Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Tuesday | October 13, 2009
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A sweet 16th season for Stella Maris dancers
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer

Members of the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble. - Contributed

The Stella Maris Dance Ensemble (SMDE) mounted a brief but pleasure-filled season of dance last Saturday and Sunday at the Little Theatre.

Though the two new dances were disappointing, the three older ones were exciting enough to more than compensate.

One of the three, Kudos (2005), described as "a tribute to musical masters whose musical offering have had a profound effect on audiences across the diaspora," ended the show with the audience almost hysterical with joy. The applause, cheers and screams sometimes drowned out the curtain-call music.

The musical masters being celebrated were Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. You can always count on Jackson's music to lift people's spirits, and when that music is the iconic Thriller, and dancers as young, well-trained and enthusiastic as those of the SMDE are using the choreography created for the song, hysteria from young audiences anywhere in the world should be expected.

Besides, last Saturday night, Gavin Hart, a fine young dancer, was dressed in a fiery red suit and gave an excellent imitation of Jackson - spins, limb jerks, pelvic thrusts, moonwalk and all.


The show begins with H Patten's 2001 creation Gye Nyame (Except God). A perfect opening number, this dance is beautifully costumed (by Patten), employs Olatunji's high-intensity music, has a celebratory mood and includes a Jonkunnu-like character, Cow Head. Essentially, the happy dancers are involved in a primordial ceremony to unite a man and a woman and, occasionally, as they twirl and leap and stomp around the stage they utter quick cries of delight.

More frenetic drumming - this time live - follows the closing of the curtain on the dance. It comes from two drummers on the left apron of the stage providing an interlude as the company prepares for the second dance. It is Rex Nettleford's Dis Poem: His Story, Her Story (1989) which is used by SMDE with permission of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC).

The main accompaniment for the work is three powerful protest poems written and recited by Mutabaruka, Dis Poem, Famine Injection and Eye of Liberty. It ends with a song, We Want To Live by Carol Jacob.

Many would have seen the NDTC dancers perform the work. The good news is that the SMDE also does it justice.

Mood shifts

The mood of the dance shifts, as it passes through its several movements, from serious to defiant to joyful. Appropriately, the costumes become more colourful as the dance progresses, and a brightly dressed 'rude boy' (Gavin Hart) in body suit of, among other colours, red, green and gold becomes the centre of attention toward the end.

SMDE artistic director MoniKa Lawrence is the choreographer of the first new dance on the programme. The Staff and the Cross has this annotation in the programme: "Regardless of our religious beliefs and rituals, the core philosophy remains 'love' of God and neighbour. Can we unite religions by viewing their similarities, as the 'staff' of Africa merges with the 'cross' of Europe?"

The unification theme is made clear in the first few minutes of the dance. It starts in Africa with dancers in African outfits dancing to African music in a landscape beautifully evoked by Denise Robinson's set. European church music takes over and women in European dress enter. Soon Africans and Europeans (men in clerical garb) are dancing together and the choreographer's question is apparently answered.

Unfortunately, the dance stops developing at this point. A dramatic faux pas is made the problem is solved in the first act. There is nowhere for the 'story' to go and the greater part of the dance is merely a repetition of a point already made - except that in the very last moment of the dance there is an ironic twist. In a tableau, an African chief stands with a European cleric on an upstage platform, with the two not side by side, but slightly facing away from each other. This indicates there is still some movement to be made before African and Europe can see eye to eye.

The other new dance, Variations, by Abeldo 'Tokie' Gonzales, serves only as a vehicle to show something already made obvious - the company has very good dancers. Gonzales gives them many slow movements and poses calling for great control. Otherwise he has them often moving on an off stage. They pass his test but his dance makes no statement and communicates no feeling.

Partly to blame is the monotonous music.

Kudos has as many choreographers as there are musical masters being honoured. Gonzales creates a dance for Ray Charles, Patsy Ricketts (the SMDE ballet mistress) choreographs for Stevie Wonder, Nettleford for Cliff and Lawrence for Marley. The programme does not state who choreographed the Thriller dance. Presumably one can check the album's liner notes.

Charles' hit, I Got a Woman, is danced rock-and-roll style by men dressed in green and purple 1960s suits. Wonder is celebrated with a well-executed solo by Roxanne Corniffe. The dance for Cliff features Cliff himself poignantly singing Sitting There in Limbo and three couples whose dancing captures the music's poignancy well.

The dancers of the Marley tribute, 10 girls sing One Drop and move in stylised Rasta movements. They wear the colours of Jamaica's flag.

Naturally, the Thriller dance ends the tribute, providing the vehicle for the pandemonium alluded to earlier. The SMDE has a good 2009 repertoire and dancers to match. It's a pity the season wasn't longer.

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