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Stella keeps its groove

Observer senior reporter

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

JULY to December can be considered Jamaica's season of dance, as that is when local troupes present their individual performances.

This past weekend was Stella Maris Dance Ensemble's turn. Formed 24 years ago, 'Stella' presented a varied and entertaining programme of dance at the Little Theatre in St Andrew, from choreographers H Patten, Abeldo “Tokie” Gonzalez, Dr Kemal “Kibon” Nance and artistic director Dr MoniKa Lawrence. The presentation comprised four new works and three remounts.

Of the pieces which premièred, three were particularly impressive — Manifesto, Baka Beyond, and Nina, Here I Come — while the fourth, Exchanges, requires some additional work in the areas of choreography and execution to bring it up to par.

Manifesto, a collaboration with the Berry & Nance Dance Project, highlighted the power of performance in advocating for social change. In this case, it was a cry for peace, love and harmony set to a soundtrack of beating drums, voice and breathing. The addition of the male chorus from the visiting troupe added another layer and dimension to this dance work.

Lawrence threw down the gauntlet in creating Baka Beyond. Using the natural environment as a metaphor for renewal and rebirth in dance, she put together a particularly entertaining piece which held the attention of the audience. Special mention must be made of trapeze artiste and dancer Atira Robinson, whose aerial work lifted the piece to higher heights, the colourful ending truly brought the work full circle.

Nina, Here I Come by Gonzalez truly showcased the skills of a promising quartet of dancers — the expressive and talented Naomi Blackwood, Gavin Hart, Andrano Graham and Andre Hinds. The story of a temptress and how she uses her feminine wiles on three men is well told in this piece. However, one has to question the use of Nina Simone's rendition of Strange Fruit as the accompaniment for one tableau. A song which speaks to the horrors of lynching in the American south just didn't seem to fit this storyline. That aside, what unfolded was a great work worth the watch.

For the remounts, Lawrence and her team stuck with the tried and true.

The Africa-inspired Gye Nyame (Except God), first staged in 2001, provided a lively and spirited start to the programme, thanks to its driving music and engaging choreography. Where is Maria? a 19-year-old piece shows no sign of ageing, thanks to the timelessness of the story which plots life's span — from womb to tomb.

A Stella performance is never the same without Liza, the 2002 work inspired by folklore's 'mout-a-massy gyal'. This work has become that staple akin to Gerrehbenta and Kumina of the National Dance Theatre Company and what Wrath of God is slowly but surely becoming for Movements Dance Theatre Company. Roxanne Corniffe's portrayal in this work continues to entertain audiences, particularly in the closing sequences.

On a much more sombre note, the ensemble dedicated its performance to two of its former members — Keisha Ferguson Facey and Dexter Pottinger-who made their transition recently.