Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Monday | November 12, 2012
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Stella Maris Dance Ensemble salutes 'Ja 50'
Members of the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble perform Monika Lawrence's choreography piece, 'Selah'. - photo by Marcia Rowe
Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer

During troupe's 19th season performance

In a dance production filled with colourful costumes, practical set and some engaging dances, the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble (SMDE) used their 19th season of dance to pay homage to the fallen, the living, and country.

Like a large number of events staged this year, the ensemble saluted Jamaica's 50th anniversary. Additionally, the show was the vehicle of celebration for the lives of Cuban choreographer Eduardo Rivero-Walker and Jamaican publicist, Christine Bell.

The re-election of US, President Barak Obama was also cause for celebration and this was done by remounting an excerpt from Monika Lawrence's 2009 choreography, 'Kudos'.

Upon the announcement of the dance and its purpose, the audience became enthused. And it was not surprising that when the dance was concluded, it received the strongest applause of the seven-dance programme.

The audience-pleaser began with dancer Gavin Martin playing with an invisible mouse, Ben, as the unmistaken voice of Michael Jackson swirled around the auditorium of the Little Theatre. Then from a show of a compassionate Jackson, the dance shifted to the popular Thriller. Here, Lawrence along with her dancers, gave an impressive reproduction of Jackson's original movements. Also worthy of comment were the costumes that reflected the roles of the dancers.

Rivero-Walker, who passed away recently, was remembered through his 2012 choreographed 'Toromato'. The dance was remounted by Amo Rivero DaCosta and Tokie Gonzalez. It was a showcase of all things Spanish (or Cuban). From the sprite quick steps to the wide swirling tiered skirts, (females) and waist band (male) costumes, the Spanish presence was felt in a dance that showcased courtship.

On the other hand, the entire show was dedicated to Christine Bell, as well as Jamaica. However, the dance that best captured Jamaica's anniversary celebration was the energetic and colourful 'African Nite'.

The 2004 remount, by Wendi Hoo and Basheerah Milwood, is described in the programme note as a "ballet dance embracing our indigenous religion Revivalism." But what Lawrence failed to say was how enriching the dance was.

The dance drama begins with a series of tableaus to the front of the curtains. Each depicts aspects of the life of the soon to be converted Shepherd (Andre Hinds). With the aid of live music in the forms of vocalists, Nexus Performing Arts Company and Krissy D, as well as drummers Calvin Mitchell and Phillip Supersad, and Reajaun Baptiste on steel pan, the drama unfolds in five movements.

Ordination and celebration

The journey commences in a balm yard, and then shifts to Shepherd's encounter with earthly spirits dressed as the Jonkanoo character, Pitch-Patchy. The earthly spirits are soon replaced by heavenly ones. The fourth movement was an appealing robbery of Shepherd by Church Mother (Karen Seymour-Johnson). In the fifth and final movement, it was time for the ordination and celebration. And with dancers making their entrances though the audience, in dialogue and songs, the cast gave a lively show of the well-known Jamaican cultural form. White costumes for the musicians, and various change of costumes, including the final African print fabric, helped to add life and energy to the curtain closer.

But before all mentioned above, the show on Saturday, the third of four, actually opened with Lawrence's 1997 choreography, 'Baka Beyond'. The dance was spectacular in movements and set. So was 'Selah', another of Lawrence's creation. However, while 'Baka Beyond' seemed to trace the origin of Jamaica's dance, 'Selah' went on a heavenly journey. In four movements, beginning with 'Converts', the dance travels to Celestial Beings before settling at 'Transformation and Jubilation'. The dancers were great in their execution.

Gonzalez was responsible for the only dance choreographed for the 2012 season. It is titled 'Reflections'. The choreographer's 2011 'Transition' was fantastic and justly danced by the three males.

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