2017

ENCHANTED WORLD: Stella Maris’ rousing 24th season delivers ample flourish and fantasy

IN MOTION: As ever, the talented dancers brought lots of energy and emotion to the Little Theatre stage.

THE Stella Maris Dance Ensemble specializes in telling stories that weave Afro-Caribbean realities with themes and heart-and-mind concerns that echo universally. Very often, the result is spell-binding dance theatre that delights, provokes thought and, for the most part, satisfies. Witness their recent 24th season, which offered seven solid works (remounts and brand-new pieces) that consistently drew resounding applause from the sizeable audience.

There were four new works on the programme. Special guest choreographer Dr. Kemal ‘Kibon’ Nance (of the Berry & Nance project) supplied the movement for “Manifesto,” a lengthy but enthralling piece (about negritude, manhood and freedom), boasting several movements and moods. With its nice blend of male and female energy, the piece saw the dancers (somewhat resembling Japanese martial artists) making the Berry & Nance choreography, driven by live drumming, entirely their own. In the end, it was something fresh and exciting for Stella Maris that was well executed.

The spirited singing of Nina Simone buttressed the attitude-laden “Nina Here I Come” (choreographed by Abeldo ‘Tokie’ Gonzalez), featuring three dapper young men (Mr. Red, Mr. Green and Mr. Blue) cavorting with a sexy young miss (Naomi Blackwood), who gave the men a run for their money. Gonzalez also brought “Exchanges,” a work that starts out as a linear piece for four pairs of female dancers but quickly takes on new dimensions with lots of twirls, dips and aerial leaps. 

Artistic Director Dr. MoniKa Lawrence won raves for “Baka Beyond,” an out-of-this-world fantasy dreamscape (complete with acrobatic stunts mid-stage), whose ending feels a tad anticlimactic but, visually, it’s a fantastic flourish.

There’s no finer example of terpsichorean storytelling by the Stella Maris Ensemble than their signature crowd-pleaser “Liza” (2002), Lawrence’s brilliant ode to the kind of coming-of-age experiences most Jamaican girls face. But the genius of Lawrence’s choreography is the fusion of humour and drama that further enlivens the piece. 

In the meantime, we also enjoyed her remount of 1998’s “Where is Maria?”, a haunting piece centred on choices and consequences, rebirth and healing. Equally gorgeous lighting design and costuming made it all the more appealing. 

And what can we say about H. Patten’s “Gye Nyame (Except God),” a hyper-rhythmic fusion of African sensibilities, bare-chested male dancers, a touch of wild abandon and Roshaun Fender dancing up a storm as the intriguing Mask Man. At its best, the work employs aesthetics and elements similar to those that make Rex Nettleford’s “Gherrebenta” such a triumph. As with much of Stella Maris’ repertoire, it’s about strength and resilience, spirituality and tradition and how a compelling story arc can elevate the dance into rousing art.

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