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Stella Maris Holds a Revival with 2012 Season of Dance

Andre Hinds and Karen Seymour-Johnson in 'African Night'

The Stella Maris 2012 Season of Dance was in the main solid. The dances were technically proficient and artistically sound. Alas, they didn’t move you much, toward either love or hate, making an interesting, yet largely forgettable night. And then there was the final dance, 'African Night', which swept all the other pieces from memory and left you with the feeling that you had come to see a dance show.

African Night, choreographed by the group’s artistic director, Monika Lawrence and remounted by Wendy Hoo-Fatt, takes you on the journey of a man (danced by Andre Hinds) who, having been caught up in a violent, bawdy life goes to a balm yard to be healed. The result is a spiritual journey from which he returns renewed, and is made the Shepherd of the Church. The piece is performed to live music with Hugh Douse as musical director and features master drummers Calvin Mitchell and Phillip Supersad as well as Reajhaun Baptiste on the steel pan. Crissy D also loaned stirring vocals to the performance. The result was a masterful blend of music and dance.

Baka BeyondAs Stella Maris’ repertoire has expanded, and its dancers abilities with it, the troupe has captured a distinctive style with its penchant for, and fabulous execution of the narrative (often comedic) dance. 'African Night', which took up approximately a third of the 2012 show, easily falls into that tradition and bears the mantle well.

These narrative dances work particularly well because Lawrence has put together a group of dancers who are expressive with great dramatic flair and have no problem showing that they are enjoying what they are doing. Reflections choreographed by Tokie Gonzalez

The lead dancers for 'African Night' were perfectly selected, providing the right balance of dance technique and dramatic skill. Hinds delivered a commendable performance, showing additional growth in his journey as a dancer. Karen Seymour-Johnson makes a fabulous return to the troupe with her performance as the Church Mother, often stealing the spotlight from Hinds with her striking expressions.
 
Gavin Hart rounded out the dramatic three-some as one of the band leaders. Hart, who therefore also sang for the piece, was perfectly off-pitch. He was not so far off that you would want to throw a chicken at him to get him to stop, but just enough to attain that wonderfully authentic note that declares that exultant worship is the point, not hitting the right key; so being tone deaf didn’t mean you couldn’t lead the church in song.

This authenticity was one of the strongest elements of the piece. Often when folk culture is being staged, the artistry is foregrounded, in this presentation of African Night, SMDE achieved a commendable balance between artistry and authenticity.

African Night choreographed by Monika Lawrence and re-staged by Wendy Hoo-FattThroughout the night, it was easy to see where the late Rex Nettleford had influenced Lawrence in terms of vocabulary as well as philosophical approach to the role of dance in maintaining the nation’s cultural integrity. However, she has managed to stamp a unique stylistics on the SMDE.

SMDE’s 2012 season of dance also included ‘Baka Beyond’, ‘Selah’, both choreographed by Lawrence and ‘Transition’ choreographed by Toki Gonzalez. Two dances were also being premiered Eduardo Riviera-Walker’s ‘Toromata’ and Gonzalez’ ‘Reflections’.  On Friday night, the repertoire was also slightly expanded to include an excerpt from ‘Kudos’.

The season of dance took place at the Little Theatre, Kingston, November 9 - 11, 2012.