Nanny lives in the arts

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, April 25, 2015

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THE spirit of Nanny — Jamaica's only female national heroine -- rises this year with the staging of two major artistic productions with her as subject.


The story of the legendary Maroon leader makes it to the big screen in the United States in October courtesy of filmmaker Roy T Anderson. The docu-film Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess will have its world premiere at the United Nations in New York on Jamaica's National Heroes Day and will be part of the UN's the 2015 Remember Slavery programme of activities.


Meanwhile, across the pond, Nanny rises in Sacred Mountain an opera written and composed by British-Jamaican composer, arranger and conductor, Dr Shirley Thompson and will have it world premiere at this year's staging of Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival, the largest contemporary opera festival in Europe held this year in Kings Cross in the United Kingdom. The festival runs from July 21 to August 9 and Thompson's opera will be performed on July 21 and 22.


The Sunday Observer caught up with Thompson, who explained that she chose Nanny as the subject of her opera as there is an absence of female heroes in operatic material.


"I started the research back in 2006. When looking for material for operas you want something that is very epic, of a certain nature... extraordinary that what Nanny and her story is... extraordinary," said Thompson


'Sacred Mountain' will take audiences on a psychological journey with Nanny as she prepares to go into battle with British soldiers. Thompson explains that the tensions lies in the fact the Maroon leader is in limbo as she is unaware when the enemy will strike and therefore must motivate her troops to be in constant readiness. Nanny relies on a system of communication through drums and the abeng and is alerted ahead of the strike and prepares.


In telling the story, Thompson wanted to be true to the spirit of the national heroine. She, therefore, did her due diligence and visited Maroon settlements in Accompong and Moore Town where she had discussions and observed the Maroons in order to be true to her subject.


"The biggest job was creating the libretto. I have taken artistic licence in creating the narrative but I wanted to show all sides of Nanny. It was an amazing experience to infuse the spirit of Nanny. I was very aware of the heritage and wanted to stay true. I didn't want to step on anyone's toes," states Thompson.


"I have also infused aspects of Jamaican music into the opera with sound that recreate the abeng as well as influences of reggae through a strong bass line. The movement also reflects Jamaica with the dinkimini and other traditional dance moves incorporated."


'Sacred Mountain 'features solo vocals with full orchestra and Thompson is working with Abigail Kelly, a Briton of Jamaican parents, in the signature role. Having just a sole character supported by six dancers and a narrator is a format she says has not been done before.


"I have kept it as a chamber production which means it can tour but in the future I would love to expand the story to include Nannyâs brothers and other central figures. The plan is to take this production all over the world and Jamaica is definitely a stop once there is sponsorship," said Thompson.


 

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