Tuesday, 23 May 2017

La'Riatsila Dance Theatre's "Infused" a sold-out event

By Neil Armstrong
A Review

"Take Me to Zion"     Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

"Take Me to Zion"   Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

"Point of View" by the Elite Dance and Company        Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

"Affinity"       Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

La'Riatsila Dance Theatre's "Pulse"       Photo credit: Christopher James Cushman

Anticipation was high on Sunday (May 21) outside the doors of the Dancemakers Studio Theatre in the Distillery District in Toronto as some of the almost 100 patrons arrived an hour before showtime to see La’ Ritsila Dance Theatre’s third dance production, “Infused.” The show was sold-out and several patrons had to stand to experience the event.

Founded in 2014, the company presented “Intransit” in 2015 at the Winchester Theatre, and in 2016 mounted “Urban Shadows” at Dancemakers theatre.

The first half of “Infused” featured dancers Dana Neita, Justine Lewis, Akua Delfish, Chelcia Creary, Jhodi-Anne Stephens, and Tamika Wilson-Brito performing “Melting Pot.”  

Using elements of Indian, African and European movement styles that are abstracted and fused to create a contemporary blend, “Melting Pot” choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Alistair Graphine, and Terry Hall, showcased the dancers’ interpretation of the synthesis of these different forms in a city – Toronto -- where many peoples/cultures meet.

After this was “Affinity” featuring Graphine, Allatunje Connell and Shavaun Brown who personified the elements -- earth, fire, and wind – demonstrating the strength of each, and the relationship created when the elements are combined.

Wearing costumes depicting the colour of each element and moving to the sound of dramatic music, the dancers boldly represented the traits of these natural forms.

“Pulse,” one of La'Riatsila’s first works when the company started in 2014, was remounted.

Choreographed by Graphine, it tells the story of the birth of a dance company striving to exhale.

“A pulse and a heartbeat are proofs of life and this piece speaks of the joy, peace, soul, and celebration of life.”

The entire company of thirteen dancers, including Gillian Alleyne, Alisa Lewis, April Mullings, and Tamla Young, is featured in this piece which has five sections: "Stream of Life, Beyond, Sistah in Sorrow, Love is Love, and Onward.”

In many ways these pieces – “Melting Pot,” “Affinity,” and “Pulse” – were telling the story of the fledgling dance company and its pursuit to harness a community of dancers from different backgrounds, a supportive network, – all working together to create a sustainable presence in Toronto.

After the 15-minute intermission, Elite Dance and Company presented “Point of View” choreographed by Stacey-Ann Vassell.

“Point of View” is a series which includes “a collection of dances inspired by the political views that bombard the daily lives of our social being. From the innocent child to the impressionable youth, they find themselves having to conform to the many ideologies, thus creating a sense of identity crisis. To become free, however, they come to understand that they must be defiant, take a stand, and rise up above all obstacles.”

Showcasing the talent of younger dancers than La’ Ritasila Dance Theatre, the Elite Dance and Company is an interpretive Christian dance group dedicated to promoting spiritual ad interpretive dances.

Under the artistic direction of Vassell, the group works in disciplines such as ballet, jazz, tap, modern, lyrical and Afro-Caribbean drumming and dance styles.

“Infused” concluded with “Take Me to Zion,” a spiritual journey with some of Jamaica’s folk religious practices and customs such as Pocomania, Kumina, Dinki Mini, and Revival.
Pocomania, sometimes referred to as Revivalism, is an African form of religion with elements of other religious traditions. Enslaved Africans brought this form of religious practice to the Caribbean region. It is viewed by many as a form of rebellion and protest against European religions and the political status quo.

Kumina originated in the Congo and was brought to Jamaica by the free Africans who arrived between the 1840s and 1860s. According to Dr. Olive Lewin in her book “Rock it Come Over,” Kumina expresses the strongest African retention of Jamaican folk culture, and provides powerful clues about the religious and social customs of the African ancestry. The three most important elements in a Kumina session are dancing, singing and drumming. The drums are believed to be the most important because of the control they have over the spirits.

 Dinki Mini is usually performed after the death of a person until the ninth night. These ‘Nine-Night’ sessions are lively and are held usually to cheer up the bereaved. The focus of the dance movements is on the pelvis. The hips are suggestively rotated by both male and female dancers. That erotic rotation is a story told by the hips about the ability to reproduce, a victory over death.

Revivalism began in Jamaica between 1860 and 1861 as a part of a religious movement called the Great Revival. It is a combination of elements from African and European religious influences and has several forms, the two major forms being Revival Zion and Pocomania. 

The Revival ritual involves singing, drumming, dancing, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and groaning along with the use of prayers to invite possession. It also includes music and songs from orthodox religion.

This was very interactive for the audience as many got involved in the call-and-response of the ‘shepherd,’ ‘mother,’ and ‘revivalists’ of the worship gathering.

The drumming of Mikhail Parson and N’Dere Nimon spoke eloquently in increasing the tempo of the movement of the dancers within the rituals and spiritual setting of the folk customs. The costumes fittingly embellished the re-enactment of these folk traditions in dance.

Overall, the night was enjoyable and filled with the artistry of skillful dancers, however, Graphine, as choreographer, artistic director and dancer, will have to work on some technical issues for future shows. 

Things like lighting, a precise sound track, and a strong production/creative team will help this company to spread its wings and soar in the future.

Although a labour of love, he will have to tap into the many seasoned choreographers and dancers with whom he has worked to solicit their help and reduce his many responsibilities. Some are more than willing to help the company achieve its goal.

Nevertheless, kudos to the company for providing a good show on the Victoria Day long weekend. 

A very proud father was there to see his young daughter perform and asked for permission to record her. Her performance made his day.

Alistair Graphine celebrates an early birthday with dancers and friends

[After the show, Alistair held an early birthday celebration with some of the dancers and friends. His birthday is on May 28.]

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