Profound, Prolific, Brilliant, and Joyous! This briefly encompasses the National Dance Theatre Company’s (NDTC) performance at both The South Miami Dade Cultural Center and The Miramar Cultural Center. Sir Rex Nettleford’s legacy, spirit, and impact was felt during the company’s performances which is a testament to the boundless investment of culture, dance, history and tradition that Nettleford gifted the company, Jamaica, and Caribbean dance scholars and practitioners globally.
Talk about full production and ensemble—vocalists, musicians/drummers, and dancers. As we waited for the performance to begin, the vocalists entered the space and set themselves up in the orchestra pit. The curtains opened—the drumming and singing were mesmerizing. The piece Drum Score (1979) commenced the Caribbean music and dance celebration. I appreciated the multigenerational representation allowing for a sense of community, acceptance, and inclusion. The dancer’s bodies breathed, giving life to the space. Torso’s contracted and undulated, evoking Yanvalou, the snake deity in Haitian Vodou. Hips were winding and rolling, matching the intensity of the vocalists. Afro Cuban deities Ogun and Shango were evidenced in the movement as arms flung with power, articulation, and intentionality. I asked myself when was the last time I witnessed something similar? I had no answer. It was a moment not only of awe but also pride that as a Caribbean artist, we are tremendously gifted and proficient.
Rita Marley’s Tribute (2022) boldly demonstrated the depth and strength of Rastafarian culture, aesthetics, and spirituality. The backdrop was a beautiful image of the Rasta lion/lion of Judah, colors (red, gold, and green). Performers entered with the Rastafari diamond gesture wearing all white with red, yellow, and green fabric draped around their shoulders and neck. The nyabinghi drumming was alluring and hypnotic, drawing the audience in through the rhythmic pounding and slapping of the drum. My back arched and sank continuously in sync with the cadence. As I grooved with the music, I asked myself “how does this music make my body feel and what does it remind me of ?” There was a sense of familiarity as I reminisced on the bodily gestures that I observed in many of the Rasta’s I saw who dance to reggae music. The ways their bodies float in the air and the oppositional pull of the shoulder to knee while the torso salutes the heavens as the back spirals in a circular-linear manner is a sight to behold.
The woman’s piece Unbroken (2022) which addresses the support and encouragement for women and Kerry Ann’s Solo “How Long Sweet Jesus” demonstrates the power, strength, virtuosity, and dexterity of the women in this company. What an alluring expression of erotic performance, beauty, agility, and grace.
Rough Draft (2014) and Gerrehbenta (1993) were full ensemble works with the former taking on a contemporary vibe while engaging in traditional and social dance forms while the later demonstrates traditional Jamaican song and dance. Both works feature Jamaican culture and aesthetics drawing the audience in through sensory stimulation.
Rough Draft’s (2014) set design includes asymmetrical framing with a slanted pilar with fabric draped from upstage right to downstage left. The colors ranged from dark pink/fuchsia with the backdrop lighting changing from red, blue/purple, and green. Dancers entered the stage draped in fabric rolling in from stage right. There was so much going on, a cacophony of movement, sound, costume design; I mean the dancers must have had 4 costume changes all of which belonged in my closet!
The energy was constant even in moments of stillness. There was constant energy and flow; their bodies devoured the space, and the sense of Jamaican national spirit and pride were threaded through the movement and costume—and the bow—this was fiyah! We witnessed everything from gerreh, traditional African dance movements, Rastafarian gesture and walks, dancehall moves, and the aesthetic of the cool (hot and cold).
Gerrehbenta (1993) was an immediate and profound YASSSS! The audience jumped right in clapping and singing, most of them knew the songs and rhythms which was amazing to see and hear. Dinky-mini and gerreh movement were central to the work and the feet and hand rhythms added to the intricate soundscape. The various movement patterns across the floor supported the festive costumes and vibrant lighting.
After the performance, the director of NDTC, received an award presented by the Consul General. The mayor, Wayne Messam, joined the company for the finale and they both showed us their best dinky mini. As the audience exited, many were singing and dancing. I watched a woman seated behind me dinky mini out the isle, gathering the attention of those nearby. It was a beautiful evening! Well done NDTC and thank you to the Louise Bennett Heritage Council; Ms. Olivia Grange and the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sports; Consulate General of Jamaica Mr. R. Oliver Mair; and Mayor Wayne Messam for supporting this project.