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Twenty years of Blue
A review by Shivanee Ramlochan
Rapso collective 3canal—Wendell Manwarren, Roger Roberts, and Stanton Kewley—have claimed the self-devouring snake as a central jewel in the glittering diadem of their 2017 show: Blue Forever, Forever Blue, which opened at Queen's Hall on February 21. It has been 20 years since Blue, 3canal's 1997 J'Ouvert hit song, and Blue Forever, Forever Blue takes ritualistic observance of this fact, with all the elegance, precision and sharp potential of a wild beast sinking its teeth into itself.
Out + Bad, 3canal's 2016 show, was staged at the Big Black Box and proudly championed a raw visceral pulse, aided in no small part by the relocation to an open-air, intimate venue that doubled as the collective's home turf.
This year sees 3canal return to Queen's Hall, and while this is perhaps an imaginative diminution for a band whose shows are best savoured with smoke in the air of a foreday morning, the space is nonetheless intuitively claimed. Original 3canal show set designer Sean Leonard's minimalist 2017 design displayed an intimate knowledge of the kinetic energy of 3canal shows. Under the stage direction of Dave Williams, an original choreographer of the show, the band, its dancers, actors, and singers maximised use of the space without cluttering its functional simplicity, orbiting each other throughout the night's blue-hued magic.
It was a complex magic that director Wendell Manwarren and producer Roger Roberts were intent on unfolding at Blue Forever, Forever Blue: the notion that things happen both in and out of their time, that time itself is both a metaphysical construct and a galvanising agent. How the rapso troupe sees its own purpose in this spatial gayelle—as a band of educators, resisters, political agents—infused the heart of the night's songs: a mixture of old standards and new 2017 fare.
The most discordant note of recent 3canal shows, the new talent segment of up-and-coming griots in the band's stable, found a firmly unapologetic footing in this year's line-up. The chronology of Blue Forever, Forever Blue cradled the original performances of Diedre Ryan, Jelaé Stroude-Mitchell, Mogabi and Shermarke Thomas. By positioning the quartet as the anchoring leg of Act 1, not as pre-show amusement fodder, 3canal's intent could not be clearer: our new voices are worth buttressing, and are capable of rooting a show's rhythm. Of the impassioned compositions, Stroude-Mitchell's Higher shone with particular fervour: an anthem of militia-esque resistance and the tenacity required to overcome grimly punishing guava seasons.
It would have been easy to bathe 2017's show in a monochromatic wash of blue, and be done with it—but under the art direction of Roger Roberts, with original artwork by Ayodhya Ouditt, nuance and energising grace crept into the very interpretation of “blue, a colour of pigment”. On a digital screen display that dominated the upstage, North Eleven Projections broadcast hopeful, swirling kaleidoscopes and fluttering hummingbirds, flapping heart-headed warrior angels and cosmically pulsating heartbeats, evoking the consistent visual language of rebirth, reclamation and re-affirmation.
Other agents of the show's productions conspired to sensitively interact with blue as a compound reality, not a singular story. Celia Wells' lighting design did more than scattershot blue spotlights; under her direction, menacing washes of red and healing pools of yellow threaded into the profusion of blues, in both spotlighting and strip lighting. Wells cast focus on 3canal and the full performing troupe, while also allowing for a pointed and purposeful interplay of darkness, notably on the night's more sobering tracks and dramatic tableaux.
Mervyn de Goeas make-up direction saw bold palettes of blue, accentuated by black, providing bruising facial counterpoints on the night's storytellers: elisha bartels [sic]; Cecilia Salazar; Arnold Goindhan, and Marvin Dowridge. The costume designs of Meiling, Robert Young, Shannon Alonzo, and Zidelle Daniel outfitted the performers in rotating wardrobes of blue, white and black, arming 3canal in spangled jackets and frayed jeans—the very habitations, one guesses, of modern-day love-warriors.
Under the choreographic direction of Deon Baptiste, Abeo Jackson, Kwasi Romero, Tricia Rae-Boyce, and Ian Baptiste, the 3canal troupe of dancers writhed, wound and undulated in clusters and in individual manifestations of the night's many shifting moods. They shifted from the foot-stomping anthemic chants of Stronger, to the looser, flowing motions of Good Morning and Make ah Drain.
As the night built to the inevitable, eagerly-awaited crescendo that would see Blue performed on stage, it felt that all the shifting, navigable parts of the 3canal show were in better harmony than the Queen's Hall stage has seen them, for years. Whether it was the Cut+Clear Crew playing their instrumental hearts out in the mosh pit; elisha bartels writhing in throes of her Seer character's baleful and sanguine prophecies; Glenda Collens oscillating majestically and presiding over the night's mas in the role of the Angel: all elements conspired to converge on the strength of one note: a resonant, rebellion-laced, ricocheting blue one.
Yes, some people only go to 3canal shows to wine in their seats to Talk Yuh Talk—and on this note the band does not disappoint them. Yet, as Manwarren's script in Blue Forever, Forever Blue generously makes room for Olive Senior, WB Yeats, Martin Carter and Jamie Samms, so too does that very munificence abound in the artistic execution of 2017's show. There is room here for the necessary, confounding, breath-giving playing of oneself, as 3canal reminds you: you can meet them on the stage, in the road, in a drain or over the next smouldering hill—they will be there, waiting to make mas and make love out of whatever remains.
3canal's annual Carnival presentation, this year titled Blue Forever, Forever Blue, closed last night at Queen's Hall, St Ann's.
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