The National Dance Company: Tours of the Imagination
Arts on Sunday
by Al Creighton
October 27, 2002
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On Tour for the Season
This kind of intellectual effort and striving after thematic unity drove the design of this year's season, On Tour". Director Vivienne Daniel explained it in a recent interview with Kim Lucas "We ended last year with a dance called "Unveiling", which depicted our dreams "Out of this World". It said things might be bad, but you got to move on; these are some of our dreams. Where we would like to take the Company, where we would want to go. This year it is a dance drama setting the stage for "On Tour"."
And "On Tour" is the title of the production for the 2002 Dance Season. As Mrs Daniel describes it.
Basically, it is going on a spiritual plane around the world in 120 minutes. In Guyana, there is "Hinterland Encounters", another segment, called the "Love Boat" deals with everything about love . . . all the dances talk about love and it all ends with "Homeward Bound", they return to Guyana."
This indicates the most recent efforts on the part of the company's "ongoing wrestle with self definition". There is certainly a commendable attempt to struggle with themes and concepts, to lend artistic strength to the Season, to link the dances through a unifying idea. In "On Tour" , success at this design is mixed and the dances are uneven. What is good is that this achieves team-work, including intellectual team-work. It strengthens the production as some choreographies aid and abet the design in interesting ways while keeping their individual integrity. This individual integrity is important for the avoidance of sameness. But some segments break down, do not fit the thematic flow and fall out of the plot.
The tour opens with a light-hearted assimilation of dancers dashing off on a trip, but the seriousness and intensity progresses to what was the high point of the First Part. The peak of achievement was reached with "Hinterland Encounters" and "African Safari" which stood out for different reasons. "Hinterland Encounters" is the latest in the attempts to create major dance dramas like "Journey's End". It is less accomplished than its predecessors in this corpus, but it reflects reasonable academic effort and the ability of the dancers to perform such works.
This dance had the artistic and performance energy to hold the audience, exuding the feel of a major work in progress. It enters what appears to be the more mythical and traditional world of the hinterland Amerindians and includes a drama with a romantic centre.
Then other traditions are explored in the spiritual journey as the Company went to the African connection. "African Safari" was a truly inspiring experience and took the First Part to an appropriate high at the end. This dance brought out the best in the performers, who communicated mood, symbol and image in a choreography that has all-round power. "Safari" suggests a journey into a hinterland and this certainly took all concerned on an inward excursion into the soul and ethos of Africa.
The "Eastern Connection" in the Second Part was less profound, as it went cursorily into Indian forms such as the Kathak. Clearly the attempt was at a suggestion, but the Company has gone deeper in previous dances on the same theme. The piece choreographed by Oral Welshman was a weak link in the chain. It had no particular strength of its own and its place in the "tour" was not clear. But this was typical of Part Two because the thematic unity broke down at times before the end where "homeward Bound" might have been a return to the Mashramani, but was artistically slight in the unified chain.
Here the "Tour" explored the vicissitudes of love in "Love Boat's" triangular affairs, and went "Island Hopping". In these islands they found another real high-point in the well executed Reggae sequence and, especially, in the Limbo Dance. In the limbo the whole Company came alive in the same heights of verve and vibrancy that it reached in the African Safari. Technically, there were a few stumbles as conquering the descending limbo bar is no pushover. But the dance exemplified the great fun that was sometimes achieved in this production.
In some pieces the Company obviously enjoyed themselves, at times in turn, electrifying the audience. A total immersion into the performance is not always a strength of all the dancers, but in this show such expression was much more in evidence. There were fewer dances that could be called intellectual challenges and more that were fun and entertaining even though not really memorable.
The "Unveiling" of last season is certainly remembered, as "Äfrican Safari" , "Hinterland Encounters" and, to a point, the Limbo Dance (for its verve) will be. The company went on a spiritual plane and flew to some height before becoming homeward bound.
But in the meantime they remain home-bound, and in need of the spiritual and technical refreshment that they can only receive if anyone is moved to put them on a real jet plane to fly to places where they can enlarge their horizons in more tangible ways than through the fantastic imagination.