4/18/15 O&A REVIEW: National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica

By Walter Rutledge


The National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) of Jamaica returned to the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College for two performances March 21 and 22. The presentation more closely resembled an event, than merely a performance. The large all volunteer touring company is comprised of eighteen dancers, ten singers and seven musicians.

NDTC Founders
Founded in 1962 by Rex Nettleford and Eddy Thomas, NDTC has built a solid reputation for presenting works that celebrate the rich, diverse culture of Jamaica and the Caribbean. The works presented ranged from ceremonial/anthropological to dance theatre. Right from the start the historical and cultural connection with the Diaspora take center stage. 

Conversation with Marlon Simms and Clive Thompson

Drumscore (1979) choreographed by Nettleford was set to live music and voice of traditional Caribbean rhythms and original patterns arranged by Majorie Whylie. The full company work is based on the Ghanaian proverb “When God created the earth, He first created the drummer”. Throughout the work the drummers strategically changed stage positions. First upstage framing the dance on both stage left and right then in a cluster upstage center then moving downstage. The dance ensemble lead by Keita-Marie Chamberlain, Tamara Noel and Marlon Simms performed the ritual with the appropriate aplomb and majesty.

In Dialogue For Three (1963) Nettleford has crafted a dance of soap opera proportions. Here Kevin Moore (the Man) literally jockeys between Marisa Benain (the Wife) dressed in virtuous blue and Kerry-Ann Henry (the Other Woman) in scarlet. The ensuing theatrical melodrama placed Moore in a quandary of choosing between lust and love. The clear storytelling aroused the audience and made them active and often vocal participates.

Playtime gave the NDTC singers and orchestra an opportunity to take center stage. The collection of songs arranged by Ewan Simpson flowed with a delightful ease. The clean and simply staging added a light visual touch to traditional Jamaican folksongs.

Choreographer Chris Walker devised a visually stunning opening section for his dance epic Rough Drafts (2014). Flowing fabric cascaded across the stage suspended from the bodies of the standing male dancers. The section entitled Burden Bearers lived up to its name as the man walk pulling women wrapped in the fabric across the stage. With live musical accompaniment from the singers and orchestra Rough Drafts was anything but a draft. It was a well-designed work seamlessly incorporating indigenous dance and movement with modern dance and strong theatrical elements.


Sulkari (1980) by Eduardo Rivero-Walker drew his inspiration from the sculpture, carving, masks and headdresses of West African art. The work, which started in silhouette, featured three female dancers created a tableau that reminisced West African sculpture. Bulging eyes, swollen cheeks and protruding lips gave the dancers a surreal quality, as if the sculptures had come to life.

The story based on rituals and relationships between the sexes abstracted movements from the Yoruba people of Arara, Dahomey. Cuban born Rivero-Walker presented a perfect example of the strong African influence on Caribbean people of Latin descent. The work referenced Cuba’s ties to the Diaspora and how it still influences the art and religion.

Clive Thompson’s duet Ode (2005) skillfully used his extensive background in the Graham and Horton techniques. Kerry-Ann Henry and Paul Newman danced with the right blend technical proficiency and emotional intensity. The couple had good on-stage chemistry, and Newman’s partnering skills assisted Henry in showcasing her impeccable line and high extensions.


Kumina (1971), Nettleford’s homage to the Jamaican Afro-cult practiced in the Parish of St. Thomas, closed the program. The full company work included the rousing dance combat called Warrick performed by the men using sticks. Marlon Simms commanded the stage as the King, a role originated by Nettleford.

The National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica performances have become a much-anticipated annual event. The performances are always well attended with near capacity crowds comprised by a large cross-section of the Caribbean community. The quality of the dances presented is also commendable; each work eloquently represented regional pride. NDTC is not just a performing arts company it is also a cultural ambassador.


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