Guyana’s National Dance Company (NDC) staged their first public performance of 2013 with a full dance production at the Theatre Guild Playhouse in February. This was Thoughts of Love 6, directed by choreographer Vivienne Daniel, an annual presentation by the company whose performance helps to define the work and functions of this state funded company. It also helps to clarify the method of the dance group as far as their annual cycle of work is concerned.
Thoughts of Love is the first of five productions on the NDC calendar. The others were announced as African Rhythms, followed by Caribbean Rhythms, the major production each year – Dance Season, and Christmas Fantasia staged in the festive season. While the season is normally a more comprehensive production the others are focused on themes.
Thoughts of Love 5 was the winner of the Theatre Guild Award for the Best Dance Production in 2012 given for performances staged at the Playhouse each year. It was strong in dance and presentation with a superior quality that made it stand out among the performances there. Number 6 was of similar high quality in concept, presentation and entertainment value.
The focus of the show was the theme of love, and this was explored with some imagination and the engagement of variations on that theme. There was romance, conflict, family crisis and tests of love which were all dramatised in the range of choreographies with mime, narrative and story-line.
At the core of it was the repeated attempt by the company to fashion a dramatic plot whose different episodes are related in dance. These were assisted by quite a bit of miming and the staging of scenes as in popular dance, but also moved by some strong choreographies and studied dance performances. It was in these that the company’s superior presence was imposed. This strength, as in other instances, was the over-riding factor and the deepest impression.
One of the segments was Twist of Faith in which a story was told with the usual conflict, complications of plot, emotional turmoil and resolution. Each episode was told in very good choreography with six pieces, out of which four of them, while related to the story-line, were able to stand by themselves. It is this ability to be independent dances that helps to recommend them and give them as well as the overall scheme of which they were a part, a stamp of approval.
This approval rating increased because of the concept that enlarged the value of the dance production. Thoughts of Love 6 was staged at the time of Guyana’s Republic celebrations, which allowed a broadening of the concept of love, making it more meaningful and interesting. The final segment was an extended one which included To Guyana With Love where there were interesting extensions of the notion of love of country. There was the straightforward patriotism in which dances were composed to patriotic songs appropriate at Mashramani time. But the concept of nationhood was interwoven with two or three other themes which gave added strength and intellectual depth to the artistic creation.
The sub-sections Memory Lane and Patriots were all a part of this extension of the love theme. The whole segment was largely driven by Guyanese music. It was almost a tribute to Guyanese composers, especially the celebrated Dave Martins. But the music of others was featured with Family Teach (Glen Teach) prominent among them. The focus on Guyanese music then, was a part of the design of patriotism and a sense of nationalism, so that Guyanese dances were created in styles and forms that reflected the indigenous and the popular.
The concept of nationhood here included traditions. Both the music and the dances drew on and reflected indigenous or local popular traditions as they were created around cricket, the dance halls of the 1930s and Country Gaff. These recreated scenes of the fun and frolic of popular life among the folk, in the village and countryside depicting an era that has passed with its traditional cultural colour. The dances here were touched up with humour and entertainment strategies.
One choreography in particular Episode of An Era paid a visit to a dance hall of a past age which was the popular culture of that time, which, though it included the urban, was much closer to folk life than is contemporary popular culture. It was appropriately costumed and intricately theatrical with a good study of the period and the dance forms. It was in fact a recreation resembling a choreography in the repertoire of the NDC called Tipperary Hall.
The building known as Tipperary Hall is located in Buxton and the present structure is a reconstruction of the old one which stood on the same site before it became derelict, but was rebuilt to keep the tradition. The NDC choreography recalled the Hall as an old venue for dances and used it and the dance forms for which it would have been famous to create one of the memorable choreographies of the company.
In these ways “thoughts of love” became both “variations / different meanings of love” as well as “creations inspired by thoughts and love of country”. This was expressed in tributes to nationhood through recreations of national traditions.
In this way it was easy to see the scheme and method of the NDC in the cycle of its work throughout the year. The smaller shows are devoted to the exploration of different themes or topical focuses, in some cases stimulated by the national calendar. Thoughts of Love comes close to Valentine’s Day, which dictates its theme. Caribbean Rhythms allows the company to show off its Caribbean performance since they are engaged in studies, research and work in different forms of Caribbean dance.
Such activities are included in the general work of the national company.
African Rhythms does the same for one branch of international dance that they explore.
There is a continuing interest in African dance with its wide variety and ranges of traditional forms. The company would always be researching them and takes advantage of this show to present this work to the public. Given the grand celebration that Christmas time is, a show in this season is appropriate and the NDC then creates entertainment anchored on that seasonal theme.
While those other shows may specialise in areas of interest or topicality, the annual season is the more comprehensive exhibition of the general work of the NDC.
Thoughts of Love 6 was another highly competent dance production, spoilt a bit by some technical hitches in the lighting and sound operations which severely affected the fluency of the show. It was not clear whether the sources were in the Playhouse itself or in the management of the production, but the renovated theatre Guild does not need technical faults so soon.