Guyana proved a ma­jor force at Car­ifesta XIII

Stabroek News Sunday - - WEEKEND MAGAZINE -

It was cer­tainly “ad­van­tage, Guyana” in the se­ries of Coun­try Nights staged at the Grand Mar­ket at the Lloyd Ersk­ine San­di­ford Cen­tre. Guyana ob­vi­ously gained by tak­ing this se­ri­ously as an artis­tic pro­duc­tion and as such, the “Guyana Night” was out­stand­ing. Other ter­ri­to­ries, like Bar­ba­dos in the Open­ing Cer­e­mony, showed no sign of imag­i­na­tion and did not take the pre­sen­ta­tion se­ri­ously. They ba­si­cally pre­sented a few items from their reper­toire in what was at best a mi­nor va­ri­ety show.

Guyana, on the other hand, at­tempted a com­pre­hen­sive pro­duc­tion with de­sign and shape as a stage per­for­mance. It car­ried a theme, ex­pressed in words in a tire­some ti­tle too lengthy and cum­ber­some, with not an artis­tic note in it. But it was ex­pressed in mu­sic, dance, drama and the spo­ken word in a per­for­mance that pre­sented an ex­pe­ri­ence in Guyanese cul­ture and made quite an im­pact as art.

It was a state­ment car­ried through by the steel band, with drums, In­dian dance and chut­ney. The strong theme and im­age were pa­tri­otic as was ob­vi­ously ex­pounded in spo­ken word po­etry, sur­pris­ingly a bit rare in Car­ifesta. The over­all ef­fect was colour­ful with a touch of spec­ta­cle, cre­at­ing a show that elo­quently sold the na­tion in con­tent and dif­fer­ent the­atri­cal forms. Some­times it is hard to make a pa­tri­otic pitch and still pass as art, but Guyana man­aged a pro­duc­tion that was ef­fec­tive

Iin mak­ing that very unob­tru­sive.

Some of the the­atri­cal forms used there were pieces on their own per­formed else­where. Th­ese were out­stand­ingly shown in the drama pre­sen­ta­tions. Guyanese folk­lore, tra­di­tions and oral lit­er­a­ture were re­cur­ring themes. All the drama was the work of the Na­tional Drama Com­pany (NDC), which pre­sented short plays: Ol Higue di­rected by Al Creighton, Bac­coo by So­nia Yarde di­rected by Ni­cola Moon­sammy and Queh Queh by Subraj Singh di­rected by Es­ther Hamer. There were spo­ken word pieces cre­ated by Keon Hey­wood and Mark Luke Ed­wards. While this fast-ris­ing per­for­mance form was listed as an area to be high­lighted in Car­ifesta, pre­sen­ta­tions of it by the coun­tries was min­i­mal. n th­ese bits of drama, Guyana led the way. Stage forms used were in­struc­tive in that they ex­hib­ited a dif­fer­ence in in­no­va­tive stage work not the norm across the fes­ti­val. There were uses of Caribbean per­for­mance, sto­ry­telling tech­niques, and imag­i­na­tive stage­craft.

To con­tinue Guyana’s lead­er­ship, the play, Masque, writ­ten and di­rected by Subraj Singh and per­formed by the NDC, was the stand-out piece in all the Car­ifesta the­atre. It was very in­tense the­atre, a cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence about Guyana’s Amerindi­ans in an­cient times and the con­se­quences of his­tory in the present and fu­ture of the na­tion. The play is post-colo­nial and a his­tor­i­cal drama deal­ing with the ar­rival of Europe in the New World and the con­se­quen­tial cy­cle of con­flict, war and geno­cide.

The play, in con­tent and style, is sharply char­ac­ter­ized by vi­o­lence and it is a Senecan tragedy of vengeance. It re­lates his­tory and post-colo­nial­ism to the Guyanese land­scape, the en­vi­ron­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity in telling the tragedy of the an­cient tribe, their her­itage and des­tiny. Very ev­i­dent, is the play’s ex­pres­sion of fem­i­nism as it is warped and ma­nip­u­lated by the spirit of a woman; it is set in a very pa­tri­ar­chal tribal so­ci­ety of war­riors but dom­i­nated by the fe­male will of not only the aveng­ing spirit, but her daugh­ter and the white woman who in­fil­trates the tribe for pur­poses of de­struc­tion and con­quest.

In Car­ifesta XIII, Masque, like the other Guyanese drama pieces, was a leader in the­atri­cal form. Its post-mod­ern tech­niques ex­plored the em­ploy­ment of dance, mime and drums, in­ter alia. The clos­est in terms of in­ter­est­ing the­atri­cal forms in this Car­ifesta came from Trinidad through a com­pany led by vet­eran ac­tress and dancer Belinda Barnes who cre­ated the role of the Bolom in Wal­cott’s Ti Jean and His Broth­ers in 1970.

Her re­visit of Ti Jean in Bar­ba­dos was af­fected by the fact that Car­ifesta lim­ited all plays to a max­i­mum of one hour. This re­sulted in a re­duced pro­duc­tion of the play us­ing min­i­mal­ist the­atre and a nar­ra­tion. The rest of the play was dra­ma­tized and ac­tors/ac­tresses switched roles and dou­bled in a quite Brechtian-styled the­atre. But the pro­duc­tion was lazy in its ex­e­cu­tion of tech­niques and only halfde­vel­oped. The nar­ra­tion was plainly read with no at­tempt at dra­matic imag­i­na­tion. The other in­ter­est­ing at­tempt at form was also from Trinidad – an old piece by Vic­tor Ques­tel – with street beg­gars in a par­ody.

In other art forms, Jamaica has al­ways been a power-house in dance (as in drama), and in Bar­ba­dos, showed that it is not only the Na­tional Dance The­atre Com­pany that can be in com­mand. An­other Ja­maican group pre­sented a mas­ter­ful work of chore­og­ra­phy with drums and, ad­di­tion­ally, ad­vanced ex­per­i­men­tal forms were ar­tic­u­lated by L’An­toinette Steines at the Sym­posia where Guyana’s pre­sen­ta­tions on Wil­son Har­ris and on Caribbean drama were ma­jor fea­tures.

But Guyana again showed how its very se­ri­ous ap­proach to Car­ifesta pre­sen­ta­tion re­sulted in very ef­fec­tive and com­mand­ing per­for­mances. The Na­tional Dance Com­pany demon­strated that it was not in­ter­ested in in­di­vid­ual dances, but in a full rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Guyanese dance. This was achieved by an ex­am­i­na­tion of Guyanese cul­ture and tra­di­tions through dance, em­ploy­ing all forms – In­dian, Amerindian, folk­lore, mod­ern and ex­per­i­men­tal – to give a very good spec­trum of the form in Guyana. In­dian clas­si­cal and folk were demon­strated as well by the Nadira and In­dranie Shah Troupe.

The sit­u­a­tion with Guyana’s Na­tional Steel Orches­tra was an­other in which it did not come from the coun­try with the long-stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion as the steel pan cap­i­tal of the world. Yet, in Bar­ba­dos Guyana ex­hib­ited high-level mu­sic, tak­ing Car­ifesta se­ri­ously. Trinidad did not bring an equal ef­fort and it was Guyana that was talked about.

If one fol­lowed Car­ifesta from the point of view of the Bar­ba­dian press, one got an im­pres­sion of Guyanese dom­i­nance. It was said that the Car­ifesta art ex­hi­bi­tion was the Guyana booth. Photographs and cov­er­age of Guyanese work were re­peated with a great deal of at­ten­tion paid to Winslow Craig as well as to Stanley Greaves. Steve Bravo of Bravo Arts is a dif­fer­ent brand of artist whose body art was im­pact­ful and ex­ceed­ingly pop­u­lar in the Grand Mar­ket as it was be­cause of his im­ages on show dur­ing the Open­ing Cer­e­mony. He also sup­ported the drama pre­sen­ta­tions as a make-up artist. Mean­while, in fash­ion there were highly favourable re­ports about the work of Olympia Small-Sonaram and Mar­cie De San­tos.

Trib­utes to Guyana were in abun­dance in other ar­eas such as the grand and spec­tac­u­lar Ex­hi­bi­tion of Guyanese Lit­er­a­ture. This dis­played lead­ing Guyanese lit­er­a­ture and writ­ers along with the Guyana Prize Ex­hi­bi­tion and the Guyana classics, ac­com­pa­nied by a book­let or cat­a­logue re­lated to the vast range of work.

But while the Grand Mar­ket was very busy with its sev­eral va­ri­eties of mer­chan­dis­ing in­clud­ing a gen­eral ar­ray of prod­ucts quite out­side of the artis­tic in­dus­tries, the fes­ti­val as a whole did not reach max­i­mum achieve­ment be­cause of the re­peated poor houses for the per­form­ing arts. This was in­deed a ma­jor weak­ness that con­trib­uted to the de­cline in au­di­ences and ex­change, where only few mem­bers of del­e­ga­tions seemed to have seen the work of del­e­ga­tions from other coun­tries.

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