The highlight of any Antigua Dance Academy production is the drum, the essential reminder that the drum, our heartbeat, travelled with us (us being the African-Caribbean people who arrived here on slave ships) across the Atlantic – a communication tool, a spiritual tool, and, on this night, a tool of enthusiastic reconnection and celebration.
The theme of the annual production was Earth Rising. The second half providing the more cohesive exploration of this theme. There was, in this second half, a garden mini-play that, beyond being entertaining, if a bit long, was an instructive example of how play and specifically play-acting can be used as a teaching activity. Because in telling us a story about how the farmer’s garden came to be, the children who made up the cast, told us about all the things in any tropical garden and their purpose. From the insects – the snail, the ants, the worms, the caterpillars who later transform into butterflies, the bird and others who assist in the pollination process which allows new flowers to bloom. The grumpy cactus, wanting the land all to himself, was there as was the queen of the garden, the rose, the bougainvillea, tulip, and herb – very eager to tell us of its medicinal and other useful values. The weeds were there trying to overtake everything and a lesson in how to rid the garden of them without poisoning everything else, i.e. the most environmentally friendly way (there was also a spoken word piece on the mangroves, extending the environmental sub-theme). So many lessons and the most important lesson of all had nothing to do with science but with personhood –for there was a plant in the garden confused as to who she was to be. She grew in to a flamboyant, one of the most striking and resilient trees in the Caribbean – making this a parable about giving it time, learning to be who you are and not withering under the jeers of others’ or succumbing to their expectations.
Speaking of expectations, yes, at an Antigua Dance Academy showcase, if you’ve been following them this 25+ years, you know what to expect. Some of their dances are staples, all for the most part Afro-Carribbean folk expressions. But the exuberance is there with each new interpretation – and that’s what they do each time, not repeat but re-interpret even as they continue to introduce traditional mas characters like the john buill and highlanders to new eyes.
The drumming too is a staple but there is an energy to it and an improvisational quality that gives the instruments the sense of being in conversation with each other. You’ll tap your foot, you’ll shake your head, you’ll talk back to the screen, or the stage, as the case may be – a bit of call and response, you’ll feel and engage anew with the material.
Photo provided by ADA founder Veronica Yearwood
The Antigua Dance Academy is founded and led by Veronica Yearwood and she served as the narrator stringing the individual dances together into a single narrative, and reminding of the history that informs it – the motherland, Africa, the slave ship of misery, and the common purpose moving forward.
Speaking of purpose, that giving the youth purpose is her clear purpose with each project, is tangibly felt with so many of the dances being choreographed by members, the backdrop and costumes and make-up and props and scripting all done by them, and the dances; all done by members at various levels, babies to seniors. This includes returned members – e.g. one of the night’s star dancers, Abi McCoy, who received a special award from Yearwood, and who having studied Musical Theatre abroad, likely brings sharpened technical awareness and presentation skills. A stand out was her solo dance, which told of a story of abuse that transitioned to personal empowerment and triumph. That was choreographed seamlessly by Roghinda Emanuel.
Other stand out numbers in the July 7th 2019 show (held at the Dean William Lake Centre) included Fluidity choreographed by Meserete Uzondu, Blackbird choreographed by Abi McCoy, and Femmes en Feu choreographed by Roghinda Emanuel.
As an ADA production, Earth Rising gave its audience a full meal with some storytelling – Francine Cabey’s Anansi tale, this time with a lesson for the trickster spider about not being greedy and manipulative. It’s a lesson, of course, which he hasn’t learned in the hundreds of years, and many hundreds before that, since he accompanied ancestors from Africa. His mischievous ways – sometimes winning, sometimes losing – make him an enduring favourite.
And to quote Lady Francine, “wire bend, story end.”
This opportunity-to-sponsor post is part of the online edition of the culture-and-arts-focused CREATIVE SPACE series which gives local businesses an opportunity to boost their brand while boosting local art and culture. The original is posted at Jhohadli – blog of author/creative writer and journalist Joanne C. Hillhouse.
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