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A 'Nice' Evening of Music With the NDTC
Chris Walker’s ‘Rough Drafts’ provided a breathtaking end to The Music of the NDTC, recently staged at the Little Theatre in Kingston. Not only did the piece allow the evening to end on a vibrant note, ‘Rough Drafts’ provides one of those dances that underscore that live music is essential to the company's identity.
What is even more important, is that Walker’s dance signals change, as the younger choreographers start new conversations, many of which engage in dialogue with the company’s traditions. Walker’s weaving of movement from contemporary street dance into the contemporary dance vocabulary highlights the constant evolution of culture as the people and raw material change. It is a beautiful piece of contemporary dance. And more importantly, it is refreshing.
Alas, while entertaining, the rest of the show was not always as eloquent, new, daring or different. This is so although the NDTC Singers, currently boasting several new members, probably hasn’t looked this spritely since its inception. These youthful members are certainly a declaration that the NDTC is in the process of transformation, a change that they have been managing well.
The Music of the NDTC came under the direction of artistic director Barry Moncrieffe, associate artistic director Marlon Simms and musical director Ewan Simpson. It presented reasonably new, as well as, seminal pieces of music from the company’s repertoire.
The evening allowed Ewan Simpson to further put his stamp on the NDTC, even while it graciously acknowledges and celebrates the work of his predecessor Marjorie Whylie, who has arranged the company’s iconic pieces.
As the musical counterpoint to their young choreographer’s showcase, The Music of the NDTC provides the singers and musicians with an opportunity for greater exploration; the opportunity to try things that there may not be space for in a regular show, and that is where it fell short. Too many of the pieces played it safe.
The evening presented a blend of folk, gospel, and popular music. Vibrant drumming from Jessie Golding, Henry Miller, Sydney Watson and Simpson, were also a part of the evening, which also had guest appearances from Jon Williams and Tafane Buschaecab, both of whom were welcome additions.
Indeed, Buschaecab’s opening of ‘Evening Time’ was one of the most striking points of the evening. For some reason the song was titled ‘Songs From my Land’ in the programme. It is the kind of title, that makes you roll your eyes because you know what’s coming. But when those first few notes hit, it was such an inventive and haunting opening to the folk song that you had to sit up and take notice. The rest of the song, alas, failed to live up to the promises made by the opening notes.
‘Sweet Spirit’ arranged by Simpson and featuring the singers and musicians, suffered the reverse fate. It was an enchanting piece, however, it felt as though it were building up to an ecstatic conclusion that never arrived.
The light-hearted ring games medley dubbed ‘Playtime’, was certainly one of the evening’s most delightful moments. ‘Rock Sweet and Steady’ was another of the evening’s gems, as Simpson led the singers and musicians into an interpretation of iconic hits from the rocksteady era, often interpreted with other genres. As the songs were arranged in conversation with each other creating, a call and answer, or even a counteraction, it was lively, fun and thoroughly engaging. Marjorie Whylie’s ‘Featherbed Lane’ and Simpson’s ‘Shangolese’ were also laudable moments of the evening.
However, pieces like ‘Thou Oh Lord’, ‘Oh Happy Day’ and ‘Make You Feel My Love’ can too easily be described as nice. They were well arranged, used good vocals and were certainly entertaining. Yet, they were just as easily forgettable.
The result is that The Music of the NDTC was in many ways a successful staging. However, by closing with Rough Drafts it raised questions that the music preceding it had failed to answer. Rough Drafts’ presence made the absence of contemporary Jamaican music glaring. It begged the question, is the NDTC not yet ready to tackle the rough and brash edges of dancehall, not merely to spit it back out to us, but to start new and intriguing conversations?
So, although the Music of the NDTC certainly presented a satisfactory evening of entertainment, we look forward to when it is ready to make bolder transformations and explorations that can take it into breathtaking directions, as its history deserves. And not just be ‘nice’.