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Island of Dance: Diverse Array of Dance for Arts in the Park

Fire and drums brought Arts in the Park to a blazing finish

The rich diversity of the contemporary Jamaican dance scene was put on display at the fourth Arts in the Park event at Hope Gardens in Kingston on Sunday. Arts in the Park: The Dance Edition stretched from early afternoon through to late evening, presenting an array of dances, some striking in their message, choreography and movement, others quirky and fun, and ultimately, a few forgettable pieces.

A light sprinkling of rain earlier in the day had cooled down the afternoon without dampening the possibilities for the event. Arts in the Park: The Dance Edition featured a range of genres, with movement sweeping from modern contemporary, to the folk and through to the urban manifestations of hip-hop and dancehall, and some pieces which rested in between. 

Triston Rodney performs Roxanne Webber's 'Strange Fruit the Lynching'Pieces such as Kyisha Patterson’s ‘Nah Play’ performed by Naala Nesbeth and Roxanne Webber’s ‘Strange Fruit, the Lynching’  (performed by Triston Rodney) made strong political statements. ‘Strange Fruit, the Lynching’ carries a name which speaks for itself and is an eloquent dance about the violence and agony of its subject. Despite the sound choreography and execution, the solo piece could have been dismissed as a little passe, were it not for the instances of racialized violence continuing throughout contemporary America.

‘Nah Play’ displayed a strong Reggae aesthetic, building its vocabulary on the movement coming out of Kingston’s ghettos. The dance shared much in common with L’Acadco’s evocative 'Lantech Meets Reggae' a dance which moves across the many sides of reggae from its links to Rastafari and resistance, through to the sensual, laying bare the ‘rub’ in rub-a-dub, before moving on to social reflection. 

Tony Wilson's 'Jamaica Wi Proud'Other pieces were displays of patriotism in dance, appreciable for their proclamation of pretty spectacle more than for evocative choreography. Robertha Daley’s ‘Tigibration’ (Tivoli Dance Troupe) and Tony Wilson’s ‘Jamaica Wi Proud’ (The Company) were the strongest in this category.

Wilson’s contemporary dance piece ‘The Journey’ was a significantly stronger work, bouyed by Wilson’s hallmark energetic and sweeping movement. The dance was well placed toward the climax of the event. Though it had appeared much earlier on the programme, Kerry Ann Henry’s ‘...minutes and seconds’ was easily one of the most moving pieces on Arts in the Park: The Dance Edition. The duet, performed by Henry and Marlon Simms, was hauntingly beautiful built on the strength, control and grace of the two dancers.

Gizelle Fray delivers 'Happy Mime'As the only contemporary dance piece which used humour, Marline Pitter-Sloley’s ‘Happy Mime’ was destined to stand out. However, a technical glitch made the dance even more memorable. Half-way through the piece the music stopped. Yet the young energetic tween Gizelle Fray kept moving, displaying an enviable level of professionalism to compliment her skills as a dancer.

Though not the sole gospel oriented piece of the evening, Charissa Allwood’s ‘Lifted’, performed by One Body One God, was certainly the most noteworthy, a descriptor also easily applied to G. H. Patten’s Gye Nyame (Except God) performed by the Stella Maris Dancers. Michael Holgate’s ‘Spoken Fire’, performed by Dance Theatre Xaymaca could have joined this group. However when the dance moved from an exploration of the Armadale fire to the puppy tail dance, it stepped from the intriguing to the inexplicable.

Hip hop dancer Raddy RichThe evening cavorted toward its end with an exploration of urban movement. First up was solo dancer Raddy Rich who entertained the audience with equal parts style, control, skill and a smattering of humour. His performance easily eclipsed all the earlier hip-hop pieces which smacked of potential they were unable to fulfill. The other urban dance pieces in this segment by Dance Expressions with Orville Hall’s ‘Evolution’ and Equanoxx Shankazz with ‘Master at Work’ were energetic and reasonably interesting, though not distinctive. 

This shifted radically with the arrival of Shady Squad who came armed with their trademark elements of high energy, style and humour. This time around, their dance was punctuated by a Chikungunya punchline which had the audience erupting in laughter.

Marlon Simms and Kerry Ann Henry in their beautiful duetL’Acadco’s Drum Xplosion accompanied by fire dancer Shem Helodore brought the evening to a blazing and rhythmic end. It was the rare event, which brought an almost full spectrum of dance in Jamaica to a single stage, highlighting that even as raging raging fires and pollutants take away our standing as a land of wood and water, the cultural elements continue to blaze.

Arts in the Park: The Dance edition is an event of the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and was hosted by Dahlia Harris and Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley. The event was held at Hope Gardens in Kingston on Sunday, May 17, 2015.