Colour Me: Quilt is Boldly Going

If colour is just a reflection of light
And all colour exists within my eyes
What colour am I?
-Quilt, Colour Me 2014

The Quilt Performing Arts Company has managed to ensnare and delight their patrons yet again with the performance of Colour Me, at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts on Thursday evening. The production is slated to be their debut on the international stage at the Contacting the World festival held in Manchester, England later this summer. Quilt has spent the last half year attempting to raise enough funds for the entire group to make the trip but this close to the festival date, it appears as if their dream may yet remain unrealized. 10437548_850002021694461_8174548855808551016_n

Compared to previous Quilt shows, Colour Me is brushed with different strokes. Staying inside the lines of their cohesive theme, Quilt has created a design of masterful originality, like watching Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel take shape from a colour-by-numbers book. The company reflects light of all wavelengths, unhesitatingly digging beyond our superficial appreciation of hue to showcase the way colours colour our world.

The cast performs Colour Splash.

Threads of poetry written by Maya Wilkinson (media director) and voiced by Leonie Forbes kept the production tightly woven. Colour Me unfolded like a flower: from seed to shoot and root then blossoming suddenly into an explosively vibrant display.

A few pieces (out of the eleven in total) merit special mention.

Colour Enslavement tackled gender stereotypes like a linebacker, with naked honesty and enough humour to keep the audience comfortable. Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys (led by the charmingly despicable Clarence Peart and Kalia Ellis) was a scathing commentary on the way we sanction masculine and feminine roles. A tad bit literal but perhaps the writer (Odain Murray) decided it was time to do away with metaphors in this particular conversation?

A magnificently irate Kalia Ellis castigates a shy Tiffany Thompson for being "too blue".
A magnificently irate Kalia Ellis castigates a shy Tiffany Thompson for being “too blue”.

A note must be made of the notable improvement in the group’s technique. The obvious gaps between the ‘dancers’ and everyone else aren’t as obvious anymore.

Pinkish-Red carried on the gender conversation by examining the tide of colours that mark a woman’s life and journey through a cancer that pushed her out of womanly red back to a girlish pink. It was an admirable performance by Joylene Alexander, and the voices of Sonishea McKenzie (crowd favourite, or more specifically, Fabian Thomas favourite), Jasmine Taylor and Tiffany Thompson carried this piece up into the heights of real emotion with their rendition of Laura Mvula’s She.

A broken Joylene Alexander bemonas her fate, shadow danced by Jasmine Taylor.
A broken Joylene Alexander bemoans her fate, shadow-danced by Jasmine Taylor.

The trio shines even more spectacularly in True Colours, a performance that garnered a standing ovation after it left the audience breathless.

In Colour Collision, Roxan Weber and Tristan Rodney keep a brisk pace with their sparking chemistry and highly commendable technique to the sounds of Broken Hallelujah (a personal favourite) sung by Clarence Peart and Tiffany Thompson. Perhaps the performance would have benefited from moments of slow choreography as well as fast, but choreographer Tristan Rodney appears to have an illustrious career ahead of him.

Colour Me may have lacked the gut-wrenching emotion of Quilt’s other shows but as Artistic Director Rayon McLean mentioned at the start, this show wasn’t meant to leave the audience sobbing at the end. What they’ve managed to create is a capsule of the human condition that can resonate on local and universal stages. Hopefully they’ll get the chance.

10345990_837313859629944_2148107827506769850_nPhoto credit (except first and last) to: Aston Cooke, playwright.
Photo credit (first and last) to: Maya Wilkinson, media artist.


Blogs and Mirrors| a Review

Mirror Mirror on the Blog?

Last weekend I watched Michael Holgate’s new production Blogs and Mirrors at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts. The cast comprised members of the University Players and the Ashe Company, starring Toni “Bella” Blair (of Youtube fame) and Rudolph Tomlinson. Supporting cast members included Desmond Dennis, Tiffany Thompson and Tiffany Smith.

Credt: nickphotoworks
Ebony (Toni Blair) and her monkeys.

Spiraling Plot

The musical stumbles through the lives of four characters: Ebony who has recently inherited her father’s company; Phil, her love interest; June who has fallen in love with a boy she met online; and Chidi, the boy online. The much-neglected plot spirals around underhandedness, deceit and the power of believing in yourself. Delivered spoken-word style, Holgate’s good intentions are received but he falls into the trap of telling instead of showing.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
-Anton Chekhov

Wit vs Creativity

There was a smattering of well-delivered punchlines, and what it lacked in creativity the script certainly made up in wit. I found that the cast handled humour more believably than the serious issues. Jamaicans (maybe all theatre goers?) have a tendency to laugh when they feel awkward or embarrassed and the characters actually pointed this out. But I think some entertainment value was lost by erring on the side of too serious. I got the point, but maybe there was another way he could have brought across the same ideas with less proselytizing.

Highs and Lows

Thompson’s voice continues to inspire awe in her sassy rendition of the Magic Mirror; Bernard continues to play the mustache-twirling villain with masterful aplomb; and the monkeys’ moves were executed with laudable technique. But June’s character was incredibly annoying; Ebony and Phil’s romance has very little believability; and Blair’s delivery of Ebony lacked the feeling that could have brought her character to life.

Throughout the musical I kept losing touch with the central story, caught adrift in side stories that did little or nothing to move the central plot forward. But the original songs and dances were entertaining (if sometimes too long) and inspiring.

Pet Peeves

I have my own personal pet peeves. How come every time the main character is a girl the plot  dissolves into a sappy romance? Just once I would like to see a play where the happy ending does not involve the lead girl finding the man of her dreams.

Additionally (and this is a personal point) the second half took a religious turn that left me feeling somewhat unsettled. When I go to the theatre I don’t expect to find Jesus. I don’t have a problem with him being there, but it’s a bit like walking in on someone in the bathroom (the awkward kind of surprising).

Overall I’d give Blogs and Mirrors 4/10. It was entertaining enough, but there was really no “wow” factor.

RELEASE at Philip Sherlock {13.2.14}

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.