Monday, 12 February 2018

PASSION IN MOTION: Danceworks 22 reflects strong commitment to diversity and innovative choreography

BIG FINISH: The show's best pieces were feats of great energy and strong imagery.

AFTER more than two decades, the School of Dance’s annual Danceworks recital continues to deliver the joy, vim and vigour that tends to characterize the best dance shows. It allows the school’s faculty and outstanding year one to four students to collaborate in producing a body of work often heightened by innovative and outside-the-box choreography, hyperkinetic energy and no shortage of cool concepts. The 2018 presentation was no different. Thursday’s opening night at the Bert Rose Studio Theatre delivered 10 pieces – a solid, diverse mix.

Inspired by the perpetual struggles of Haitian women at home, Oniel Pryce conjured up a haunting meditation on resilience and survival with a remount of 2010’s “Cenotaph”. Driven by a plaintive score featuring poetess Nikki Giovanni, Jocelyn Pook and Sweet Honey in the Rock, the piece saw its quartet of black-clad female dancers offering uniformed movements and arresting formations, as they made ample use of stage space.

As history will attest, Haitians (women, men and children) face great poverty and exploitation, often due to circumstances beyond their control. But Pryce’s piece succeeds beautifully in showing how resistance and indomitable human spirit keep them fighting.

“Ital Levity” was another highlight. Inventively created poet-at-heart Neila Ebanks, this nostalgic fusion of verse and verve and easy-skankin’ vibes follows a bunch of soul rebels movin’ and groovin’ with wild abandon (the waistline put to work) to the rhythmic enticement of a Sly & Robbie bassline. Not even the crack of the whip can deter these 12 revellers who are so entranced, so overcome by desire, that they cannot see the quagmire opening up below their feet.

Liane Williams’ striking and primal “Bitta Blood” tackled similar themes but with a fast-paced sequence of movement featuring “famished” red-clad dancers putting in work to the boom and commanding bass of Junior Gong. De’Andrea Dwyer opened the piece with a strong solo (with music by Lauryn Hill), setting up a stunning contrast that spoke volumes of the choreographer’s feel for diversity and texture.

Elsewhere on the programme were minor triumphs like Jessica Shaw’s “Touchdown,” choreography driven by a slice of “big bad soca”. The trio of Shereda McEwan, DaShaun Prince and Annesa Shaw fused soca, dancehall and afrobeat for their spirited offering “DHQ” while Dadriel Bent opted for a slightly futuristic route with “Just Go!” as opposed to Orville McFarlane’s “Taciturn” which, as its name suggests, aimed for a rare blend of subtle and sublime.

Arsenio Andrade, a veteran of the Afro-Caribbean tradition, opted for a remount of his visually strong 1999 work “Congo Laye”. Lavish, scene-stealing costumes eclipsed the movement in Paul Newman’s grand high-energy showcase “Moving Forward Together.” Shanelle Buchanan’s “Fear Not” stood out from the pack with a majestic gospel score, exquisite purple costumes and all-female cast that brought the piece to rousing life with immense conviction.

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