Its funny, though I am a visual artist, I cannot remember going to museums or galleries as a child. The dress-up occasion for my family was going to see the new Pantomime in December and attending the National Dance Theatre Company’s (NDTC) Season of Dance. Though I drifted out of touch with it during my high school and college years my memory was renewed in 2008. Now 17 months in Japan, one of the last cultural events I attended in Jamaica was the NDTC Season of Dance. The performance was more vivid and emotive than I had remembered as a child. I am not sure if it was because I was now better able to appreciate the sounds, the movements, the posture and colours or if it has been refined into a fine art over all these years. I am sure it must be both reasons. In particular I am thinking of the performance of ‘Kumina’.
I only saw Rex Nettleford perform ‘Kumina’ once and then after that each year of seeing the performance I would be reminded by my family that the new dancers were doing ‘Rex’s choreography’. For me that was how the myth of Rex Nettleford began. That 2008 performance was revisiting for me one of the most powerful dance performances I have ever seen. I remembered in those minutes why I began engaging in cultural activity. I have to say that the dancers performing 'Kumina' now, contribute much to the power of that piece. I cannot remember specifically what Nettleford’s performance was like as at that young age as just seeing dance was overwhelming enough but I felt something of an aura still present there in the frenzied drumming, whirling skirts and strong faces. I remember asking during my NDTC attending days how do the dancers know how to do 'Kumina' perfectly each year. As a family of dance outsiders, I never got what I thought was an adequate answer. Perhaps it is just a sign of the strength of the NDTC that I can still wonder this today.
Photos by Peter Ramsey
University of the West Indies Flickr Archive