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NDTC 2012 Season of Dance - A Retrospective

'Sulkari' as performed by NDTC at Dance Umbrella 2012

The National Dance Theatre Company closed its 50th anniversary season of dance on Friday, August 3, 2012, at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, Kingston. It was an enjoyable night of solid performances that paid due homage to the company’s vision and history the caliber of dancing and choreography was adequately suited to the company which is considered the nation’s premiere dance troupe.

Friday night’s performance was actually an encore, as the season was originally slated to end a week earlier. The full-house easily explained the extension. The night opened and closed as many of the seasons before it had, with two epic pieces from their founder and former artistic director Rex Nettleford. The opening piece, the enigmatic ‘The Crossing’ (1978) explores the African 'Sulkari' choreographed by Eduardo Rivero-WalkerAmerican experience from Africa through to the early 1960s in the United States, exploring love, loss and suffering. The night closed with the high energy of  Gerrehbenta’ (1983), a marriage of two folk forms gerreh and dinki mini.

‘Edna M’ (1987) choreographed by Bert Rose was also remounted for the 2012 season and Friday’s performance featured Melanie Graham’s who reprised her role as Edna Manley. Graham and delivered with lithe and grace. Edna M is an insightful well orchestrated piece. Kerry-Ann Henry’s performance of the solo excerpt from ‘Phases of the Three Moons’ was is beautifully executed. Henry has amazing form and wonderfully conveyed the dance's delicate beauty. Her strength and grace are perfectly suited to the piece which fully captures the idea of dance as poetry, or rather in this case, song, in motion.

The NDTC’s 2012 repertoire continued to benefit from its long relationship with Cuba’s Compania Teatro Dela Danza Caribe. Friday’s performance featured two pieces from the Cuban group,  Ramon Ramos Alayo’s ‘Siempre Corriendo’ (2012) and Edwardo Rivero Walker’s ‘Sulkari’ (1980). ‘Siempre Corriendo’ is an enigmatic quartet which also featured guest dancers from Danza Caribe, Edisnel Rodíguez González and Delvis Savigne Friñón. The quartet was masterfully completed by Marlon Simms and Mark Phinn. ‘Sulkari’ plays with poise and geometry as it uses Yoruban fertility sculptures to explore human fertility.

The NDTC incorporated Maria Layocona’s image of Nettleford in a pose which has always appeared to be the physical manifestation of his inward stretch, outward reach theory. It’s quite fitting as the NDTC was built on the concept of looking inward at Caribbean (and occasionally African American) culture and experience and reaching toward the world.

The 2012 repertoire contained only two new pieces, and while that is not startling, it’s noteworthy because the NDTC is at a crossroads and what was missing was a clear indication of the choreography that would ensure that the company will remain relevant over the next 50 years.

'Sulkari' choreographed by Eduardo Rivero-WalkerIn the early 2000s with increased choreography from Arsenio Andrade, Oneil Pryce, Chris Walker, Marlon Simms and Shelly-Ann Maxwell the troupe’s choreography began to explore a different kind of vocabulary, one more in-tune with the contemporary experience. Walker’s ‘Urban Fissure’ and ‘Variations a Ska’ and Pryce’s ‘Barre Talk’ are particularly noteworthy, and these choreographer seemed to hold the key to the company’s future yanking it out of a creative slump. But today, with the exception of Simms, none of these dancer choreographers remain with the company.

So, as wonderful as the night’s performance was, it must be acknowledged for what it was- a look backward. It will therefore be interesting to see how the company develops its vision of dance and finds choreography that reaches into the contemporary Caribbean experience and takes it forward.