Literary enthusiasts (myself included!) were fortunate to be in Roseau Dominica between August 7th and September 7th, 2014 for another celebration of the Nature Island Literary Festival, now in its seventh year. Thanks to Chair Dr.
Alwin Bully and other members of the Nature Island Literary Festival (NILF) Committee, we appreciated unique opportunities to attend some wonderful Caribbean plays and films, which culminated in an extraordinary viewing of the Globe Theatre Touring Company of London‘s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. This special performance in recognition of the 450th anniversary of the birth of “The Bard” offered Dominicans an opportunity to see a world-class theatre troupe for the first time in over 50 years. You can read my report about that unforgettable production right here.
Because I was still recovering from Chikungunya and had recently returned from an exciting but exhausting trip to Canada, I decided to pass on the workshops, extra sessions and a commemorative slave protest walk that were offered at NILF
this year. It was my intention to focus strictly on the performance media, with one regrettable exception, Dr. Bully’s 1970’s creation, The Ruler. Unfortunately, my allergies and environmental health challenges prevent me from spending too much time in the Arawak House of Culture, the venue where this dramatic work was being performed. However, I was thrilled to learn that The Ruler is recognized internationally, and is soon to be published in five languages! I hope to catch this renowned piece another time, somewhere on the planet. For now, I had to gear up to see Hamlet in that particular performance space!
On the first Saturday evening of the Literary Festival, I arrived early at the Alliance Francaise auditorium to get a good seat near the front of the room for the presentation of “Lady of Parham” by playwright David Edgecombe.
The troupe of actors, hailing from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Theatre in St. Thomas held me and the packed house spellbound as they unravelled the legend of the mysterious ghost from Parham village in Antigua. I was so profoundly affected by their dramatic reenactment of this intriguing story that my dreams vividly displayed
unearthly things that night!
On the Sunday of the Festival, I returned for more. This time, I feasted on two plays in one day – a record for me! The first was performed under the large tent on the shady grounds of the University of West Indies Open Campus. ‘Siswe Banzi is Dead‘, with its two sensational actors from Anguilla’s Sunshine Theatre Company perfectly presented their very demanding roles. They captivated the small but supportive audience as the temperature climbed that sweltering afternoon. Playwright Athul Fugard’s powerful South African play, which premiered in Cape Town in the early 1970’s further opened my eyes about injustice, corruption, and the desperation of oppressed people during the apartheid.
The small crowd quietly left the tent in sombre and sober moods, as we reflected on the realistic atmosphere and setting of this once controversial dramatic work. Its themes still resonate today in many parts of the world, representing a sad and shameful reality for humankind that persists into the 21st century.
I took a brief reprieve before the second play to hear about local musical theatre, with respect to the renowned Sixth Form Sisserou Singers and their highly regarded director, Ms. Pearle Christian. They had just celebrated their 20th anniversary concert and I unfortunately missed that one as I was overseas. However, I have heard/watched them many times and I can tell you that their first-rate shows are of a high standard, as well as being very entertaining. ‘Aunty Pearle’, as she is affectionately known by her younger choristers is an exceptionally creative and skilled musician who knows how to bring Dominica’s traditional oral/storytelling culture to life through musical renditions. The set of songs that she composes (and writes lyrics in Creole!) are choreographed, everyone has a little solo part and beautiful cultural costumes are created to complement the production. Heartfelt congratulations to Pearle for her tireless efforts and boundless enthusiasm as a cultural officer ( recently retired), musician, teacher, choral conductor and friend to many who share her interests in the performing arts!
When that presentation was over, I drove home quickly to change and then return for the evening’s offering at the Alliance Francaise auditorium. Dr. Bully had earlier cautioned Lit Fest attendees that this play, entitled ‘The World Spin One Way‘ by Antiguan Dobrene O’Marde , was ‘R’ rated (by some)! Suffice to say that the place was packed with keen and curious theatre-goers. Mr. O’Marde is no stranger to Dominica, having addressed the Lit Fest in 2013 as a prolific Caribbean writer. While there was considerable sexual overtone in the play, I found it subtle and well-suited to the universal themes of the ups and downs of love affairs (pun intended!), as well as betrayal, misunderstandings and nostalgia about past relationships. The two main characters created
plentiful tension that kept the audience hanging on to their every word, wondering how it would all turn out. Of course, I am not going to tell you – you really must see it, or at least read it!
During the week that followed these plays, the literary focus turned to Caribbean cinema, equally as compelling and thought-provoking as live theatre. I thoroughly enjoyed the biographical documentary about Nobel Prize winner/poet laureate Derek Walcott of St. Lucia, which was compiled by filmmaker Ms. Ida Does of Surinam. The diverse literary and artistic accomplishments of this St. Lucian octogenarian are recognized the world over, and Dominica was delighted when he attended and participated in the 1st Nature Island Literary Festival in 2008! I had the honour of teaching some of his poems and shorter dramatic works when I taught English Literature at Orion Academy several years ago. It was very exciting to have an in-depth look at this esteemed Caribbean author, and Ms. Does’s cinematic overview gave me an even greater appreciation for and understanding of the broad range of his artistic works. I walked away from that showing with the words from his poem, Love After Love resonating in my head. Although I had provided detached professional guidance to my students about its meaning and construction, it was from this moment on that this significant poem registered on a personal level, having just heard Mr. Walcott read it aloud in this film!
The second cinematic offering later in the week was produced by Barbadian filmmaker Russell Watson. His creation, entitled A Hand Full of Dirt starred none other than Dominica’s own renowned artiste, Alwin Bully! The story chronicles the lives of three generations of men in one family and explores their separate and overlapping challenges in a Caribbean and an American setting. It is the kind of feature film that holds universal appeal, as demonstrated when it received the ‘Audience Choice’ award at the ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto in 2011. This was in fact my second viewing of the work. Like a good book, I never mind seeing a well scripted and performed play or film more than once – it reinforces the themes and I often gain further insight into the issues that are raised within. This 90 minute screening was a most enjoyable finish for my week of plays and films during the Literary Festival.
With the near completion of my personal Literary Festival agenda, I felt inspired to get ready for Hamlet! I had about three weeks to do my homework, so that I would enjoy this Shakespearian tragedy to the max!
To Dr. Alwin Bully and Nature Island Literary Festival Committee: Please accept my profound gratitude for the gifts of drama and film that were offered to residents of Dominica this year. Because of your exceptional efforts, I feel truly blessed to have had opportunities to see some of the finest literary creations in the Caribbean. Thank you!!!