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National Dance Festival – A Critique

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by Kay R. A. Bacchus-Browne

The 6th National Dance Festival culminated with the finals on Saturday, 2nd October, 2004, at the Peace Memorial Hall. Judging from the packed overflowing hall, one may assume that the festival was a success.

Considering, though, that seven out of 14 items were from schools, it should be no surprise that there was a ready-made audience! {{more}}

The Programme

I was bitterly disappointed with the poor level of dance. Yes, there was costuming, good music, and interesting choreography at times, but the dance technique was sorely lacking.

Ecole de Ballet’s piece was very entertaining; the choice of music was appropriate, the choreography was interesting, but it was more drama than dance. The costuming was thoughtful though it needed some central theme to pull it all together.

The Junior Dance Club and Company was not up to standard and probably earned its position in the finals because they did the punta. I liked the music and the costumes. What does it mean club and company? They should decide if they are a “club” or a “company”. On the one hand I commend Stubbs Primary School, which made four appearances. Indeed, the fact that there were so many schools augurs well for the future. I wonder, however, if Stubbs obtained so many gold medals because the organizer of the festival has a vested interest in that group? Their performances certainly were not of the standard expected at the national level. Frankly, there should be a school dance festival and a national dance festival alternating each year. This should prevent the National Festival from appearing like a mere village competition, which it did.

Punta

It appears from the number of groups doing the punta (a traditional Garifuna dance) that someone mandated that this dance be done – no problem, but did it have to so overwhelm the whole finals? (Six performances of punta out of 14 overall items). And what of the quadrille, the bois bois, the cake dance, the rain dance and other traditional dances? Be that as it may, I must commend St. Mary’s R. C. School for what I consider by far to be the best performance of the punta.

The Judging

It was very unprofessional and disgraceful for an organizer of the festival to be at the table of the judges and to be openly chatting and carousing with a judge all during the competition. Considering also that that person carefully chose the judges and had a group or two competing in the festival, I am amazed that patrons accepted this. When the organizer selects the judges, has groups competing in the Festival, openly shows favour with the judges, can the competition be respected? I trust that the Ministry of Culture did not finance the cost of the Barbadian judge who adjudicated at the shows. With the background just outlined, how can this cost be justified?

Absence of Top Groups

The glaring absence of several top dance groups from the competition raises serious questions which the Ministry of Culture must address. Where was Cariballet? St. Joseph’s Convent, Avenue’s Dancers, Allegro? My enquiries reveal that all is not well. These groups opted not to compete. As long as the organizer of the Festival continues to control it as her private domain, dance will continue to decline in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

I understand La Gracia Dance Company and Creation Culture Club had many superior performances which did not get the nod of the judges. Is this why so many mediocre dances made it to the finals?

Best Performances

There were four performances I found truly deserving of a gold medal.

1). “Loco Loca” by La Gracia Dance Company probably the most creative, entertaining and cohesive piece of the night. The dancers’ technique could be improved but by comparison they were good.

2). “The Dynamic Combination” by La Gracia Dance Company. Although the choreography was not original it was truly well presented. This group understands dance technique and entertainment. Their costumes and make-up were quite appropriate.

3). “Bad” by Creation Culture Club. This young man exhibited by far the most outstanding performance. He had control, flexibility, creativity and good costuming. I feel he should persist in this art form. He can make it on the international scene. Kudos to Angus Martin the leader of Creation Culture Club.

4). “Breathe In” by Dr. Luv. It took real bravery for a dancer to descend from the roof of our limited Peace Memorial stage! I was impressed.

Their routine was befitting a gold medal, costume, makeup, choreography, movement, use of the stage, etc., and though the technique could be improved it was thrilling to see an all-male group since females dominated the Festival.

Conclusion

Though I appreciated and enjoyed the hip-hop performances, I must ask, where has modern dance gone? Where were the great extensions and contractions, lifts, pirouettes and jetés? Why is there not a solo and duet category? Whose job is it to ensure the advancement of dance in St. Vincent? Let us at least keep up the standard set by groups of yesteryear like Hairoun Dancers, Tracy Connell Dancers, National Performing Arts Company and Youremia performers.

It bears repeating that school kids should have their own competition; one should not drop the standard of dance by holding just one festival, especially as a judge of the Festival once remarked: “You can’t judge the kids the same as experienced dancers!” Then, do not let them compete together!

After six years, we should be thinking of zoning the country and holding preliminaries in various areas, before hosting the semi-finals, then finals at the Grand National Dance Festival. With vision, dedication, a lot less ego and a great deal more work, we can get there. Dance is bigger than any one individual.

Let us “keep on dancing!”

(Note: The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of this newspaper.)

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