On Thursday evening I went to see the QUILT production RELEASE at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts. Since its conception, QUILT has gathered a steady fan base among students of the University of the West Indies and the wider theatre community with its dedication to producing innovative works of performance art. The company is celebrating their fourth anniversary amidst preparations to participate in a UK based international performing arts competition.
The QUILT version of theatre is not any one thread of drama, dance, song or film. Instead the company weaves a tapestry of all four elements to create its trademark patchwork of expressively dynamic pieces.
The first half of the show was layered beautifully with lamentations of colonial heritage and socio-cultural injustices. Noises in my Blood, choreographed by Rayon Mclean and led by Lemar Archer and Tiffany Thompson, explored the denial and eventual acceptance of one young man’s heritage.
In this performance, the inventive use of breath and energy reinforced the themes of fear and powerlessness and was a testament to artistic director Rayon Mclean’s credibility as a director/choreographer.
In Reflections of Red – the blend of a QUILT staple piece with poetry by Jean Small – the veteran poet admittedly lost me along her beleaguered battle for the life of her son. The connection between the Small and the prop – a pair of khaki pants – did not convey the emotion of the poem and though the choir started out with incredibly passionate voices, I felt that the power of this enactment dissipated as it developed.
The second half of the show delved into contemporary commentary, beginning with the short play Vessel, written and directed by Multimedia and Film Director Maya Wilkinson and featuring Ramone Gordon and Kalia Ellis.
Vessel is noteworthy for its abruptly disturbing journey through the mind of a mother facing post-partum psychosis. The stark set design and use of movement and lighting carried this piece far above its compelling dialogue into the realm of haunting surrealism. Ellis must be commended for tackling the role of Karen so thoroughly and with unabashed, unsettling detail.
Loversation followed, opening with a close-up video of hands and lips and bare skin. The first movement, a duet between Roxan Webber and Ramone Gordon, had moments of exciting choreography but ultimately fell flat from the lack of connection between Gordon and Webber.
The second movement picked up with alacrity as a duet between Odain Murray and Jasmine Taylor that positively sparked with chemistry. The duo moved seamlessly through costume changes and communicated with the audience and each other a tension and frustration that were almost palpable.
For me, the most compelling number of the evening was Section Two of Open Closed Doors which, in a style reminiscent of For Coloured Girls, explored the lives of women who have been used by the men who claimed to love them.
QUILT has proven their dedication to avant-garde theatre by not shying away from the gritty themes of sex-selling, unsatisfying marriages and domestic slavery. The act was directed by Rayon McLean and featured Kyesha Randall, Kalia Ellis, Joylene Alexander, Patrice Anderson, Soneisha McKenzie and Tiffany Thompson.
The bitter soliloquies were peppered with words that punctuated like knife points. Stage direction was never more relevant than the apparent confinement of each actor to chalk outlines of themselves – not to be breached until they can close their open doors. The drama climaxed when the actors stepped defiantly outside their crudely drawn lines, but culminated rather darkly and unpleasantly true to life when one actor reopened her door to the same betrayal.
QUILT has promised to go where no performing arts company has gone before and certainly I have never attended a theatrical production where the audience was more engaged, more in tune with the goings on of the stage. QUILT demands attention remorselessly, and seizes it with fervour.
The nature of the pieces delivered in RELEASE inevitably makes this easier; controversial topics will always stir an audience’s blood. Companies tend not to rely heavily on this kind of contentious camaraderie but QUILT has built an entire show around passion – the good kind and the bad. They’ve tapped into the exuberance at the heart of the Jamaican spirit to fuel their climb to further heights of glory.