Audiences Delight in Superb Performances at Dominica’s 7th annual Nature Island Literary Festival

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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.

Dr. Alwin Bully is a man with a plan to promote arts and culture in Dominica. By all accounts, he is succeeding, thanks to his dedication and determination!

Dr. Alwin Bully is a man with a plan to promote arts and culture in Dominica. By all accounts, he is succeeding, thanks to his dedication and determination. As for theatre, he’s lived and breathed all aspects of it for 50 years!

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 Londons production of Shakespeare’s DSCF3183Hamlet, 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 cast of the UVI Theatre discuss the legend of the Land of Parham before re-enacting it - a play within a play!

The cast of the UVI Theatre discuss the legend of the Lady of Parham before re-enacting it – a play within a play!

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

These young actors from the UVI Theatre portrayed their characters well in Lady of Parham.

These versatile young actors from the UVI Theatre entertained as 17th and 19th century and well as contemporary  characters  in Lady of Parham.

unearthly things that night!

The two characters in Siswe Banzi is Dead convincingly portrayed their challenging roles set during the apartheid in South Africa.

The two actors in Siswe Banzi is Dead convincingly portrayed their challenging roles set during the apartheid in South Africa.

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.

One of my few disappointments during this years Lit Fest was the absence of audience during Sunday afternoon's performance of 'Siswe Banzi is Dead'.  The viewing of this important South African play is an absolute 'must' for young and old!

One of my few disappointments during this year’s Lit Fest was the absence of audience during Sunday afternoon’s performance of ‘Siswe Banzi is Dead’. The viewing of this important South African play is an absolute ‘must’ for young and old!

Dr. Alwin Bully, Ni Lit Fest Chair commends actors for their sensational performance.

Dr. Alwin Bully,  Lit Fest Chair commends the actors from the Sunshine Theatre Company in Anguilla  for their sensational performance.

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.

Pearle Christian (r) shares some of her experiences over 20 years as Director of the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers.  Two of her wonderful choristers, who are also superb soloists, are seated with her.

Pearle Christian  (2nd from r) shares some of her experiences over 20 years as Director of the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers. Three of her wonderful choristers are seated around her. Dr. Shuyler Esprit (l) chaired the session.

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

These tow main characters in 'The World Spin One Way' could makes sparks fly easily, with the words from O'Marde's script!

These two main characters in ‘The World Spin One Way’ could make sparks fly easily, with  provocative lines from O’Marde’s script!

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!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre Director Alwin Bully Stages ‘A Tempest’ in Roseau Dominica

The Dominican production of Aime Cesaire's 'A Tempest' was directed by Alwin Bully and starred J. Grimner and Prospero and Haxey Emmanuel Salamant as Caliban.

The Dominican production of Aime Cesaire’s ‘A Tempest’ was directed by Alwin Bully and starred J. Grimner (l) as Prospero and  Emanuel Haxey Salamat as Caliban.

As DOMFESTA  2013 arts activities concluded on the Nature Island, I attended its final theatrical  production, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It consisted  of  the late Martinican  playwright Aimé Césaire‘s ‘A Tempest‘ (1969), which was held at the Alliance Française de la Dominique   from June 14 -16. Renowned Caribbean cultural icon and son-of-the-soil Dr. Alwin Bully directed this ambitious representation with a seasoned cast of actors from locally based theatre troupe La Cour Des Arts de la Dominique.  This play’s familiar title, characters’ names and plot-line do intentionally resemble Shakespeare’s well-known work called ‘The Tempest, with some unique twists.

As I had not previously studied or taught this Shakespearian play, I was glad that I had a chance to read the synopsis before going to the production. I also  looked up Césaire’s adaptation to get a feel for  his dramatic style and what could possibly happen on the stage. In March, I did have the privilege of seeing famous French actor Jacques Martial portray the sentiments of  Césaire’s  poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939) at the Arawak house of Culture in Roseau.   Also,  Gildas Lefèvre, my French conversation instructor at Alliance Franςaise gave me a bit of background about Césaire’s  exceptional life (1913-2008) and recurrent themes in his artistic and political endeavors.

Césaire was a contemporary poet, playwright and a political and social activist.  He  cleverly adapted Shakespeare’s timeless dramatic work so that it incorporated themes such as colonialism, slavery, loss of identity and racism. According to the performance’s playbill, “He was the first activist to claim the rights of Black People in the French colonies, calling on them to recognize and be proud of their history, culture and values.”  He even created a concept called “Negritude“, which refers to  taking pride in one’s African origins and rejecting assimilation into European or colonial culture.

Even before the play formally began, the actors mulled about on or near the simple stage, chatted among themselves and even talked to

Before the play began, the actors came onto or around the stage, which created an intimate  andinformal rapport with the audience.

Before the play began, the actors came onto or around the stage, which created an intimate and casual rapport with the audience.

members of the audience.  At first, I was surprised by this activity, but then I realised that it enhanced the intimacy of this intense presentation.  The almost “theatre-in-the-round’ arrangement of the seats on either side and in front of the stage also enabled the onlookers to feel as if they were a part of the action.  I could sense the energy emanating from all the

Caliban portrayed his role as the rebellious slave very convincingly. Stephano is in the background..  Stephano is

Caliban portrayed his powerful role as the rebellious slave very convincingly. Stephano is in the background.

characters in the Prologue, when they were  ‘given their masks’ (parts) by Ashworth Simon, who acted as the Master of Ceremonies.

From the first scene,  where a fierce storm shipwrecks a group of people on an island, the audience was spellbound.  The little boy sitting behind me  was so drawn in that he grabbed the back of my chair (and sometimes me!) in suspense.  From that point, the lines between the characters with the colonial ‘attitude’ and the resistant slaves were well articulated through powerful dialogue and precise movements from on the stage, in front or near it and occasionally in the aisles directly beside  members of the audience!

Caliban (l) faces Prospero his oppressor  with courage, if not results!

Caliban (l) faces Prospero, his oppressor with courage and conviction.

The two protagonists were absolutely outstanding in the portrayal of their roles: Prospero, the typical colonial stereotype played by J. Grimner and Caliban, the angry and  rebellious slave played by  Emanuel Haxey Salamat were completely believable in  words and actions.  They certainly created considerable dramatic tension as they railed at each other with their divergent opinions on slavery and human rights. At the same time, Grimner’s part permitted comic relief through his deployment of ‘magic’ and acerbic wit.  With superb diction and powerful voices, these  two well-known Dominican performers

\J. Grimner as Prospero was completely in character as a conniving colonial in this demanding role.

J. Grimner as Prospero was always in character as an European colonialist in this demanding lead role.

The engagement and  marriage of Prospero's daughter Miranda, played by Justina Worrell to Prince Ferdinand, played by Cornell Linton was a delightful sub-plot.

The engagement  of Prospero’s daughter Miranda, played by Justina Worrell to Prince Ferdinand, played by Cornell Linton was a delightful sub-plot.

presented the issues that concerned playwright Césaire  through the point-of-view of Caliban.

The subservient slave Ariel (r) always did as Prospero commanded.  His character, played by Lester Guye, was in complete contrat to the rebellious Caliban.

The subservient slave Ariel (r) always did as Prospero commanded. His character, played by Lester Guye, was in complete contrast to the rebellious Caliban.

Additionally,  I understand that Director Bully also ensured that the actors had a  firm grasp of the above-mentioned complex themes that arise in A Tempest.  Throughout the play, this sombre subject was  often seasoned with humor.  While the title alone was suggestive of the mood that permeated the play, there were a number of comic scenes that kept the audience laughing while “reading between the lines’.

It was obvious that many hours of rehearsal and preparation time were devoted to bringing this play to life.  All 21 actors appeared to be DLP (dead-letter-perfect) in the execution of their lines.  They seemed to assume their roles very naturally, which I know only comes with extensive preparation and practise. I also appreciated the extra artistic touches:  dramatic and colourful stage make-up; graceful dances and other  smoothly choreographed movements; wonderful musical accompaniment from guitarist Tyson Johnson and African drummer Ras Algie; lighting which accentuated the action on stage; and songs that reinforced the themes  with repeated melodies.

Sonia Riviere (l)played a trouser-role as the sensible Gonzalo. The drunken French colonialist Stephano played by Steve Williams delighted the audience with his comical character.

Sonia Riviere (l)played a trouser-role as the sensible Gonzalo. The drunken French colonialist Stephano played by Curtis Clarendon delighted the audience with his comical character.

The final scene of 'A Tempest' had the complete cast on stage.

The complete cast was on stage  to take their bows at the play’s conclusion.

When the show ended about three hours after it began, it was obvious that the audience was well entertained and instructed by this high-calibre production.  Congratulations to Director Alwin Bully, as well as the entire cast and crew of  A Tempest for a superb performance of this challenging play.  Aimé Césaire (RIP) would be proud.

Master of Ceremonies Ashworth Simon also played the role of Esha, who made some fearful pronouncements.

Master of Ceremonies Ashworth Simon (front) also played the role of Esha, who made some notable pronouncements.