Chester Francis-Jackson, Contributor
As Jamaica sits on the eve of its 50th anniversary as an independent nation, there is much being said and ascribed to the supposed major players in the expected celebrations.
Indeed, it is instructive to note that the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) is also celebrating its 50th. Curiously, however, there is a disconnect between these two seminal milestones at this critical juncture.
Seemingly, the conversation surrounding the celebration(s) is based on the premise that the Government is not, has not done or doing enough to commemorate the country's Golden Jubilee. This may well be the case, but one of the critical lessons to be learnt from the NDTC and its jubilee is the fact that today, Jamaica and the world laud the NDTC. Today, Jamaica and the world are proud recipients of the rich cultural legacy of the NDTC. Indeed, the NDTC has not only pioneered, told and retold the story and history of the people of Afro-Caribbean heritage, it has single-handedly caused the world over to take a more dispassionate view of people of Afro-Caribbean descent, and their struggles, achievements and journey into "personhood".
And the beauty of the NDTC and its monumental contribution to the journey of Caribbean people of colour into the realm of personhood is the fact that 50 years ago, with the dawning of the new Jamaica, a group of young, talented and gifted individuals bonded together under the baton of the late distinguished scholar, intellectual and creative genius of Professor Rex Nettleford to form the NDTC.
The records will show that this group of young people, despite insurmountable social, political and financial obstacles, forged ahead and, with grit and determination, launched the NDTC.
And for those who thought that the formation of the company would have been, in and by itself, the major battle, time would have disabused them of this notion, as the many naysayers who opposed (and some still do) the idea of an independent Jamaica were even more vociferous, vitriolic and condemnatory in their denunciation of the "upstarts" who had the effrontery to even suggest that the common experience of the people could be elevated to a danceform, capable of telling, documenting and retelling the story and experiences of the downtrodden, socially underprivileged and largely under-represented masses.
Indeed, following the formation of the NDTC, and particularly doing its embryonic growth, many they were, representing the establishment classes, who rushed to put pen to paper to condemn the efforts of the then fledgling company. And then there were those who in their misguided zeal to defend and protect the status quo rushed to condemn the young dance company based on their erroneous premise of juxtaposing the offerings of the NDTC to that of the European Ballet.
Indeed, in this respect, the late Professor Nettleford was uncompromising in his defence; a sage in providing clarity and a bulwark against the ignorance that was the formulae for these comparisons and attending diatribe.
The company, once the bane of the bourgeoisie, is now the very toast of that social class.
Today, as the NDTC celebrates if 50th season of dance, those who now lead the company, onstage in dance, music, wardrobe, lighting, front office, ushers, etc., who now look like giants of the genre, do so because they stand on the shoulders of the many who have sacrificed for them to be able to now stand tall in the halls of greatness.
And, my dears, if ever there was any doubt surrounding the greatness of the NDTC, last Saturday night's gala opening performance and dinner and after-party should go a long way in dispelling those who harboured any such doubts.
Dears, as openings go, this was simply a smasheroni of the faultless order, as luvs, we are talking a narrative of profundity, distinction and historical perspicacity, never before seen, witnessed or experienced in the history of Caribbean culture.
Luvs, from the august body of distinguished personalities out for the gala opening and celebration, to the mounted works to open the season, we are talking cultural, intellectual and social prime time here and nothing but, as indeed, last Saturday night's dance programme, opened with the oh-so moving The Crossing, the critically acclaimed Rex Nettleford choreographed dance that chronicles the elements of the transatlantic slave trade, and the attendant life of the displaced, in the Americas, and the comfort some found in their wretched existence, set to the beautifully haunting music of Alex Hailey's multi-award-winning movie/play Roots, Roots, composed by the legendary Quincy Jones.
Dears, we are talking moving theatre here, and exquisitely so. Indeed, in The Crossing, Rex Nettleford, dialogue is a tear-jerker of the evolved emotional order, known only to the pre-FaceBook generation. But, for my word, what made this particular opening dance so poignant was the fact that the fabulous Melanie Graham, a former premier danseur of the company, after an absence of nearly two decades or more from the stage, returned for last Saturday's gala opening, and on the life of this here HP notebook, did she bring her 'A' game!
My daahlings, in one word - fabulous!
The Crossing was followed by the NDTC Singers, who delivered a suite of festival songs of yesteryear. And here one must highlight that the Singers and musicians were clearly affected by opening night jitters, but shook them off early enough to get into the meat of the matter and in doing so sang themselves into the heart of the audience.
Minutes and Seconds, was the next dance, a beautiful duet, choreographed by Momo Sanno and Kerry-Ann Henry, is the perfect dialogue for two, set to the ultra-mod music of Portishead, played to the character strengths of Dance Captain Marlon Simms and co-author Kerry-Ann Henry, and made for the perfect segue to Sulkari - an all-time favourite, composed by Cuban choreographer Eduardo Rivero-Walker, and set to the traditional Afro-Cuban (Yoruba) music, and performed exquisitely by the company's singers, and was an emotionally charged and intense dialogue, that made for riveting dance theatre.
Sadly, the night's penultimate offering - Urban Fissure - choreographed by Christopher Walker, lacked the intellectual depth, clarity and even contextual relevance to justify its inclusion in a night dominated by august compositions. Here the dialogue was at best kitschy and intemperate meaningless "swagger", that was a major diss to the music of Bob Marley, against which it was set; and the talent of the dancers, charged with giving meaning to the rather banal piece!
Mercifully, this was the penultimate piece and not the final offering as this was reserved for Kumina, another of Rex Nettleford's brilliant look-see into the cultural and religious vagaries of the Afro-Caribbean community and the company - dancers, singers, musicians and wardrobe - were in full culturama, and resplendently so!
Dears, it made for an awesome night!
The after-party followed at the neighbouring grounds of the dance studios, with a fabulous and lavish fare, and sumptuous performance by Fab 5 that brought even the most jaded of patrons to their dancing feet, in a final act of approval, to what was a truly fabulous celebratory gala season opening!
Among those out sharing in the historic jubilee were chairman of the NDTC, Dr Carlton Davis, and wife Mrs Lays Davis; founding patron and Former Prime Minister Edward and Carla Seaga; Lisa Hanna, minister of culture and member of parliament, and Richard Lake; Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips and his wife NDTC alumnus Mrs Sandra Phillips, QC; Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites; Works Minister Dr Omar Davies and wife Mrs Rose Davies; former Governor General Sir Kenneth and Lady Hall; former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and the elegant Sonia Hamilton; former Education Minister Maxine Henry-Wilson and daughter Seya Henry-Wilson; former parliamentarian Phyllis Mitchell; Alombe Motley and wife Donna Scott-Mottley; the elegant Mrs Norma Clarke; Appeal Court judge Hilary Phillips; Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Mangatal; judge Professor Sir Roy and Lady Augier; Sydney Bartley Canadian High Commissioner HE Stephen and Kathy Hallihan; Professor Errol and Mrs Fay Morrison; Reverend Ralph Hoyte; Joe and Bernadette Matalon; the esteemed John Cooke; playwright, talk-show host and social historian Mrs Barbara Gloudon; distinguished jurist, attorney Lloyd Perkins; Dr Maria Smith; Dr Winston and Mrs Noelle Chutkan; Dr Velma Pollard; Elaine Melbourne; Herman McLarty and wife Mrs Mikki Pine-McLarty and their lovely daughter, Rachael McLarty; Dr Neville Ying; Douglas and Michelle Orane; Professor Vereen Shepard; Veronica Salter; Joe and Beverley Periera; the lovely Diane Watson; publisher Karl Rodney and wife Fay Rodney, in from New York; Billy Heaven; Keith and Dorothy Noel; the Reverend Eula Morgan; Kirk Waldemar; the simply fab Minna Israel; the charmingly lovely Sandra Shirley; Lennie Little-White and the lovely Cheryl Ryman; Carol Lawes; Robert and Angie Fowler; Vinay Walia; Nancy McLean; Robert and Odette Epstein; Verica Bennett; Patrick Smith; Taynia Nethersole; Wayne and Patricia Sutherland; the fabulously elegant Romae Gordon; Nevardo Pow and the trés elegant Karen Neita; Mr and Mrs Brian George; Roger Hinds; NDTC alumnus: Carson Cumberbatch; the venerable Alaine Grant; Judy Wedderburn; Dr Monica Potts Lawrence; Mrs Denise Francis-Robinson; D'Roi Rose; Alison Symes; Toki Gonzales and wife Michelle Gonzales; the fabulous and oh-so talented Natalie Chung; Tony Wilson; plus a number of others.
But dears, the season continues and with a repertoire worthy of the history books, this here scribe is all set to return.