Melanie’s magic

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012    

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SINCE 1974 the name Melanie Graham has been part of the Jamaican dance vocabulary as a principal dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC).

Twelve year ago, after a near 30-year-run, Graham took her final curtain call and exited :the stage.

However, on two occasions in the past 10 years, Graham has been called out of retirement to be a guest performer during the NDTC's annual season of dance.

Two Saturdays ago, as the curtains rose on opening night at the Little Theatre in St Andrew, Melanie Graham — filled with trepidation — stood on stage in the lead female role in Rex Nettleford's The Crossing.

"It was nerve-racking. It is very different after you have been away from the stage for so long... to fit back into that groove is a very daunting task, and as such the confidence wasn't where it should have been," she disclosed to the Jamaica Observer.

The decision to return was not taken lightly. According to Graham, when she was first approached by artistic director Barry Moncrieffe and choreographer Bert Rose, she was hesitant, uncertain she could pull it off convincingly.

However, once she decided to give it a shot, she made it clear that they should be absolutely honest with her regarding her form

and technique.

She first agreed to do The Crossing, originally done by NDTC co-founder Rex Nettleford. Rose's Edna M was later added to her roster.

She began her preparations in January and once the rehearsals started it all came back. As Graham puts it, "It's in my DNA".

It is this passion which made it difficult for her to leave the stage in 2000.

"It took a few seasons for me to come to the realisation that it takes more commitment and time than I was able to give. I don't do things half-way, and with so many things calling for my attention, I realised it was time," says Graham.

Graham grew up dancing. She was trained in classical ballet with the famous Madam Soohih, and after classes with Neville Black was invited by her close friend and NDTC founding member Bert Rose to take classes with

the company.

That was 1972.

But the classically trained Graham was unsure if she would fit into a modern

dance company.

"To my utter amazement, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found that the exposure to modern and folk dance gave me more than I ever expected, it was an avenue of artistic expression."

Graham would become a provisional dancer by 1973, explaining that back then it was very different as there were some dances (such as Nettleford's Kumina) that provisionals were just not allowed to do. She would become a full member by 1974.

Over the years, she has featured in numerous NDTC works and toured the world with the company but still finds it difficult to name a

favourite work.

"There are so many standouts: The Crossing, Edna M, The Rope and the Cross, Dialogue for Three, Tribute to Cliff, all these have very strong characters which I am drawn to. Maybe I'm a frustrated actress," she says, laughing.

Celebrating the golden anniversary without Professor Nettleford is one sad aspect of this landmark season for Graham. He died in

February 2010.

"I wish he were here, he would have been very happy with the company," she said. "It is an extremely difficult task keeping a group of people together on a voluntary basis. He could do it. And those in charge are doing a great job."



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