Jamaica Gleaner / New York-based performing arts group Vissi Dance Theatre held its inaugural show at the Vera Moody Concert Hall at the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts recently.
The small auditorium was barely filled, but the energy was high by showtime when the Nexus Performing Arts Company, guided by the group’s director, Hugh Douse, graced the stage.
The songs performed by the choir gave the audience a preview of what to expect from the entire production, which was a good blend of talent, poise and emotion.
A four-part choreography dedicated to former dancer of the Tivoli Dance Troupe, Sonia Jeffers, ‘Sonia in 4’, came after the vocal expressions of Nexus. Each part was a solo performed by dancers Junie Kenworthy, Ambere Rogers, Alison Giampolo and Tonika Custalow-Stuart.
Artistic director and choreographer, Courtney Ffrench, says “Sonia was my eldest cousin, and she was always responsible for babysitting, so when her duties called, I’d go with her to dance practice. That’s actually how I became exposed to the performance art.”
The stories within each dance were brought to life by the wide musical selections which spanned all genres, notably jazz, neo-soul, alternative, ska, and rocksteady. The precise formations and consistent pirouettes held the attention which the dancers were deserving.
An interesting excerpt of Amazing Grace , choreographed by Ffrench in 2002 followed, which introduced dancer Ariel Polanco – (observed entering stage left with a wooden stake attached to his back), communicated his hunger for the stage despite the weight of the prop.
The clear dynamism between the Kingston Drummers, which instrumentally accompanied the company dancers in Celebration , made the piece all the more exciting – to the point of bringing members of the audience to their feet. This choreography took the dancers quickly out of leotards and into a medley of bright-coloured T-shirts, jeans, jumpsuits, and pants, worn with flashy sneakers.
It would have easily been confused with a grand finale. The rest of the show was awe-inspiring, but the wardrobe hues and the movements of Celebration lingered. It was even more interesting to see an ‘out of many, one people’ collection of dancers on the stage, some of whom are from Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean.
At the end of the night, all the performers came onstage and did an on-the-spot choreography with scat singing voices of Nexus’ Rebecca Mundle and Venelle Powell leading into a powerful and entertaining collaboration. All in all it, was an amazing show, and the creative input was very visible.
“Planning an entire show is a challenge, so all expectations were placed on the back burner, so to speak, but the feedback has been good, although we could only host the show for two consecutive nights. I am looking forward to taking it on as an annual project,” said Ffrench.