Arts & Culture

Stella's got groove

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

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STELLA Maris Dance Ensemble absolutely delivered on its promise to present a highly entertaining performance for its 26th annual season, staged at Little Theatre in St Andrew this past weekend.

The company — helmed by veteran dancer and teacher Dr MoniKa Lawrence — chose to shine the spotlight on choreographers, the creators of works who seldom get their moment once the work is staged and handed over to the dancers to breathe life into it. This year, the dance works of six local and international choreographers formed the framework of the performance: Tony Wilson, Bert Rose, Dr Kemal Nance, Renee I McDonald, Danzel Thompson-Stout, and Lawrence.

The season saw the première of four dance works. The religious-themed Apostolic, with its three progressive movements created by Lawrence and Rose was given life in the final act, thanks to the strong choreography set to music by opera divas Kathleen Battle and the late Jessye Norman. In recent years, Stella Maris has fostered an alliance with the US-based Nance Dance Collective. That company's founder, Dr Kemal Nance contributed Red, which was undoubtedly among the strong works on show. Nance Dance Project has a tradition of offering a window on contemporary, urban life through dance. This multi-layered work, which was set on dancers from both companies, showcases the fact that local dancers have the artistic ability to stand up to their international counterparts. In this work, three of the dancers even showcased their vocal talents, creating music with both body and voice.

McDonald's Dauntless showcased more of what the talented choreographer is known for. It was another epic, abstract work that pushed the technical and artistic abilities of the dancers into lines and shapes that were impressive on stage. The fourth new work, (In)Between, a solo created and performed by Thompson-Stout of the Nance Dance Collective, was a beauty to watch. His effortless transitions made his seem to float across the stage in what could best be described as a fusion of ballet and breakdancing, the latter being a popular dance style from the 1980s.

While MacDonald was more of herself in Dauntless, she took the choreography for The Vow outside her regular realm. She created an interesting love triangle, which always excites the females in the audience at the conclusion. The reaction was just as potent inside Little Theatre as it was at its première a year ago.

Wilson, who just recently received the Order of Distinction for his contribution to dance, contributed the 2014 piece Patchwork, a potpourri of styles and genres set to an equally diverse backing track, ranging from local dub poetry to Afro-Francophone music.

Mixing modern contemporary works with a dash of urban styles, Lawrence chose to add even more spice to the programme with her 2004 work African Nite, a dramatic piece which draws on the revival traditions of local culture. This brought the curtains down on the 26th season in a hand-clapping, foot-stomping fashion.


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