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Dance Umbrella - Choreographing the Diversity of Jamaica’s Dance

'Sulkari' Performed by NDTC

For four days in March over a dozen dance companies, studios, dance crews, high school dance troupes and independent dancers of Jamaica wove intricate patterns across the stage of the Phillip Sherlock Centre for the Performing Arts, University of the West Indies, Mona. Under Jamaica Dance Umbrella 2012, they wove a tapestry of the state of dance in Jamaica today, highlighting both popular and contemporary dance.

The showcase was introduced to the local dance calendar in 2009 and has been making sure-footed growth since its inaugural staging. The assorted dancers which took the stage in March were operating from different levels in dance, showcasing from the amateur to the professional. The dances varied in style, vision and texture exposing the divergent paths in aesthetics and choreography that each of the companies tread. The range of dances included the minimalistic and the extravagant, the sombre and the frivolous, the traditional and the contemporary.

Festival Director Michael Holgate explains that Jamaica Dance Umbrella was born out of the drive to expose the breadth of dance in Jamaica to patrons in a single space.  “The Jamaica Dance Umbrella was inspired by a desire to create a unique dance experience in Jamaica, where dance audiences and patrons  could see the best that the Jamaican dance companies produced in one space over a few nights,” he said.

Holgate pointed out that although there is great diversity in the number of dance companies in Jamaica, the average patron sees a few of the seasons, or often only their favourite troupe or company in each year. This means that smaller and emerging companies can get lost in the shadow of the more established ones. “The intention therefore was also to create a space for exposing niche dance audiences to other genres of dance in a safe space,” Holgate explained. “It was felt that it was important to create a shared space which facilitates the various dance companies at their best.”

Indeed diversity is the best element of Jamaica Dance Umbrella as the dance companies and put their best pirouette forward. It is only through a festival such as Jamaica Dance Umbrella that one can enjoy the divergent offerings of The National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) and L’Acadco over one weekend. On Friday night, The NDTC contributed the beautiful ‘Sulkari’ which rested at the point of intersection between visual art and design and dance. Choreographed by Eduardo Rivero the dance brings Yoruban fertility sculptures to life, playing with poise, pose and geometry. L’Acadco on the other hand, contributed three pieces on Saturday night: ‘Desperacion’ choreographed by Barbara Caballeros Ramos; ‘L’Antech Meets Reggae’ choreographed by L’Antoinette Stines; and the aptly titled ‘Passion’, choreographed by Stines and Kalil ‘Aaron’ Vereen. ‘Passion’ is a wonderful blend of drums and movement, and while the drums easily overshadowed the movement, as the sound reverberated around the PSCCA, one would have been hard pressed to complain.

Movements Dance Company, another of the more established companies to participate in the festival, displayed their new crop of dancers and an aptitude for grand, bold religious statements. The company opened Friday Night’s showcase with the stoic Monica Campbell McFarlane choreographed piece, ‘Bread of Life 2011’. The company ended the night on a even more thunderous note with ‘The Wrath of God 2012’, a dance of epic proportions choreographed by Christopher Huggins.

The sombre and more mature moods of Movements contrasted well against the light-hearted contributions of Desiree’s Dance Centre. Desiree’s delivered two pieces ‘Breathe’ a reasonably poignant piece choreographed by Renee McDonald and ‘Fashion Addiction’ choreographed by Oneil Pryce. ‘Fashion Addiction’, a cute and fun homage to fashion veered from Pryce’s occasionally avant-garde but always unconventional choreography, but aptly reflected the youthful enthusiasm of the dancers from Desiree’s.

The University Dance Society’s contributions also added to the hearty helping of youthful zest that was lovingly spread across the festival. Their contributions included the tragic piece ‘Stillborn’, choreographed by Renee McDonald and ‘Jazzzmin’ a Liane Williams choreography which artfully blends the jazz and reggae vocabularies.

The inclusion of popular dancers and dance crews as well as independent modern contemporary dancers allows Jamaica Dance Umbrella to significantly widen the plethora of dances that it features and allows each night to pulsate with differing energy levels. Neila Ebanks, lecturer at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts and the first Dance Fellow for the Commonwealth Connections Residency (2011) performed the intriguing experimental piece, ‘No Home like This Body’. The dance is intriguing, bearing jarring and often discordant moves that evoke displacement. Ultimately, it shows that the journey to acceptance can only be reached through determination and that things that once bound and frustrated can ultimately lead to triumph. The piece beautifully melds modern contemporary movement with sashing, taken from traditional dance.

Schoy Stewart’s ‘Mental Party’ was a welcome step away from the usual coordinated moves without meaning that goes into the staging of popular dance. Describing his piece as “a collection of thoughts that dance around in my mind,” Stewart presented an intriguing solo performance that highlights that street dance can be distilled without its authenticity being watered down.

Jamaica Dance Umbrella 2012 also welcomed dancers from the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination from the UWI Cave Hill campus under its folds. The EBCCI contributed several pieces most of which attempted to deal with social issues but generally displayed a limited grasp of vocabulary.  Nonetheless, their piece ‘Wo-Man-Hood’ was funny and intriguing and showed great potential.

The presence of the performers from the Errol Barrow Centre indicates that Jamaica Dance Umbrella is stretching beyond the shores of Jamaica and has potential to become a great regional showcase. It seems that the dancers of Jamaica has welcomed its shelter, and it is only natural that it extends to the rest of the Caribbean as we seek greater connectivity and dance toward the future together.