Dance company takes a glimpse behind with ‘flashback’

The popular appeal of dance in Guyana has escalated quite as much as the rising numbers of new dance groups and companies. In fact one has been a factor of the other as there have been influences and causal relationships.  To take this further, it is of special interest to observe the way this line of influence seems to have circled right back to its source; the company that has been largely responsible for the multiplication of groups and the corresponding rise in popular interest is now adjusting itself to respond to the new trends.  This was one of the significant observations in the production Flashback, the Dance Season 2010 of the National Dance Company of Guyana.

The two main factors responsible for the contemporary development and popularisation of dance in Guyana are the Hindu religion and the establishment of a national school of dance in the 1970s. Hinduism has been a strong influence because of the way it is proclaimed and practiced through music and dance, causing several performances and the rise of dance troupes in kendras and attached to mandirs, which drove Indian dance and generated popular interest. While the Indian cinema contributed to this as well, the religious association has been the greater.

On a broader scale, formal training in dance became directly accessible to the whole population with the establishment of the National School of Dance. This was almost immediately followed by the formation of the National Dance Company, and there was also a focused dance teachers certificate course that went on for a number of years. These close relationships meant the best products of the school were recruited into the company. Members of the company taught in the school and generally there emerged a corps of qualified dance teachers among the increasing number of trained semi-professionals.

Those were the sources of the rise, the widening scope and the popularisation    of dance because after a while trained and experienced individuals began to branch off on their own to start schools, troupes and companies.  Many more persons received training, there were increasing numbers of dance productions and an enlargement of the audience for dance.

A greater interest in the box office drove innovations, dance performances that were audience oriented, a widening popular interest in dance and the ascension of the form identified as popular dance. This performance discipline developed partisan importance not so much as art, but as entertainment, and more than that, as popular entertainment.
The National Company’s Dance Season 2010 was titled Flashback, and its form and structure reflected the influence of these developments, so that the company that was originally responsible for these processes has now become influenced by them.

Some members of the National Dance Company as they performed at the launch of Mash 2011.

The company seems to have searched for a shape/structure/format in which to stage each annual Season, apparently not satisfied with the conventional season, which for most companies world-wide, is basically a show of their year’s work, or a collection of repertory pieces.  The NDC sought thematic wholeness, some relevant thread to stitch the dances together.  There were hints of narratives, a story-line and some plot aimed at audience appeal, to incite popular interest in the performance.

While these may be good for the audience for whom they provide entertainment, they may not necessarily be the best for dance.  The NDC could have given meaning to their chosen theme of “flashback” by putting together some of their best choreographies from the past, some of the most memorable pieces in their repertoire, but that has not found favour with them.

Their narrator engaged in a bit of spoken reflection, which included naming some of the outstanding former members of the company, but the performance itself was framed in dramatic sections such as a ‘play within a play’, a staged ‘concert’ with an audience of children, and what was a realistic representation of a hospital room with nurse and patient.

There were segments with subtitles such as “Illusions” which seemed to be a love story involving a lover’s infidelity with scenes ‘acted out’, in addition to “The Concert” and “Underground”.  Commensurate with these were mini sequences, acting and some humour to present an overall piece of theatre with typical affairs for the amusement of an audience who could relate to them.  This produced a number of dances including substantial episodes of mime, which is often the counterfeit of dance.

However, the NDC does not really need to go overboard with too many theatrics because they are usually very strong in theatre. Vivienne Daniel’s choreography and direction have developed in the dancers a very pronounced sense of theatre and a keen awareness of audience and they are capable of providing thorough entertainment with genuine dance performance.  The company is known to put a fine dramatic intensity into performances. This understanding of the performing arts lends completeness to their work.

Such is the quality of their most outstanding dancer, Kijana Lewis, whose strengths and talent include virtuosity, technique, control and command of the stage.  He emerged at a time when there was concern for the scarcity of male dancers on the Guyanese stage, in terms of both numbers and competence.  This improved with the emergence of former NDC member Clive Prowell and the male dancers of Classique, the company he founded. Lewis strengthened the NDC in this department and stood out in flashback for his solos, his lead roles and his dominance.

He moved rather quickly from a promising prospect to the best male dancer and to dominance.  His reputation as an actor might have influenced the way he was cast in some pieces because he was often called upon to mime and act roles rather than dance.  But this did not entirely slow Lewis down, since he had as many moments of outstanding dance.  His solos and leads contributed to what was good in the production.

The sequence of three pieces in “Underground” was an interesting theatrical ensemble depicting the inside of a club in a “red light” district with all the attendant stage set, décor, costuming and images of sexuality, seduction and prostitution.  The mood was effectively established while the performance strategies were mixed across the three items, ‘Night Moves’, ‘Killing Me Softly’ and ‘Forbidden’ including a cabaret-styled presentation, mime and dance.  While much of it, therefore, was not dance, when they did swing into that form it was fully effective choreography supported by all the other elements, and fortified by the dramatically appropriate body language.

There were other very strong choreographies in other segments, particularly the very outstanding ‘The Healing Touch’, which had the class and impact of one of the memorable dances of the company. While not as sensational as ‘Night Moves’ and ‘Forbidden’, it had power. More sedate costuming, a definite establishment of mood, the formations and use of stage all combined to make it a success of the night and unforgettable as dance.

At the same time such pieces as ‘Killing Me Softly’ and ‘Arrival’ as well as a few sketches from the love story in “Illusions”, were typical of the new trends in popular dance. They represent the forms that have emerged because of the demands of popular audience appeal. They make up the main ingredient in the productions of some of the other groups that have recently become popular and the brands of performance that have risen with them.  The National Dance Company has now introduced it into its repertoire.

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