Modern dance takes centre stage

One of the most anticipated and highly competitive nights of the National Independence Festival Of Creative Arts would have to be that of the Scotiabank NIFCA Performing Arts Dance Finals. And if there were any questions about it, the packed Frank Collymore Hall last night should have been proof enough.

Dance Night was a sell-out long before any of the other finals nights. Family, friends, loved ones and fellow dancers came out in their numbers to watch the 21 different dancers go for gold and compete for several other coveted prizes.

Contemporary dance seemed to be the order of the night; so much so, that after a while it became somewhat monotonous. Nevertheless, the crowd seemed to have got what they came for.

The night opened with a new group –– Motivation Dancers, supposedly to set the tone for the night. They performed a piece entitled Urban Africa, which consisted of what was supposed to be a variety of African-styled dances; but several panting dancers and one wardrobe malfunction later, one had to wonder: was this dance piece finals-ready?

Tonisha Nedd was up next with the first solo performance of the night. The dance was choreographed by Justin Poleon, who is back from his studies in Toronto, Canada, much to the delight of the Barbados dance fraternity.

Justin Poleon
Justin Poleon

The piece was commendable; but Tenisha seems to be better at and much more comfortable with ballroom-type dance.

Dancin’ Africa were up next with their first of five performances. This dance entitled Not My Name was choreographed by celebrated dancer Aisha Comissiong. However, it was just “okay”, and not one of her stronger pieces.

Dancin' Africa
Dancin’ Africa

Christian-Paul Gibson, a first-timer to the NIFCA stage, gave a passionate performance of His Substance. The crowd was really into it –– or maybe just into his gyrations and chiselled body parading across the stage. It was hard to tell.

Following that performance was a piece by the Zhane Bridgeman-Maxwell group, consisting of four females, who gave it all they had. This was one of the better dances in the first half.

Justin Poleon, in all his glory, was next on stage. While he may have gone overboard with the make-up, Justin was graceful on stage and clearly a cut above the rest. If that dance does not earn him a gold medal, one wonders what will.

The piece, entitled It, was very well choreographed and equally executed.

Dancin’ Africa returned with their second piece Numbers.!? that spoke to people who struggle with weight issues. This too was another good performance.

Zhane Bridgeman-Maxwell was back too for a solo performance choreographed by Jerilee Evanson-Kellman. This dance was almost perfection. The piece kept one’s attention from start to finish and was straight to the point –– not long and slow to build to any crescendo. Entitled Determined it is Zhane’s first solo entry to NIFCA and should earn her a gold.

The dance To MS, performed by the GMC Dance Project, was a tribute to those who suffer from multiple sclerosis, like choreographer Gina Mayers. The dance, although a bit long was a good performance with an excellent message.

Dancin Africa’ were back with another performance –– Living To Survive, which was one of their best dances of the night. It was intense and left the audience with a lot to think about.

To close out the first half was a dance entitled Saga performed by the Pehnyo Dance Company. This was another good performance.

The second half, expected to be the shorter of the two halves, ended up being just as long after two of the first-half pieces –– Determined and Living To Survive –– had to be done over by request of the judges. That along with the sometimes extended and painfully long previews resulted in a more than a four-hour show, and saw some of the avid dance lovers leaving before the end.

The Louise Woodvine Dancers graced the stage for the first time that night. They came with their posse and gave an excellent, well thought out performance of In Remembrance.

The Louise Woodvine Dancers performing In Remembrance.
The Louise Woodvine Dancers performing In Remembrance.

Shea Best brought another solo performance to the stage in The Blackbird. While he was very graceful on stage and gave a great performance, maybe, just maybe, the title was a bit misleading? Blackbirds aren’t known to be graceful.

Sisters Nicole and Leann Hall were next on stage with a dance entitled Presence Of The Enemy, choreographed by their mother Terry Hall. This dance was well executed.

The Louise Woodvine Dancers would return with a musical theatre performance in Consider Yourself. This was a welcome change from all the contemporary pieces; and the audience loved it.

Megan Navarro and Justin Poleon were next with their piece Turned To Stone. Choreographer Nicky Ward called the duo her dream team. And, watching the chemistry between the two dancers on stage, one could definitely see why. This dance was definitely gold-worthy.

Aisha Comissiong’s second choreographed piece of the night was next. Animal Farm (Circa 2014) was a very deep piece that sought to speak to the happenings in society at present. Chances are this piece will land her in the winner’s circle again.

The Reactive Dancers, first-timers to NIFCA, were next on stage with their Bajan Culture. This piece was quite refreshing and welcome, given the very deep and intense one that preceded it. This dance featured many vintage songs and dances and was very well received by the audience. More of these one-of-a-kind and culturally-centred dances are needed.

The Reactive Dancers.
The Reactive Dancers.

The penultimate performance of the night seemed bent on testing the tolerance and endurance of those remaining in the audience. Two Ghosts, performed by Christian-Paul Gibson and Guy Smith, left many a patron asking: “It done yet?”

The dance was overly long and probably should have been placed earlier on the programme; if in the finals at all.

To close the night was Dancin’ Africa, as usual giving a grand performance. The dancers, clearly the professional ones, still had energy as though it was the beginning of the show. This dance should earn them a gold or silver.

With the dance finals now over, it has left one sharp thought. Is contemporary dance now the preferred style in Barbados?

To avoid being misunderstood, nothing is wrong with contemporary dance. Maybe sometime in the future, the near future preferably, we can see more dances portraying Bajan culture, and have dance finals with more variety. But, with that said, the judges have their work cut out for them in deciding who will take the gold, silver and bronze medals.

And even more so the incentive prizes like the Madam Ifill Award for non-professionals, the Prime Minister’s Award for originality, and the Massy Creators Award.

The music finals are on tonight and the theatre arts finals tomorrow.   

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