Imani Tafari-Ama | Kalunga: L’Acadco’s 40th season of dance
Published in the Jamaica Gleaner May 14, 2023
L’Acadco: A United Caribbean Dance Force is among the top-ranking representatives of Jamaica. An indicator of this debate-defying capability is that the dynamic ambassadors of Jamaican culture were headed to Europe to perform, right after the close of their recent epic season of dance.
Performance pundits will agree on one thing: L’Acadco is unique in contemporary cultural circles for its holistic approach to telling embodied stories on stage. Their recently concluded performance season, which was held at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at The University of the West Indies, (UWI), was a rich combination of elements that offered a tremendous package of entertainment.
‘KALUNGA,’ the 40th Anniversary Season of Dance, the performances ran for two weekends and featured works from guest choreographers Michelle Grant Murray, dean of dance, Miami Dade College; and Marlon Simms, NDTC artistic director. The show also included pieces choreographed by Founder and Artistic Director of L’Acadco, L’Antoinette Stines; Assistant Artistic Director Jessica Shaw; and Senior Company Member and Creative Associate, Orville McFarlane.
The Kalunga package was a dizzying display of emotionally charged, self-affirming, culturally provocative, and politically Pan-African messages. The package also intentionally subverted Eurocentric stereotypes, which privilege thin bodies over the generosity of African embodiment. Desire to achieve the thin dancer’s body has led to pathological practices of food engagement, which may culminate in the dangerous condition of anorexia nervosa. This does not seem to be a danger for the L’Acadco outfit, however, as dancers and musicians occupy a wide range of body sizes.
L’Acadco derives its name from Dr Stines, herself a celebrated dancer, locally and internationally. In an interview posted on her website, Dr Stines explained that her gift of dancing and choreographing are blessings from God. She has been generous in passing on this resource to others because she believes that “when you give, you get.” She sees herself as an instrument of God, bringing a God-consciousness to those who come under her influence and creative leadership.
INTELLIGIBLE AND COMPELLING
The L’Antech style that Dr Stines conceptualised is immediately intelligible to fans and compelling in its articulation of multiple meanings, for all viewers. It is a signature technique that is accentuated by repetitive hand and foot movements, extraordinary extensions, and the interaction of bodies, musical instruments, sound, movement, and rituals in a profound African-Caribbean fusion.
The woman sitting to my left at the show whispered at one point, “I keep thinking that each piece that is performed is going to be the one that I enjoy the most, but then something else comes, and everything is just awesome!”
This comment summarised the creative range of the cultural repertoire that L’Acadco performed. It captured the generosity of thinking that was invested in the combination of elements infused in each piece. From the drummers to the dancers, from the eloquent backdrops to the lighting, from the dancers to their costumes, from the performance of characters including the ritual-producing Orisha and passionate lovers, to the epic Satta – among the Third World selections – the show was didactic of the success that results from the efforts of all nodes on the professional spectrum.
L’Acadco is renown for its engagement with the elements of expression that embody the black experience, from continent to diaspora. The complex and layered meanings incorporated in the embodied renditions resonated with the receptive audience. The call and response between audience and performers was also an indicator of the widely felt appreciation of the efforts of the performers.
The choreographers were, clearly, defiant of the colonial registers that still haunt the expectations of audiences and society at large about what forms of expression are admissible in the dance world. Africa is bold and present in the aesthetics employed by L’Acadco throughout the 40th anniversary package of performances. So also, is Jamaican dancehall, which still suffers from social exclusion because the architects of this genre are from underserved communities. By incorporating wining moves and splits, for example, L’Acadco intentionally disrupted the virtual absence of positive African self-identity affirmation in religious, educational, political and popular culture norms that govern the Jamaican society.
While using the mode of dance to creatively critique the enduring legacy of colonial standards of contouring embodiment, L’Acadco has also developed a discourse of resistance, evidenced by the celebratory inclusion of voluptuous performers. This acknowledges, too, that modern dance is beholden to source. The interaction of the spirits of the African continent and the Caribbean was as entertaining as it was educational. Performers and audience were conjoined in the flipping of the script, which looped from ballet pirouettes to twerking, in the process of disentangling the layered elements woven in the tapestry of each carefully crafted composition.
Jessica Shaw, senior dancer and associate artistic director of L’Acadco, said in an interview on Radio Jamaica that she is a communicator of “full-bodied spirit, mind, and body” stories when she choreographs and performs. She said that the dancer’s role is crucial to the story telling, which calls for discipline and knowledge of both the theory and practice of the craft. She does not believe that there is an age limit to developing dance abilities.
“As long as the body is willing,” she said, “there is nothing that it cannot achieve.”
L’Antoinette acknowledged the importance of the process of passing the artistic director’s baton to Jessica because, as she said, “there must be no confusion when I go and it must be done with love”.
L’Acadco’s season of dance enjoyed the distinguished patronage of Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett on Saturday, April 29. Behind-the-scenes support staff included Eugene Williams, who directed the acting, assisted by Alwyn Scott; Caroline Allen, who wrote the script for the performers; Dr Carol Archer, chairperson of the management committee; Pat McDonnough, who produced the programmes; Natalie Corthesy, poet; Nadia Roxborough who managed the lighting; and Kareece Lawrence, assisted by Coleen Douglas, who took care of the public relations responsibilities.
As in the beginning, so in the end: the company performed prayer rituals to invoke blessings on all present. At the start, this spiritual salutation, led by the drummers, included the dancers walking around, touching the floor, symbolically invoking the connection between spirit and the earth. At the end, Dr Stines prayed blessings on the hand-holding performers and the audience, a heartwarming finale.
Imani Tafari-Ama, PhD, is a Pan-African advocate and gender and development specialist. Send feedback to [email protected].