In post-independent Jamaica, there are a number of non-governmental institutions of which the nation can be reasonably proud. As indeed, these institutions, forged out of the determination, dedication and the perseverance of a few dedicated men and women, who were determined to help in creating a Jamaican identity, that was reflective of its people and history, and not the sanitized or watered-down history of our colonial masters masquerading as the new identity.
Indeed, whereas it can be argued that successive Governments have failed in their administration and management of the Country’s affairs, that led to a breakdown of institutions and the weakening of the structures of Governance over the years, in the areas of Arts and Culture, where, individuals and private groupings took the initiative in leading the charge in forging our cultural and artistic identity, the opposite is true!
And this Is not to be regarded as an indictment on our Government over the years, as the truth be told, very few of those we have elected to lead us, understand the importance of the Arts, in not only helping to forge our identity, but its appeal and bankability!
Sadly, too many of those we have elected, and went on to be appointed to serve, seemed to have narrowed the focus of their Portfolio responsibilities in matters of Culture, to embrace the sub-culture, at the expense of the arts, generally. And in so doing have not only neglected funding and or supporting the development of the Arts, but have shown scant regard for the other genres the “Concept”, that must be taken as a whole!
And so it is, you will find our Ministers Of Culture, have found time over the years, to attend all kinds of ‘Popular-Cultural’ Events, such as Dancehall-shows, Reggae-Concerts, even a Street-Corner dance, but none of these Ministers, have ever deemed it necessary, to attend a Concert of the University Singers, The Jamaican Folk Singers; A performance of the ASHE Ensemble; La’Cadco Dancers; Or the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), season or A ‘Command-Performance’.
Imagine then, it is these People, with their myopic and mirasmic perspectives, who are then charged with leading the Nation’s drive to harvest, nurture, promote and demystify, our “Culture”.
As We process that lets look on the success we have achieved in other fields, where the Political Leadership has been lacking, but the citizenry has been leading the way. And, it is important to note here, that as far as the Founding Artistic Director of the NDTC was concerned – It was better for the Artistic Integrity Of the Company, if the NDTC, did not embrace government subventions and or any other form Government patronage…So, it would be wise, before we venture to apportion the rudimentaries, we keep that uppermost in our collective minds, to guide the dialogue!
The fact is, however with the NDTC having just concluded its very successful 57th Annual Season Of Dance; this following on the success of its Easter Sunday, “Morning Of Movement And Music”, perhaps it is indeed time, that “Guardians” of our Culture, revisit the relationship between Government And The “Arts”, because as a Nation, we cannot go forward, doling out patronage to the subcultural, and its history of endorsing: misogyny, child-molestation; homophobia and homophobic violence; hatred of law and order; the putrid self-mutilation, physically and psychologically; and self-hate, at the expense of the wholesome healing and all embracing, non-judgemental faculties of our Culture!
The benefits of Governmental incorporation of the “Arts” as a teaching tool; a tool of tolerance, dialogue and negotiation, must not be dismissed or ignored, and really should be embraced.
Subventions, might not be the way, but how about the “Government” purchasing Tickets, for Schools, for these seasonal events, as part and parcel of their learning curve? If we continue to expose our young minds to the raw, vulgar, and self-deprecating repetitive monosybilic anthems of the ghetto, without balancing that with another perspective, why do we then lament, when children live what they learn?
Where are the adults in the room? And when will they stand-up to bullies on our airways, in our communities, and in our parliament, who consistently sacrifice balance and or good sense, for popularity? Its time for a little more action and a little less talk to stem the slide, and our Art and Culture are tools best suited to assist with that process of social engineering.
One of the most successful but least celebrated post-independence achievements, has been, the rooting of our cultural and artistic identity, in the totality of the Jamaican experience, and the support and respect it has garnered and maintained across the social classes; and the support it has elicited from the Private Sector, in bounty and souls, as the Arts, have always enjoyed fulsome support from the children of all social classes!
Its these children who keep replenishing our cultural and artistic ensembles, as they volunteer their time and energy, to the good of the nation, that they go on to represent in various artistic communiques by demonstrating the discipline and dedication that elevates them from mere onlookers to being active leaders in their various professional and social disciplines, as the matriculate to adulthood!
Any cursory study of our young, who volunteer their time, and other resources to the service of the community via the Arts, will show that indeed these young-people, go on to outperform their peers, who are not so inclined or directed, not only in academic endeavours, but also as Adults – To use a hackneyed and cliched phrase – they become “Productive Members of The Society”.
So, what then is the drawback or hangup, causing those charged with charting the way forward, continue to fail to grasp the nexus?
This is Jamaica, where Talent Springs Eternal, our problem is, we do not harness that talent and when we do, we channel it into the corrosive genre of our culture, for short term benefits, at the expense of national development!
Lest we forget, institutions such as the Little Theatre Movement; The National Dance Theatre Company; The Edna Manley School For The Visual And Performing Arts; Cathy Levy Little People; et al. and all the vehicles these institutions and others created, were done for the facilitation of the propagation and harnessing of the Nation’s raw talent and channeling them into national and or private endeavours, were born from the private initiatives of men and women of valour and vision – Not from Governmental edict. It’s now high time, our Governments, step up, and help in piloting the way forward, or else we will continue to reap the harvest of misguided and ill-fated policies and prescriptions, that has produced those who now scare us, because we failed to guide them by offering them a constructive and engaging alternative!
There are many lessons to be taken from the History of the NDTC, but particularly, its last two public offerings, and one is the invincibility of the spirit of volunteerism; another is the fact that we are indeed capable; and yet another is that we do not need to ape any other culture or society in determining our future.
The National Dance Theatre Company, is Internationally acclaimed, having performed in nearly 50 Countries, by invitation; Countries that recognized its authenticity as a cultural ambassador of an emerging nation; its Founder awarded with 14 (Fourteen) Honorary PhDs by Universities around the Globe…
And as that sink in, time to also process, the fact that these Countries did not invite the NDTC to their hallowed Capitals and Performance Halls, for Entertainment, as Minstrels, they never were! They were however, and remain, our foremost Cultural Ambassadors, who, whilst not without honour in their own Country, are celebrated with verve and gusto abroad, for their role as afrocentric pioneers.
Today, as we reflect on the 2019 Season of Dance, of the many lessons to take away from the NDTC, one such lesson must be – that of learning the art of ‘continuity of purpose’, once the common vision has been established.
The NDTC has moved in short order from the near militaristic discipline of the late Founding Choreographer And Artistic Director, Professor Nettleford; to the almost lackadaisical, but focussed leadership of Barry Moncrieffe; and now under the Baton of Artistic Director Marlon Simms, where it would appear, his style of leadership is that of “Consensus”, but through it all, the company has maintained its core values, without losing its essence and the understanding that those who serve, understand that those with whom they serve, do so for a cause greater than self.
It’s a lesson, a most valuable one, that the nation should acknowledge and be thankful for and seek to replicate as we strive for that wholesome solution, that will help guide us to that place of social and financial harmony, that deescalates the economic tensions and attendant dysfunction that plagues the cohesive development of our homeland!
served up the most delectable of reminders for its Morning of Movement And Music, at the Little Theatre, over there on Tom Redcam Avenue, in Greater New Kingston, that was a feast for the ages. And returning to the same venue for its 57 Season
Indeed, in recent years, the National Dance Theatre Company, has been undergoing its own rebirth and renewal, as with the passing of its Founding Artistic Director, Professor Rex Nettleford, nigh seven years ago, and the appointment of Barry Moncrieffe, to succeed him; and who served until last year, when he passed the torch to ‘young’ Marlon D. Simms, to succeed him, coupled with a new Chairman, and a new Musical Director., there were many an anxious moment, for observers, lovers of the arts and culture vultures alike, who feared for the survival of the Company, due to the complexities involved in managing the myriad of personalities, and their competing ambition, always a-bubbling just under the surface.
Well, if Easter Sunday’s showing of the NDTC is to be used as an arbiter, then, the Company is indeed in “very good hands”… And fabulously so!
Oh, my word and that of all the Sainted Souls of yesterday, what a feast it was, and oh so sumptuous, as this was movement and music for the soul and nothing but!
Luvs, its of great import to note that indeed, curtains went up at 6:00 AM For the Morning Of Movement And Music, which says Patrons and Guests, obviously, had to be seated before then. And truthfully, at 6:00 AM Easter Sunday, it was standing room only, as guests began pouring into the Little Theatre, from as early as 5:15 and continued doing so, throughout and after the performance, and luvs, t’was a performance to behold…and then some!
Dears, this was a “Command-Performance”, as it was clear that this was not merely the passing of the Baton, but a celebration of the Company, its history and its future prospects, as Artistic Director Marlon D Simms and Musical Director (Acting) Dr. Kathy Brown, and their ensembles of Singers and Troupe of Dancers, took hold of their audience, from the very get-go and earned the rapturous standing ovation that was the crowning moment of a morning of superlatives, in song, dance and more…
Indeed, there’s something very special, almost magical about attending the NDTC Easter Sunday performance… as for many, it’s pretty nigh to being ecumenical; for others, its haute cultural snobissimo, while for the pop-culture vulture, its the equivalent of the “Oscars”…and then some!
And, little wonder here, as indeed, with most theatrical offerings seemingly universally mandated to be confined to dusk and or evenings, the NDTC, being in concept and nature, anti-establishmentarian, and so not bound by the proscribed notions of accepted artistic expressions, established yet another platform for cultural self-expression, by creating a hybrid of the hope that is represented by the story of the resurrection, and the hope of a young nation-state, writing its own story.
And, as it did reject “Ballet” and its derivatives as the true and natural expression of a nation emerging from under the yolk of cultural oppression and imposition; the intellectual giant and maverick, behind the founding and nurturing of the NDTC, renounced the strictures that accompanied them and viola, the NDTC became its own arbiter and ambassador extraordinaire, in representing Jamaica’s culture in dance and music, and showcasing this On Easter Sunday, was nothing but genius, as it embraced all the facets and expression of our reverence, hope, and emerging cultural identity.
In the NDTC’s Easter Sunday Morning Of Movement and Dance, the concept of cultural independence became a reality, and last Easter-Sunday, was the manifestation of this independence, as here the generational transition was as obvious, as it was seamless, with the beauty of it being, a number of founding members and members of longstanding, as well as, Cultural-guardians, were on hand for what was truly a palpable cultural passing of the baton, and dears, it made for a simply marvelous outing!
From the opening symphonies of the Handel’s Messiah (Hallelujah Chorus), performed by the NDTC Singers, Dancers and Musicians, and choreographed by Kevin Moore; fittingly to the opening number with the Company’s Dance-Mistress, Kerry-Ann Henry’s performance of Cry Of The Spirit, Choreographed by Gene Carson (1996), this opening piece, signaled the strength of things to come as the Company proved why it has remained Jamaica’s foremost international cultural Ambassador, as with music and dance, the Company transported its expectant and very responsive audience, (Many Newcomers), from the vulgar world of political corruption, SOEs and senseless slaughter, to a place of hope and a place of wellbeing.
This was an aspirational show as it was inspirational, and opening jitters be damned, this was a presentation worthy of the Gods and as I viewed the beauty unfolding on stage, there was no escaping the ‘Spirit’ of the Company’s Founding Artistic Director, pacing the hallway in nervous anticipation, only to settle in heartwarming mode of fulsome approval, as the show unfolded…
But dears, his ‘Spirit’ beamed as he watched excerpts from his Blood Canticles, presented in two parts, first with dancers Kerry-Ann Henry, Mishka Williams, Ashley Bromfield, and Jada Buchanan, remounted by Alicia Glasgow Gentles, to the music of Sebastian Bach (Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desiring)…
And then later in the program with the Company’s ensemble, with premier dancers Marlon D Simms, Mark Phinn, Marissa Benain, and Michael Small, to the Music of Michael Pluznick, the absolute beauty and artistry of the late Professor Rex Nettleford shone through like a beacon, as these dancers, led with the supreme grace, elegance, and mastery, that was a joy to behold, as indeed, Marissa Benain, whilst technically superb, is even more so an emotive dancer and this makes of her a perfectionist. Mark Phinn, a longtime favourite, dances with the self-assuredness of the veteran that he is, but for my word, it was his form and styling that was arresting…
And whilst the Artistic Director Mr. Simms, was in command of the stage, and immersed in the performance and was awesomely present, as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, , t’was Michael Small, who stole that show, as here, in this Nettlefordian excerpt, he danced out of his body, mind and, ego and unto the stage, his artistic presence towering majestically, above all that he surveyed, and dwarfing his fellow dancers as he thundered above them in style, as although a part of the dynamic of the ensemble, his command of the language of the dance, spectacular to behold.
But the Stars of the morning were indeed Javal Lewis and Ashley Bromfield, in Vision, choreographed by Clive Thompson and set to the Music of Williard White – “Deep River” and Aaron Neville – “Ava Maria”, and dedicated to NDTC great, Christopher Morrison, who transitioned in Lewis and Bromfield, was awe-inspiringly fabulous!
Luvs, the NDTC has seen some legendary and iconic pairings over the years, so do excuse the rush here, but for my word, the absolute beauty of this duo – they were magically enthralling as they were riveting…And oh so spellbinding, as the beauty of their form, prose, and artistry, was a pleasure to behold as they conveyed joyous intimacy, impish curiosity, and intellectual fervour and satisfaction, using the language of Dance, as if it was theirs alone, and not to be shared with anyone else, but at the same time, managing to beguile and entrap the audience into their shared intimacy, that only added to its especialness…
Indeed, for those questioning the longevity of the NDTC, since its transitional travails upon the passing of its Founding Artistic Director, theirs are misguided concerns, as indeed, the singers, were equal to the task for their Easter Sunday Performance and then some, as indeed, whilst longtime fans and supporters have for years come to associate some of the NDTC members with particular roles, whether it be as Dancers or Singers, the Company has been transitioning for years, and is the better for it as, as Divas and Master-Dancers have come and gone, succeeded at times by some stronger performers, and at other times, not so strong performers, but over the years, one has come to accept that those who have become members of the ensemble, have given nothing but the very best of themselves, to the Company and their audiences, and in doing so, responded to a higher calling.
And so it Easter Sunday was not unlike an infused revelation, as indeed, the NDTC seemed particularly blessed, as with Mark Phinn, Kamar Tucker, Javal Lewis, and Michael Small are four particularly strong Male leads, any one of which, could be tasked with being the Company’s Principal Male Danseur; with there being no shortage of ‘Prima Ballerina’, either as: Marissa Benain, Kerry-Ann Henry, Ashley Bromfield, are all top-drawer performers, and emotively so. And so, the NDTC is in really good stead, a fact in which the Company and its supporters, can be duly proud.
Indeed, kudos to Marlon D Simms, and Dr. Kathy Brown, and their complement of dancers and singers for their duty and diligence in preserving while expanding the beauty that Is the NDTC, and the cultural narrative that has made it uniquely Jamaican, with a wholly Caribbean flavour., telling the story of our travels and travails, whilst celebrating who we are and the course we have charted, in the ‘new world’.
Among those out were: Founding Dancer Barbara Requa; NDTC’s Chairman, Milton Samuda; Artistic Director Emeritus Barry Moncrieffe; Dr. Noel Dexter; The Hon Mike and Mrs Peggy Fennel; QC and High Court Judge Hilary Phillips and her sibling Ambassador Eleanor Felix; the charming Dr. Veronica Saulter; the elegant Dr. Carol Ball; Dr. David Lambert, In from Ocho Rios for the occasion; Rev. Dr Phyllis Green; the tres elegant Sharon Bogues Wolfe; the Celebrated Tenor And HR Consultant Carl Bliss; the very charming Bridgette Spaulding; the celebrated Sarah Newland-Martin; the lovely Carol Campbell; NDTC’s alumnae Sheryl Ryman; Judith Wedderburn; and the charmingly lovely Alaine Grant; Legal-eagle Florence Darby; Celebrated and best-selling Author, Professor Kei Miller, in from Scotland; Audley Morris, in from Accra, Ghana; the engaging Marcia Extoll; Dane Mayers, who jetted in from Texas; Terrance John; who flew in from New Jersey; plus several scores more, and then some!