NDTC moves into new age
By Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter
Monday, August 13, 2018
THE National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) is clearly a troupe in transition.
Currently in its 56th year of existence, the NDTC has just moved into another phase of its life with Marlon Simms assuming the role of artistic director at the start of this year. He follows in the footsteps of co-founder Professor Rex Nettleford and long-time dancer and choreographer Barry Moncrieffe who have both served in this capacity. Simms' litmus test was the just-concluded season of dance, which ran for four weekends at the Little Theatre in St Andrew.
He is clearly an artistic director willing to take chances and stamp his aesthetics on the company. How else would an NDTC performance have only one Nettleford piece? That said, the performance viewed on the final weekend had all the elements of a strong performance, and it did at times, but clearly, because NDTC diehards have become accustomed to the gospel according to Nettleford and that which was continued under Moncrieffe; it will take time for the Simms factor to take hold and his style, essence, and theory to become appreciated.
He has clearly learned a lot from both his predecessors and has made it clear that the solid foundation which they established will not be forgotten. That was clear with the commissioning of a new work by Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus. This is the second work from the Haitian, whose Incantation (2002) remains part of the active repertoire.
The new piece Souffle Extenso, offers another peak into the multi-layered Haitian culture, especially voodoo, which outsiders often shy away from or fear. Through dance, Saintus strives to paint a picture from the inside offering a look at the beauty of the practice. Ballet mistress Kerry-Ann Henry delivers yet another of her intense solos in this work. Her sense of engagement is infectious and she is able to hold her audience captive. Despite this, more needs to be done with this work before it can become part of the company's signature works. This one needs to go back to the studio for refinement.
Nettleford's sense of connection to the Caribbean continued with Tribute from the Cuban choreographer Eduardo Rivero-Walker.
Set to the music of reggae greats Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. This work is quite different and not as deep as his seminal piece Sulkari, but manages to speak of love and loss in a very human way. Young dancer Kemar Francis is definitely one for the future and in this work shows his chops in a big way.
Simms unveiled a work of his own this year, Acts of Hope. A piece with promise, the dancers were pushed artistically and this showed in the seamless transition through various dance styles. Liane Williams' Young Veterans was that piece which was inserted to appeal to the younger demographic. A light and lively modern work set to the music of contemporary acts — Beenie Man, Tarrus Riley, Barrington Levy, and Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, it is sure to go over well with its intended audience.
The lone Nettleford work was Gerrehbenta. This colourful rite has stood the test of time since its 1983 premiere and after all these years still manages to have audiences rising out of their seats with delight at the end.
The NDTC chose to inject performances by guest dancers into this year's season. For the final week, it was American Jamie Thompson who shared the stage. He performed Ostrich, the 1934 work created by Asadata Dafora. Thompson, who plies his trade with Dallas Black Dance Theatre, delighted the audience with this classic using his muscular frame to mimic the movements of the bird which is native to Africa.
Simms and his team at the NDTC can be proud of this maiden season. This is a great start to his tenure. Like any other artistic director, the post mortem will have to be honest and dispassionate — work will have to be put into what fell below par. However, there is no shame in this game.