Jamaican Ballet and Moko Jumbie

By Nicosia Smith

A story of folk songs, reggae and dancehall music is wonderfully told through graceful and skillful dancing.

When watching the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) you get an authentic, down-to-earth Caribbean experience through dance.

Choreographer Renee McDonald, ‘Into The Blue’ (2015), revised 2016, reveals a beautiful mixture of Caribbean integration. Nineteen dancers in blue danced as if the ocean pursued. It was a scene of battles lost and won at sea. Their fluid movements created a lot of waves that took you through the waters with them. The powerful dance moves, although distinctly Caribbean got a twist with official soundtracks from the movies ‘Gravity‘ and ‘Kung Fu Panda‘. To become a ballerina it takes years of training, some dancers begin at 4-years-old. But after seeing this piece these dancers have what it takes for ballet. I believe it should be the next step the company takes.

However, this will take more than just will but on the ground support.

Dance, culture and the arts must become more meaningful to the Caribbean populous. Our love for dance must transform our focus to demand more from our entertainment than street corner parties. It means we must support formal dance projects.

But back to NDTC.

NDTC co-Founder Rex Nettleford choreographed ‘Gerrehbenta’ an all traditional Caribbean folk piece. The folk singing, dancing and drumming in Gerrehbenta is charged with traditions, namely African ones. This piece showcase’s to its fullest that part of the Caribbean culture that was adopted from Africa.

It reminds us of a people brought to the Caribbean against their will. And reflex the content of their minds and the fight in their spirits to survive. I like that even the cloth around the waist and necks of the dancers were interwoven into the piece, as skirts flared and pants waist were tighten. In the center of this dance is a long moko-jumbie like character, with a cow-like mask a-top the colorfully clothed stick frame. The NDTC noted that the dance takes its name from two of the major traditional rites practiced in Jamaica, ‘gerreh’ in Hanover and ‘dinky-mini’ which uses the musical instrument, the benta, in St. Mary.

We have some ways to go to have the Caribbean’s distinct cultural dance styles achieve global recognition but certainly the NDTC is doing their part. And the audience last month at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College felt the same, judging by the thunderous applauding.

 

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