Dr. Fraser- Point of View
February 5, 2010

La Gracia Dancers score again/Caribbean Icon passes

While many on the mainland journeyed to Bequia last weekend to take in the Bequia Music Festival, some of us sought to be entertained and captivated by the La Gracia Dancers in their presentation, ‘Rhythm of Life”. My night to soak in the young dancers was Sunday night and really, I could not have found a better thing to do on that night. I was simply enthralled and enjoyed every second of it. One cannot speak about the La Gracia Dancers without paying special tribute to its founder and Artistic Director Maxine Mavorn Browne.{{more}} Maxine has taken dancing in St.Vincent and the Grenadines to a new level. In fact, the Company declares that it intends ‘to take choreography in SVG to new heights in artistry, elegance and creativity’. It has already achieved some success in this area. Gone are the days of the staid, dance drill-type routines, as someone described them, replaced by what is creative, fresh and entertaining. The La Gracia Dancers are refreshing, enthusiastic and full of purpose. Not only has Maxine been creating a group of Dancers for which we can be proud, she has also assisted other dance and singing groups. She had performed the role of choreographer for the last performance done by the New Kingstown Chorale and I remember commenting on the fact that it helped to lift their performance a notch higher. Not only has she been involved in dancing since her primary and secondary school days, she is also the recipient of a First Class Honours in the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Dance at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies. She was part of the performance put on by the Edna Manley School of Dance in the grand celebration to welcome back to Jamaica the athletes who excelled at the 2008 Olympics. The National Dance Theatre of Jamaica, whose co-founder and artistic Director, Rex Nettleford died on Tuesday night, is a group that is highly acclaimed in the region and elsewhere and no doubt she would have benefitted from being in Jamaica and seeing that group in action. In fact one can detect some Jamaican influence in the group’s dance routines.

All of the pieces done by the Senior Dancers stood out. The opening piece Glorious Praises was a fitting introduction to what was to follow. I also particularly liked the tribute to Michael Jackson, which was really a selection from Michael Jackson’s original movements/choreography. The Choreography was done by Kari Da Silva in collaboration with the Dancers. Kari DaSilva, who is studying in Barbados had delayed her return to school to be part of the production. She is an outstanding dancer and has a bright future ahead of her if she wants to continue Dancing. She is really one of the better young dancers around. She is shaping up to become a complete dancer, graceful, athletic and smooth. It was good to see that she is also doing more than dancing, by venturing into the area of choreography. I have also to single out Kaywne Goodgie who I notice, was awarded the “the Most Versatile Dancer of La Gracia in 2009”. She catches the eye with the grace she delivers on stage. Still a student in form 5 at the St. Joseph’s Convent, she also has a bright future ahead if she continues with her Dancing.

I have singled out two among the seniors, but there are others in the Seniors, Juniors and Intermediate groups that show tremendous promise. The La Gracia Airways, “Wishful Thinking” presentation was also very creative and interesting. Maxine and the La Gracia Dancers are not only about dancing. Maxine sets out to create well-rounded individuals. The Dancers are also involved in discussions on a range of topics and issues including HIV/AIDS, etiquette, Teenage Pregnancy and Good Eating Habits. For her Dance recitals are about team work, esteem building, sharing goals and striving for excellence. According to Ms. Browne, “Dance requires more than classroom training and the result is often a well rounded individual who has greater self-esteem, discipline and confidence.” This was no better displayed than when the Junior Models” individually graced the stage and did their thing. The Artistic Director stresses hard work. According to her “Their many hours dedicated to learning the craft, not just a routine, will produce the benefits of dance…Making artistic investments in children’s live (sic) ultimately translates into positive results.” But even more she appears to be trying to live to her motto, “Only the Best is Good Enough”. Quite often our artistes perform before an uncritical public and feel they have ‘reached’, even when they are just starting. With La Gracia ‘Excellence is … (the) Trademark’ and Maxine is obviously pushing her young dancers in that direction. I was struck by the discipline of the dancers, especially the young ones who I am told range from 5-21 and there are 80 of them. Anyone who has to deal with young children knows what the challenges are, but at least on the surface they appear to be a disciplined bunch. One of the things that stand out about Maxine’s Choreography is what she is able to do with limited space. This was aptly demonstrated on Sunday night when the dancers, sometimes with parasols danced on the small stage without running in to one another. There were at times upwards of fifteen dancers on the stage. The La Gracia Dancers had performed at the last two ‘Recognition of Graduates” ceremonies of the UWI Open Campus, SVG. I was struck then by what they were able to do in the limited space, something Guest Speaker Dr. Julian Ferdinand commented on in his feature address on January 8.

One cannot write about the ‘Rhythm of Life’ Presentation without also paying tribute to the visiting ‘Shashamane Cultural Ensemble’ of Trinidad and Tobago who we were told, paid their way to come to SVG. Another young group they emphasized African themes, moving to the sound of excellent live drumming that further highlighted the African emphasis. They added tremendously to the evening’s performance. One also has to pay tribute to the rest of the Production team, the stage management, sound, lighting and the other parts that go into the production of such a show. No doubt we will be hearing about the La Gracia Dancers for many more years to come. And given what we are seeing now we can expect the best from them in the future. Remember, the Director’s motto is “Striving for Excellence”

The Passing of Rex Nettleford

I had already committed myself to writing my column for this week on the La Gracia Dancers when I heard of the death of Professor Rex Nettleford. Here I will just make some brief, passing comments but would do something of a more substantial nature next week. When I was first employed with the University as Resident Tutor, he was my boss, holding then the position of Director of Extra-Mural Studies. He became my mentor and guided me throughout. He delivered lectures on two occasions as part of our Annual Independence Lecture series. In fact when we were having the 10th anniversary lecture he was specially invited to deliver that lecture. Although Jamaican, he was really what many describe as a Quintessential Caribbean man and was well known and respected throughout the region, serving in the capacity of advisers to many Caribbean governments. In Jamaica, he did what not many individuals can do, he was adviser to both political parties, so well respected was he, his words being pearls of wisdom. Rex was totally committed to the University and it was ironic that he died while in the service of the University, being in Washington to attend a Fund Raising Gala of the University.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.