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NDTC 2014 Season of Dance: Of New Energies and Continuity

Kerry-Ann Henry and Mark Phinn in Arsenio Andrade's Dimensions

It is not coincidental that the National Dance Theatre Company’s season of dance straddles Jamaica’s celebration of independence, because although it’s not officially listed on the independence events, nationhood, and what it means to be Jamaican is a core part of stories elaborated by these bodies each year. The 52nd season of dance is no different. 

Truthfully, as the company’s repertoire remains dominated by pieces that have been in its arsenal for several years, including many of the iconic dances choreographed by former artistic director the late Prof Nettleford, it doesn’t get much of a chance to veer from this course. Yet, what is also remarkable is that the new works bearing the markings of this role.

A significant part of NDTC’s culture has focused on telling the stories and or paying homage to great Jamaicans. Its focus has largely been musicians, including Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, but along with Clive Thompson’s ‘Malungu’ which presents the life of Don Drummond, this year’s repertoire now includes ‘Mountain Climbing’. Choreographed by Chris Walker, the dance  pays tribute to Prof Nettleford.

Kerry-Ann Henry in Chris Walker's Mountain ClimbingWalker and Oneil Pryce are easily two of the most exciting choreographic voices to have emerged from the NDTC in recent years, but alas I am yet to see Pryce’s new piece ‘More Than Just Speed Bumps’ or Walker’s second piece ‘Rough Drafts’. Of course, that is the constant with NDTC, each night generally features no more than two of the new works, a position which I can respect even while it frustrates me. 

I had been more excited at the prospect of seeing ‘Rough Drafts’ because I’m expecting something akin to what Walker presented with ‘Variations a Ska’, where he was clearly working out a new and refreshing dance vocabulary built on contemporary Jamaican culture. So, I was a little disappointed when my programme declared that I would instead see ‘Mountain Climbing’... that is, until the dance began.

‘Mountain Climbing’ is a taut, gripping solo that is absolutely breathtaking. It is hauntingly beautifurl and eloquent as it pays homage to Nettleford by weaving in some of his choreographic style but building on them and highlighting the journey of dance that Nettleford began is by no means over. Walker takes distinctly Jamaican folk dance vocabulary and translates it into the contemporary. Tamara Noel and Kevin Moore in Clive Thompson's Malungu

Additionally, watching Walker’s choreography executed by Kerry-Ann Henry is nothing if not inspiring. Henry is a graceful, lithe and wonderfully talented dancer who is always a treat to watch. 

Henry was also a part of the duet performing ‘Dimensions’. Choreographed by Arsenio Andrade, ‘Dimensions’ is the kind of dance that leaves you tired from its slow burning intensity. It is a beautifully deliberate dance that celebrates movement as a form of poetry and Mark Phinn and Kerry-Ann Henry were fantastic. Actually, that bears repeating - Mark Phinn and Kerry-Ann Henry were fantastic.

Clive Thompson’s ‘Malungu’ joined the repertoire in 2013, but it is new to me. It is a well crafted piece of the tragic tale of Don Drummond showing his early life that brought him to the Alpha Boys School, the rise of the Skatalites and eventually the tumultuous relationship with singer and dancer Margarita Mahfood. 

‘Malungu’ is a noteworthy dance, as much for the subject as well as for its aesthetic credibility. Kevin Moore generally presents a fine portrayal of Don Drummond, even though, clearly held down by his weight gain, he struggles slightly with the more demanding elements of the choreography. Tamara Noel is enchanting as Margarita.

Rex Nettleford's Spirits at a GatheringPatrick Earle is another of the younger choreographers making his mark on the season with ‘Aboriginal Mix (aka Didgeridoo)’ a very competent dance, but one which is stronger in its opening and closing movements, which promises something original and inventive, which the middle segments do not completely live up to.

The 2014 season of dance comes under the theme Renewal and Continuity and in keeping with that, Saturday night’s (August 2, 2014) was framed by two works by Nettleford, the light hearted ‘Spirits at a Gathering’ and his more iconic ‘Gerrehbenta’. The performance also included the prettily costumed NDTC singers.

NDTC SingersThe National Dance Theatre Company’s 2014 season of dance continues through to Sunday, August 17, 2014 at the Little Theatre, Kingston.