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Dancing across Generations

Published: 
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Paul Dennis dancing The Negro Speaks of Rivers, choreographed by Pearl Primus, at the fund raising show Generations II, at the Little Carib Theatre, Woodbrook, June 20. Photo: Edison Boodoosingh.

Two generations of dance came together for a second time on June 20 at the Little Carib Theatre for Generations II, a dance recital of five solos and one duet, programmed and danced by Paul Dennis and Juan-Pablo Alba Dennis. 

Dennis is an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is also the uncle of Alba Dennis, who is studying at the Ailey School/Fordham University towards a BFA in dance. The show was a fundraiser for Alba Dennis’ studies. It followed a fundraiser which took place last year. The show began with the explosive Spanish Dance: an impression of Flamenco Dance, choreographed in 1948 by American modern dancer and choreographer Daniel Nagrin with music by Genevieve Pitot. 

Performed by Paul Dennis, this opening number set the tone with years of mastery shown by Dennis in his poise and patience with the dance. Building from a motionless but tension-filled pose, he then slowly came to life around a series of deliberate, small accented motions, into a sweeping crescendo of highly-expressive movements, which included hand clapping, percussive footwork, and passionate feeling.

The younger Alba Dennis brought a more modern and organic style to the stage with a self-choreographed dance entitled Bottom of the River. It was performed with music of the same name—a stripped down, beat-thumping, hand-clapping, vocal-harmony-centered, neo-Negro spiritual track by Delta Rae. 

As expected, Alba Dennis approached the piece with all the angst, fear and fury the song demanded. There was a full-bodied commitment to the piece with lots of floor work, almost violent punching gestures; a call for desperation, then a supplication to the heavens overhead.  

Dennis' second dance was a work by José Limón with music by Frédéric Chopin. The group of short dances, Mazurkas, was created in honour of four cities and the people of Poland. They were first performed on August 15 1958 and are a tribute to the people's heroic spirit in their revival after World War II, according to a programme note from Generations II.

The audience was transported through Dennis' communication of joy and celebration in tribute to the culture of the Polish people far removed from the Caribbean by distance, but near in a shared experience of struggling to find happiness in spite of hardship. 

In the second of three solos of Mazurkas, Dennis transitioned to a mournful lament, loss and tragedy. Pain was etched deeply into each one of his slower movements, and his commitment was complete, from the severe point of his toes to the anguish written across the taut lines of his facial expression.  

Other highlights included a piece by T&T dancer, choreographer and anthropologist Pearl Primus, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, also danced by Dennis, which echoed in several significant ways Alba Dennis' work in Bottom of the River. 

Spiralling forward in time from 1944 (when Primus performed it) to 2015 in Alba Dennis' piece, the river remains as a symbol of refuge, absolution and salvation through concepts of escape, baptism and renewal. Alba Dennis' choreography seemed to take its place as a part of the larger universal body of dance addressing the theme of struggle and perseverance. 

Both dances were excellent choices for this programme. The finale, a duet entitled Dois Irmaos (Portuguese for “Two Brothers”) was for both dancers an incredibly demanding piece which explored and exposed male physicality. From dangerous lifts to an athletic pace with high-intensity acrobatics, the dancers shared the lead and passed the spotlight between each other, really bringing the piece to a space which resonated beyond the original theme. 

Across two generations, the dance transcended to an expansive study on the nature of communication and the relationship between men of different generations or rather the communication of mankind with itself across the field of time. 

Both Dennis and Alba Dennis have remarkable emotional expressions in spite of their different dance styles and different generations of training and dance influences.  One only hopes that decades from now, the dance legacy of T&T and our local works will be preserved with such care, attention to detail and performed as reverently and passionately. 

Juan Pablo Alba Dennis will host another dance recital, For the Love of Dance 3, on August 15 at Queen's Hall Auditorium.

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