Dance Review: Into The Light

[This article was originally published in The Jamaica Sunday Observer. This online version has been slightly amended from the original article.]

A shining performance by Movements Dance Company for their Silver Jubilee

Anticipation was high as a brimming full house sat in The Little Theatre awaiting the rising of the curtains last Sunday evening. The evening was to be the concluding performance of the 25th anniversary season of Jamaica’s Movements Dance Company, and people had flocked out in the hundreds.
The curtains opened to reveal a large platform ornamented with a simple backdrop – an abstract medley of brash colours over a large white canvas – and a solo figure sat at the left hand corner of the stage in a hunched position. It was a solemn commencement for what was to be a celebratory evening. The male dancer soon began to display, through writhing gestures, the tale of his anguish as an AIDS sufferer. A sequence of cinematic ‘flashbacks’ marked with emotive choreography transported the audience into this tragic world. Certainly a pressing contemporary issue, I commend the choreographer, Monica Campbell, for her innovative and daring, if somewhat disjointed piece, aptly entitled ‘Flashback’.

After a short break for change of set, the curtains reopened on a re-creation of a rainforest scene. This dance piece, ‘Ceremony’, included simple but effective set design and costume by Norman Russell and excellent choreography by Neville Black. The piece was rhythmic and mystical: three male dancers huddled together to invoke the Snake Goddess through a sequence of tantalizing tribal movements. When she at last emerges in her sparkling headdress, the Snake Goddess proves herself to be as enticing and seductive as anticipated. The choreography was splendid and the skill displayed by the dancers highly impressive!

‘Tears of War’ was a particularly poignant piece. This season’s performance was a premier of the work by guest choreographer Christopher Huggins. The piece opened with a haze of blue mist hovering over the stage as a solo dancer leaps across, and then ‘Bang!’ A gunshot resonates through the air, and he falls to the floor. Mourners dressed in long dark garments flooded the stage and performed an impressive routine of twists and frenetic grasping motions that deeply conveyed the anguish of war. Set against a blood-red backdrop and synchronised to the sound of shrieking violins, this was perhaps the most intense piece of the evening.

The closing piece of the first half, ‘Ushindi’, was energetic and sensual with an earthy, ethnic ambience. This was a truly joyous dance filled with whirling movements, bright colours and fast-paced lighting. The undulating dancers moved to the pounding of African drums against a startling backdrop of oranges, pinks and reds. Set, costume, lighting, music, choreography all worked in conjunction to create a celebration of the human spirit.

The second half began with another new piece ‘Only Fi Yuh’; a tribute to legendary poet, performer and cultural icon, the late Louise Bennet aka ‘Miss Lou’. Choreographed by Jackie Guy, this was an innovative dance piece that incorporated multi-media images and sound, including Miss Lou’s own voice. The piece oozed Caribbean energy, and it was a delight to see the Jamaican culture commemorated in such a creative fashion. This was a definite favourite amongst the audience who met the ending with animated applause.

The evening went out with a ‘Bang’ with highly acclaimed ‘Baraka’. Dancers clad in flowing white filled the stage and performed a stunning sequence of vivacious, uplifting movements, including a spectacular Mambo routine. This dynamic dance piece really brought the theatre to life, dazzling us with twirling motions and life-embracing movements.
Overall, the show was a definite success. In customary Movements’ style, modern dance techniques were infused with the indomitable rhythm and energy of Jamaican and African traditions to create something truly unique. The thirteen dancers performed outstandingly with particularly striking performances from Arturo Castillo, Maritza Hernandez, Lazaro Caballero and Clara Kahwa.

There were moments in which the choreography came across as a little repetitive, and, while the disjointed style of some of the pieces could be described as cinematic and contemporary, the ‘stop-start stop-start’ style inhibited the build-up of some of the dance pieces. But on the whole, the combination of professional choreography, talented performers, brilliant lighting, enhancing costume, effective set design and ambient music was a winning one. The Movements’ Silver Jubilee had been highly anticipated, and if the buzzing atmosphere in The Little Theatre was any indication, I don’t think many left disappointed.