Dance company finds its pot of gold Arts on Sunday
By Al Creighton
Stabroek News
October 19, 2003

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The National Dance Company (NDC) seems to regard its annual ‘Season’ as a production in which it showcases its work – mainly new work, and each of these productions shows off the company’s output on a yearly basis. Although it is easy to see that over its 25 years of existence the NDC has matured and strengthened its proficiency, the ‘Seasons’ do not always allow a (historical) sense of continuity over a long period of development. This again became relevant as one looked at ‘Rainbow’, the national Dance Season 2003 directed by Vivienne Daniel.

It is obvious from its annual public exhibition that the NDC had decided long ago that it did not want to be a repertory company. This is a pity because it somehow limits a group that has shown an admirable quality of endurance and dedication and has grown to be a major force in the arts in Guyana.

It is a limitation because it does not allow the preservation through occasional repetition of some of the best choreographies coming out of the company over the years. Many of them are worth seeing more than once and their consignment to oblivion or distant memory robs the group of the opportunity to show off its real strengths as a mature establishment.

In addition, this approach exerts unnecessary pressure on the company to produce countless new works for every occasion and generate new ideas for the theme and structure of each ‘Season’. Other professional companies around the world that are larger, stronger and richer do not work so hard, and being repertory is universal practice among them.

However, the members of Guyana’s most professional performing group have shown that they are not afraid of hard work even if they ought to be tired of it, and came up with another new idea for 2003. It was titled ‘Rainbow’ and traced a girl’s path through a challenging life to self-discovery and the eventual achievement of her personal rainbow. This loose plot was used as link and anchor for the various choreographies.

The 2003 ‘Season’ may therefore be described as very audience-friendly. It was decidedly good and sufficiently interesting, but certainly not profound. The plot provided a stimulating thread; it was not difficult to follow, except for just one or two slightly perplexing moments. There was a tendency sometimes to be popular and only a few pieces were complex or abstract. Fluency/continuity was considerably enhanced by the excellence of the narration by Margaret Lawrence.

The idea also lent the production a heightened sense of drama, an easy context for the dances and an obvious dramatic quality in a number of areas. The set was sparse and simple, but much effort and thought was given to costume and, especially, lighting. The dancers seemed particularly inspired. The quality of expression was sharpened and they performed with feeling and considerable energy.

Yet the same dramatic idea was responsible for some of the weaknesses, because it can be hard to maintain depth with such a common theme. After the well-conceptualized and performed “Faith”, it petered out towards a rather tame end rescued, however, by a well-organized and choreographed finale. The strength of choreography weakened in the last sequences after the girl’s struggle for self-knowledge seemed conquered.

A happy marriage seemed not to be as thought-provoking as imagined. Even the lighting was influenced by the popular thread and was sometimes spectacular, but often distracting with a constant glare against the cyclorama leaving the dancers in silhouette and the stage dark when one felt the audience ought to be seeing the performers and their faces. A number of dances were driven by songs apparently chosen because their lyrics could be used to narrate, carry the story-line and fit the plot.

The show’s beginning was theatrically strong, well acted and fresh. The idea was prompted by the plot and took the audience into the studio of the dance school with dancers warming up and preparing for future performances. These ‘rehearsals’ produced one of the really good choreographies of the evening, a soca piece based on colours, which was tightly designed and flamboyant. It was performed with the liveliness of pace and vigour that characterized most of the other dances. The whole setting here was dramatic with the silhouettes against the backdrop working appropriately in this case. This theatrical quality continued into the “Yard” sequence where a realistic ghetto scene, complete with rhythms, proved a treat for the audience.

Among all this striking visual effectiveness was a dance by Sarah De Mendonca, which was, itself, full of theatrics, but outstanding. The show will be remembered for her explosive performance as the tormented female in the now well-worn, troubled love relationship. It is a favourite theme of Miss De Mendonca’s and this time she played opposite the much improved Clive Prowell, who was not outdone in dramatic expression, intensity and feeling. Yet the evening belonged to De Mendonca as she set the pace with a display of powerful emotion in a high quality performance. There is something to be said for her combination of talent, experience and positive command of the stage.

Given the unending pressure that the company sustains in its effort to retain a strong team, with a number of its members missing, it was encouraging that it was still able to find good soloists. Emerging in full colour was Jerusha Dos Santos, who played the lead in the ‘Rainbow’ plot. While the high standard set by the excellent Susan French might remain in the mind, Miss Dos Santos held her own in a demanding role. Even more encouraging was the company’s ability to find her an opposite in Mario Wilson, steady in his own quiet way and providing a complement for Royston Glasgow, the company’s most consistent male soloist.

It is in this very area that a good deal of the company’s recent hard work has gone; viz., its own rainbow quest to find an elusive goldmine of competent male dancers. This production was well served by those recruited from other private groups. These loans afforded them greater versatility, a wider range and a more extensive permutation of possibilities than what they were restricted to when they had to depend on Glasgow alone.

The continuation of this work and the retention of talented members are good reasons for all necessary support to be given to the National Dance Company. It has proven itself and has survived on inadequate resources to remain a valuable national institution worth developing and maintaining.