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National Dance Theatre Company 2015 - Bearing Exciting Fruit
The 2015 season of dance from the National Dance Theatre Company contains a refreshing and energetic breadth of dances from young choreographers producing what is possibly the company’s most diverse show in several years. Interestingly, several of these young voices in some way emerged from (or at least passed through) the NDTC and they are bearing exciting fruit.
As with the 2014 programme, the note from the National Dance Theatre Company’s Artistic Director is headlined: ‘Exploration, Experimentation Renewal and Continuity’. This isn’t a sign that the NDTC has grown so unimaginative it is repeating itself, but rather the opposite. The post-Nettleford NDTC (and it really isn’t that as yet) has been in the process of finding itself. It is digging deeper, and the the creative expressions it unveils are worth a trip, maybe even two, to the theatre.
This year’s season of dance contains new work from Shelley Maxwell (Six), Marlon Simms (Continuum), as well as pieces existing pieces by Chris Walker (Rough Drafts and Mountain Climbing), Oneil Pryce (Barre Talk) and Kerry-Ann Henry (...minutes and seconds - choreographed with Momo Sanno). The season also includes new dances by guest choreographers Renee McDonald (False Awakening) and Troy Powell (Unscathed).
While Simms and Henry remain two of the strongest dancers in the NDTC whose strength, grace and fluidity are entrancing to watch on stage (and I haven’t seen ‘Continuum’) over the years they have focused on their dance, rather than choreography.
Pryce, Walker and Maxwell, on the other hand, are easily the three strongest choreographic talents the island has recently produced, creating evocative and relentlessly imaginative pieces. Interestingly, both Walker and Maxwell currently reside elsewhere, and are a part of the creative brain drain the Caribbean labours under but no one is talking about. So it is particularly good to see the company make and/or maintain these connections.
On the night Susumba attended, the six pieces being performed were ‘Drumscore’ (1979) and ‘Kumina’ (1971) both by Nettleford, as well as ‘Unscathed’, ‘Six’ (2015), ‘...minutes and seconds’ (2010) and ‘Barre Talk’ (2006). The result was a solid, diverse evening on dance.
‘Drumscore’ and ‘Kumina’ are excellent examples of why Nettleford’s vision continues to have a lasting impact. Both dances are fused with Jamaican folk elements and combine live music and dance.
‘Drumscore’ performed to congos and singing is a light hearted celebration of the drums, which in turn highlight the drum as a celebration of life. With ‘Kumina’ it is oftne hard to tell whether the heady drumming and vocals win out over the dance, and truthfully sometimes it does. Even so, the work is a solid, engaging and lasting piece of Jamaican dance theatre.
‘Six’ brings with it a refreshing shift in vocabulary. Maxwell’s choreographic skills have been noticeably missing from the landscape, six is a welcome return of keen social insights presented through dance. Six and engaging modern contemporary piece is a welcome return.
Powell’s ‘Unscathed’ is a wonderfully energetic piece that is a beautiful as it is moving. Powerful piece makes its clear statement about resilience, an idea underscored by the bold, striking red of the costumes.
Pryce’s Barre Talk remains a wonderfully imaginative piece. The graceful athleticism of the dance celebrates and explores the barre as the place at which dancers hone and craft their instrument, setting the bar for their performance.
‘...minutes and seconds’ is a duet beautifully executed by Marlon Simms and Kerry-Ann Henry. The dance is a sensual and intense piece and Simms and Henry are simply breathtaking together.
Remarkably, the company is not only growing in choreographic talent. The NDTC Singers is also re-shaping itself. A few years ago it seemed to be at risk for becoming a dinosaur, but then musical director Marjorie Whylie shook-up the music, a trend continued by current musical director Ewan Simpson. It also helps that the membership is benefitting from much new blood.
Tamara Noel’s grace and strength have grown dramatically, as highlighted by her performances in ‘Drumscore’ and ‘Six’ to now join Mark Phinn and Keita Marie Chamberlain as a part of the solid core of the company, while Kemar Francis seems bent on making name for himself.
The NDTC season is particulalry heartening in the face of Jamaica's 2015 emancipendence slogan 'Proud and Free 53' which suggests that we might not have anything to celebrate. The season underscores that where so much else is failing, our creative imagination remains our strength, and maintaining it requires constant re-imagination and redefinition.
So, even while it continues to redefine itself, the NDTC still holds on to the tradition of opening and closing with choreography by Nettleford. While it is certainly commendable that they continue this tradition, the question of sustainability will eventually arise. The inclusion of such striking new work suggests that the NDTC is embracing the future while holding on to its past, hopefully not so furiously that it destroys itself.
Note: Edited on August 11, 2015 - Sade Thaxter was changed to Kemar Francis