The National Dance Company of Guyana, in the performance of ‘E-Majin,’ for Dance Season 36, directed and choreographed by Vivienne Daniel, celebrated not only a product of 36 years of dance in Guyana, but demonstrated dance as a work of the imagination.
The full programme offered a range of choreographies, levels and interests which moved from the ordinary to the memorable; the exhibitions of the junior dancers and associates to the very inspiring statements from the artistic imaginative expressions of the company in full flight. There was a mixture of mime, delineations of storylines, social commentary, messages and explorations into netherworlds of the twilight zone, the fantastic and folklore. But while it entertained, the programme impressed itself most upon the mind of the audience when it imposed its authority with experiments of the intellect.The production was titled ‘E-Majin’ with John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a dedicated theme song, and indeed, the most impressive elements of the programme that the audience would take away as memorable images, were the choreographies which were truly major works of the imagination. This theme worked well generally, including in some lighter, playful and entertaining pieces. ‘E-Majin’ was a definite play on the word. It took the audience beyond denotation into worlds of boundary-less, imaginative fantasies, which could well include the contemporary fascination with e-technology with its equally boundless realms and possibilities that excite today’s thinking. It played on the popular e-culture, the language of texting with its sub-culture, lifestyles and fashionable film series. Dance Season 36 certainly suggested those kinds of intellectualising and the way they can be explored in entertaining dances.
There was great variety and different moods in what was attempted in the four sections of the show and introduced by Hostess Shevonne Semple. In one of these the mood was light humour in a flight back in time to the music and entertainment of a previous generation. This was “Les Creoles” – a glimpse into the folk culture of a country dance. The music was the country string band with its sax and strings and the dance revisited such traditions as the quadrille, the belé (or bel air) or square dance known and once popular around the Caribbean. For Guyana and the NDC it was a revisit of “Tipperary Hall” – an old dance company choreography based on the old Tipperary Hall in Buxton (now rebuilt) where such dances used to be held. “Les Creoles” was a similar trip back to that country dance tradition in a flight of fun. It was also a study of that creole culture, sustaining research as a dance company would do.
Yet another of that kind of preoccupation is the NDC’s interest in social commentary and looking into social ills and domestic trials. The section called “The Book of Images” presented “Illustration I” and “Illustration II”, which were just as they indicated, illustrations of a society, its sub-cultures and its angst. It is now standard practice of Dance Season to comment on domestic conflicts and social issues, and in this case it offered messages about bullying, abuse, HIV, and the contemporary ‘e-age’ driven by the cell phone with the texting sub-culture created by the technology.
These, as in recent times, were characterised by narratives, storylines carried by a good deal of miming. Known popular songs were used to tell the story while plots were acted out. That kind of performance made it easy for the audience who took to the stories and their messages. A very pronounced strength of the NDC is its dramatic ability and the very keen sense of theatre that Daniel leads. The technique of the dramatic lent power to the performances. However, as it usually does, it looked like a fall off from that power when the performance is prolonged by miming to act out the words of a song.
However, there is much more power and impact when the NDC can treat these themes in dance of a more abstract nature, as it did in some sequences of the “Illustrations”. There were moments of very impactful theatre making statements in mood and image. The performance was most effective when they achieved the dramatic dance theatre that the NDC does so well. The dancers told tragic stories and that sense of tragedy was telling in some sequences. This was particularly noted when there were lead dancers carrying the main action and then joined by a supporting cast of junior dancers who formed a chorus enhancing the dramatic effect.
That manner of artistic treatment was in evidence in the section “The Good Book” where there was the highpoint of Dance Season 36. This was in the choreography “Turn the Pages” – a great work of the imagination. It will take its place as one of the outstanding long pieces produced by the NDC over its period of existence.
“Turn The Pages” was spiritual, reflecting a range of worship, moving from mourning to supplication, to passion and spirit possession and even adoration. The change of music from negro-spiritual to reggae was seamless, although strongly punctuated by the change of rhythms, imagery and costuming. This last was an amazing piece of detail with costuming that looked almost natural in the way the change of style was indivisible from the change in music. This change did not affect, but enhanced the mood of the spiritual. Some of it was dirge-like as befitting the use of the symbolic cross that dominated up-stage centre. Yet others introduced variety in the pace, intensity and different moods.
“Turn The Pages” had notable power in imagery and symbolism. Daniel’s choreography and direction controlled the use of images, rhythm, mood and that strong sense of theatre. Many techniques were used to explore all that there is in the soul of the religious expression of a revivalist, spiritualist Christian religion compatible with the use of both the negro-spiritual and reggae’s different cultural rhythms. Yet another very careful detail was seen in the use of the dancers’ body language to communicate mild spirit possession characteristic of the kind of rituals explored in the dance. This language was also informed by passion that was integral to the choreography.
The use of space was another notable area of impact. Wide and thorough stage use was effective in the way it was unobtrusive. There was consistent attention to group work and the shifting formations in the way the dance used the space both laterally and in vertical elevations to add to the exploration of the depth of the stage. That dance was of the stature of other notable works, and there is quite a list. These include “Our World,” “Testament,” “Journey’s End” and “Congo Creole.”
Another major dance was “The Forest Beckons” whose purpose was to depict aspects of Guyanese folklore in a setting of the forest as well as the riverain world of El Dorado. It was dominated by the brutal menace of the Massacuraman but also included another of the creatures of the forest. Here was a mixture of the mythology and the artist’s imagination, since this second creature, a beautiful but deadly female presence, was a work of fiction. The performance of it in this show allowed the audience a glimpse at one of the dances taken by Guyana to Carifesta in Haiti.
This artist’s imagination took further flights of fantasy in other dances such as “Beyond Planet Earth” and “The Happening.” These were in keeping with the motif of imaginings that ran through the production. “The Happening” was a mixture of horror, the supernatural and audience thrills. It was a dance of skeletal, weird creatures from beyond in the twilight zone. The dance itself was commanding and fortified its theatrical force when the audience space was encroached as the auditorium suddenly became a part of the performance space with audience interaction.
That overriding idea of “E-majin” did indeed run deep in the production. It covered dreams, fantastic explorations, fiction, myth and the kind of world we inhabit. This world is not only one in which thoughts have no bounds, but one plagued by woes, as was treated in the social commentary.
However, the most powerful dimensions of it were found in the “image,” if we extend the sound qualities of “E-majin”. The use of imagery, images and symbols was profound in many dances. They were pervasive in “The Happening” visually, in costuming and masks as well as body language, even in the poses struck by the creatures who draped themselves over the furniture as they invaded the auditorium. Images out of the artistic imagination abounded in all shapes. For example, there was the imaginary female character in “The Forest Beckons” – attractive in appearance in contrast to the beastly Massacuraman, but an accomplice in luring victims.
Many dance seasons in previous years searched for unifying themes and forms; in the explorations of “E-Majin” an artistically successful one was found.