78.7 F
Cruz Bay
Monday, April 15, 2024


April 15, 2001 – It's mid-day on the beach at Cinnamon Bay. Three dancers make their moves as their director bellows instructions through a bullhorn and video cameras record the action.
The man behind the bullhorn is Donald Byrd, working with dancers of his company, The Group, on the new work he has created. "I'm trying to capture the natural feel of the islands — the sea, the land. and the rhythm of its people," he says.
The scenario is one of many that occurred in recent days on St. John as mainland performing artists spent a week rehearsing and recording material that will be incorporated into "Face of America 2001," a night of world premiere performances celebrating the Virgin Islands National Park and the island of St. John.
The presentation, blending live appearances with recorded segments projected onto giant video screens, will take place on Sept. 8 at Wolf Trap, America's National Park for the Performing Arts, located 20 minutes from Washington, D.C. The production is the second in a continuing series spotlighting a different national park each year. Last year's inaugural program focused on Yosimite National Park.
During a break in the Cinnamon Bay taping, St. Thomas dancer Cubie-Ayah George, performing as a guest artist with The Group, comments, "We don't see work like this that combines a sense of nature with the essence of dance." George, who got her early training at the V.I. Institute of Performing Arts, is one of the three dancers whose performances are being taped for high-definition TV projection during the Sept. 8 presentation.
"There will be 10 dancers in the live performance at Wolf Trap," Byrd explains. "Today we are at the beach. Yesterday we visited the Annaberg Ruins. I could feel the spirits there — some good, some troubled. That will also be captured in our performance."
Dancer Olivia Bowman, who has been with The Group for two years, comments, "This is my first time here, and I love these islands. But I haven't had a chance to enjoy them because of our hectic schedule."
Thaddeus Davis, who taught two master dance classes at the St. John School of the Arts while on island, says dancing in the piece Byrd has created for the Wolf Trap program celebrates "a oneness with nature."
Like Byrd's choreography, the music to accompany it has been commissioned by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Arts. It's the work of jazz trombonist and conch-shell player Steve Turre.
Turre's composition is for his band The Sanctified Shells, which, as its name suggests, incorporates the mystical sounds of conch shells in its music. The longtime member of the Saturday Night Live band devotes much of a day to videotaping by the sculpture of a conch shell blower in Cruz Bay Park. By night, he finds time to jam not far away with the St. John reggae group Inner Vision, at Fred's.
For two days, African-American storyteller Alice McGill moves around the island gathering traditional tales for her live Wolf Trap performance. She visits the fishermen's market, Cruz Bay Park and the Senior Citizens Center in search of what she calls "the roots of the stories." She will cull from what she has collected here to create a performance piece that celebrates the history and heritage of St. John.
And while all these artists are researching, creating, performing and recording at locations throughout St. John, five U.S. Olympic Synchronized Swimming Team members are taping their contribution, an original freestyle underwater ballet, in the National Park waters off Henley Cay.
The fruits of the week's work, concluded April 11, will be seen in only the one live presentation, celebrating the natural and cultural history of the V.I. National Park and the people of St. John, before an audience of about 5,500, on Sept. 8.
Also appearing live at Wolf Trap's Filene Center that night will be Guggenheim Award-winning choreographer Ronald K. Browne and his dance company, Evidence.
But the fruits will extend beyond that one night. The National Park Service is planning an interactive display on the project at the park visitor center in Cruz Bay. Wolf Trap is working with the NPS to develop videos of each year's productions. And the Wolf Trap Foundation is hoping to find support to develop a public television series incorporating the "Face of America" performances and background on their development.
"Last year we had great success presenting at Yosemite National Park," Wolf Trap Foundation president Terrence D. Jones says. "This year, we chose the Virgin Islands."
Jones adds, "The combination of original performances in non-traditional spaces, such as under water, on the beaches and in historic sites on St. John, allows us to produce performance art that is unparalleled."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.