THE life of celebrated Jamaican musician Don Drummond makes its way to the stage in the form of a ballet choreographed by Clive Thompson for the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC).
The work, Malungu, premieres during the NDTC’s 51st anniversary season which gets underway at the Little Theatre in St Andrew on Friday. Drummond was a trombonist whose genius spawned the development of ska — a genre that originated in Jamaica during the early 1960s. Ska was the precursor to rock steady and reggae. An important part of Drummond’s life was his torrid relationship with dancer Margarita Mahfood. It ended in tragedy with Mahfood being killed by Drummond at a Rockfort tenement on New Year's Day in 1965. Found to be criminally insane at his trial, the troubled Drummond died at the Bellevue Asylum in 1969. Thompson, a senior choreographer with the NDTC, says he wanted to create a work that is truly Jamaican but with international appeal. “I wanted to create something distinctively Jamaican other than our traditional folk forms,” Thompson explains. “So I began my investigations which took me back to the 1950s and ’60s. I looked at the music of the period and realised we were experimenting a lot with jazz. I did’nt want that, as it is of American origin. So that led me to ska. I then realised that ska is now having another wave of popularity in California and Europe. That led me to Don Drummond and his life story,” he tells the Sunday Observer.
Set in four phases of Drummond’s life Thompson’s Malunga — Mahfood’s name for Drummond — covers his troubled childhood, his years at the Alpha Boys School, his time with The Skatalites band, his relationship with Margarita, and his death.
Thompson admits he was vaguely aware of Drummond’s story prior to his investigations. His knowledge of him revolved around Mahfood’s death.
To bring this slice of Jamaican cultural history to life, Thompson says the ballet had to be seen as a dramatic production without words. It involved interviews with a number of persons who were close to Drummond.
“That’s why it is set out in episodes, each portraying that journey, that moment in time.”
To play Drummond, the NDTC has cast its dance captain Marlon Simms with Allatunje Connel as alternate.
Simms, who had known of Drummond through stories from his parents, says the role is a challenging one.
“Drummond is an extremely complex character who I am working to understand in order to portray to my best abilities,” he said.
Simms adds that Malungu follows the strong NDTC tradition of great storytelling, but is unlike anything that has been staged before by the company.
Mahfood will be played by Kerry Ann Henry, the NDTC’s ballet mistress, whom Thompson describes as “an incredible actress who becomes like clay in the hands of a potter”.
“She has such incredible stage intelligence and a dramatic flair and when she partners with Marlon it is an excellent pair.”
Henry descibes the experience as artistically fulfilling.
“I never knew the story at all. It is all new to me. But it feels like a major blockbuster film, drama and soap opera. It is great being able to tell this story,” she said.
Henry’s alternate as Mahfood is seasoned NDTC dancer Tamara Noel.
The music for Malungu will not only draw on the work of Drummond, but will also include Mahfood’s only recorded track, Woman a Come.
Costuming is by Barry Moncrieffe and Clive Thompson, décor by Michael Lorde and lighting by Nadia Roxburgh.