When you visit the Facebook page of the NDTC you will see this line which states what the company is all about : “The National Dance Theatre Company is a voluntary organization of dancers, singers, musicians, creative technicians and administrators.” And so it is. 50 years ago professor Rex Nettleford , Eddie Thomas et al created what was at its time probably a forward thinking theater group. Dance then in Jamaica was seen as someone living with HIV now- sad but tolerated. For 50 years the company was the foremost dance theater in the country, becoming the cultural ambassadors of the country. It represented the epitome of ones dance career. To be selected to dance in the NDTC was a recognition that you have attained a certain quality and degree of performance to be included in this celebrated company.
And so the NDTC was celebrated with packed houses over the past 50 years. And so it should. not only was dance the foremost talent on stage but also the very best in singing, musical accompaniment , staging, lighting and yes box office So in theory the NDTC was living its statement of being a voluntary organization of dancers, singers,musicians, creative technicians and administrators all coming together to create this one whole – the Season of Dance.
The 50th season of dance is a celebration of its own accomplishment and perhaps its tribute to Jamaica 50. Everything else in the country is. The performance saw new works and a bit of the old classics my favorite being Sulkari. The new NDTC with its cadre of young performers did well, technically they made every choreographer happy for the night, no major flaws. They were not surgically sharp in all the performances, one can expect that and you also witnessed different performance levels of the dancers- some felt it while others were just going through the motion. Again you can expect that. Seeing the company 28 years later I drew from my last performance of dancers who were a bit more culturally mature, technically sounder and a more cohesive unit. You got a different feel from both generations only too evident in Gerrehbenta where the present dancers danced the piece while the older dancers performed the dance- 2 distinctly different perspective. Again you can expect that. The singers had few changes- a few of the recognizable faces were there in full force hallowing out their vocals with clarity and vigor. The singers were good to watch and a pleasure to hear. Again you can expect that.
What I did not expect 50 years onward is the technical difficulties for the music in a signature piece THE CROSSING. Faulty music, apparently from a scratchy CD made the performance null and void to end the first half of the performance. That I did not expect. 50 years and with all the technology in the world to help make performances like the NDTC flawless and we are still using whatever it is they were using. Inexcusable. But again you can expect that especially in a live performance. After all its theater and anything that can go wrong in theater usually does. But it is how you recover that makes a group like the NDTC a good company rather than a GREAT company.
Recovery was poor. An inaudible announcement followed by the quick turn on of house lights indicated to the audience that it was intermission. Yes there were the usual apologies but that was not enough. A GREAT company would have recovered from their problems and presented the piece immediately after the intermission , do a quick reshuffling of the programme and give the audience what they promised to deliver. It would have cost them nothing , maybe 30 minutes more.
The professor and his group has done a fantastic job over the last 50 years but as a cultural giant in the Jamaican society it should be in a better place than where it is now. No real website, very limited season and performances, still not a paying entity, no real or consistent merchandizing, not enough social interaction offering consistent classes for youths and not yet a significantly dominant cultural force in the Caribbean or to use a favorite word of the region the Caribbean Diaspora where other country’s dance company can aspire to reach.
Is it money, is it the lack of time and diligence or is it the inane self indulged belief that because we are in the Caribbean we are limited by our resources. The legendary oratorical skill for which Nettleford was known, was often characterised in much the same terms as his dancing, namely a careful choreography of ideas which sought to captivate the imagination, as well as one’s sensibilities. This has been the NDTc legacy for the last 50 years. Now for the next 50. What next? Are we still going to see dances that are rooted to the floor, performances affected by poor CD quality, lighting from the 8s and 90s , a website that is but a page and non interactive and no real imagined opportunity to drive revenue to support itself and its talented cast?
The NDTC is 50 but it is still a youth, full of energy but needs a business driven leadership team to take it to the next 50 years milestone. Like Jamaica the NDTC seems to be settled and happy where it is. It seems to be happy with taking baby steps to realize their dreams and will reach its milestone when it does. I think thats a mistake. The NDTC is now bigger than life. It is capable of making any decision that will become successful because of its ardent and religious following. It will do them well to lead its followers as the professor wanted the group to lead. Lead the Caribbean and the world. Become a symbol of excellent theatrical management catapulting the NDTC from being a good company to a GREAT company.