by Dexter Rose
Steel Expressions, in its seventh edition, shone bright last Saturday by the sheer quality of the talent on display.
The indefatigable Rodney Small must be very pleased, as the now annual spectacle was a great improvement on the 2016 version and this on a night where the incessant rain battled to, but could not dampen the spirit of this event.
The 1100-seat Michael Findlay pavilion at the Arnos Vale Playing Field was filled to capacity, with scores more people overflowing on to the grounds, under the food tents and in the VIP areas on either side of the stage.
To eternal credit, this edition was dedicated to the fight against childhood cancer and the man at the centre of the show dedicated and asked for a momentâs silence for Reense Cruickshank, who succumbed just recently.
The child theme is not surprising, considering that Rodney Small himself has literally grown up before our eyes as a child star, with his tenor pan as his vehicle.
This show involved children displaying their talents in dance, drumming and song. Standout performances among the youth came from two talented singers in an on fire nine-year-old Kathy Miller with a sterling interpretation of Alicia Keyâs âThis girl is on fireâ and Boney Man with his claim to being a âman with a planâ to an amused Prime Minister Gonsalves in the audience.
Both performers evoked loud responses from the audience and excelled in both cases for their exercise of stagecraft and vocal quality. Definitely two for the future! The youthful dancers with their bright colours were a delight, where spirit made up for technical deficiencies, if any.
Geran Maule, in his appearances, showed remarkable improvement, both as accompanist for 10-year-old Sarai McIntosh on tenor pan, the dapperly outfitted pannist Alron Harry and as a soloist with his jazzed up interpretation of âSomewhere over the rainbow,â showed that SVG has on its hands a talent that needs only smoothing out at formal music school. Edna Manley, Julliard or Berkeley should be in his sights.
RS Productions excelled in several areas. The set design, with its all-white theme, which extended to the musicians and supporting vocals, worked beautifully. The supporting vocalists exercised something that we in SVG need to pay a lot more attention to: choreographed dance moves. Calypso tents and competitions need to take note.
But, Rodney Small shows attention to detail. That was evident from his innovative and well-tailored costumes worn during his several changes throughout the night. Kudos to his clothing designers. Entertainment is serious business and Rodney is a great example of what exposure to professional training brings both to the quality of his musicianship and to his approach to the business.
Steel Expressions was this year tagged as âInternationalâ and moved to include performances by non-Vincentians living amongst us, with a superb performance by Cuban guitarist Rey Escobar, accompanying Azariah Gibson with a very melodious full throated ballad. A pity though that Escobar did not dig into the treasure chest of Cuban ballads for this occasion.
A Nigerian acapella male quartet performed brilliantly with interwoven harmonies to rapturous applause from the appreciative patrons. Their high standard was maintained by their compatriots, who danced beautifully on the wet grass front of the stage, despite the obvious challenges posed.
They brought African dance to this part of the African diaspora and took us back to our roots.
Another stand-out performance was Penola Rossâs demonstration of the value of professional training. Penny was superb vocal control and projection, as she towered over all with her interpretation of âRise Up,â dedicated to the theme of the fight against childhood cancer.
Hance John and Ipa Constance were competent, though somewhat restrained. Was it the rain?
The sound quality, which was a problem the year before, was greatly improved and the band accompanying Rodney sounded superb and very professional. So too was the use of video images to create added ambience. The occasions on which the band members soloed, they demonstrated great competence and one longed to hear more of them alongside Rodneyâs finely tuned tenor pan. Their repertoire, though, was excellent and varied, as the show meandered through several themes.
Then came Singing Sandra. This experienced calypso bard from Trinbago was a master class in stagecraft and interaction with her audience. When she felt her monitors were insufficiently set, she simply stopped the band and ensured that that was sorted out, all the time engaging in humorous banter with the expectant audience which lapped it up. Sandra, battling as she said, a throat problem, moved smoothly though her popular numbers and even evoked the memory of the late icon Ras Shorty I, with his ode to drug users âWatch out my peopleâ.
But it was her final number which had the majority female audience singing word for word along with her. She, on impulse, left the stage to get closer to her people with her popular womanâs anthem. She, the director, had the all-female chorus all reiterating their resolve to âdie with their dignity.â No rain would have stopped this show or Singing Sandra who sang under the pouring rain, a fan offering assistance with his umbrella.
The show should have stopped there, because after a climax such as Singing Sandra brought, who wanted more? Steel Expressions International, earned 4.5 stars and set the stage for the 2018 production, âSteel Expressions at the Movies.â