Home Arts-Entertainment Showcase Actors, Music, Dancing: Bringing the Elements Together in "Dance Bongo"

Actors, Music, Dancing: Bringing the Elements Together in "Dance Bongo"


Oct. 28, 2006 — Noted Caribbean playwright and director David Edgecombe has returned to UVI in a new role, marking his return with a production of the late Errol Hills "Dance Bongo."
"I had little notice of the fact I would have this position, so I chose a play I was familiar with," Edgecombe says. "It is a tribute or recognition of Errol Hill — the man Ive long claimed as the father of Caribbean theater. Of his eight plays, this is the one I happen to think is the best."
Edgecombe formerly served as director of the Reichhold Center for the Performing Arts. When he became coordinator of the Fine Arts Program in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division, Hill's work fit the bill.
"I wanted a play with a large cast, and we have 20 people," Edgecombe says. "I also wanted a play that brings actors, music and dancing together, since these are elements that make drama exciting. This production is a challenge for the performers. And its a lively piece that the audience is sure to enjoy."
"Dance Bongo" is a folk fantasy set in a Caribbean village called Cedarpost. The major characters include old Sarah, played by Christina Harper, and Jeremy, played by Jae Knight. Sarah is sure that her grandson, Sammy, has been murdered by his best friend, Jeremy, although the other villagers are convinced his death was a job-related accident.
"Its a play about revenge and a grandmothers struggle to address the death of her grandson," Edgecombe explains. "Its a very moving play which deals with forces beyond the power of ordinary men."
As the drama opens, a mysterious stranger, played by Jeffrey Purcell, has arrived in the village, claiming he has come to dance for the dead. His boast that he is "the best bongo dancer between earth and sky" affronts the villagers. They respond by putting together a bongo, a dance with African roots, often performed at funeral wakes. This is a competitive dance tradition, with powerful drumming and energetic chants intended to inspire the competing dancers. When Jeremy decides to challenge the stranger, old Sarahs plot to expose her grandsons murderer plays out to its gripping climax.
Edgecombe was determined to have noted St. Croix dancer and choreographer Monty Thompson involved in the production of "Dance Bongo."
"I knew he was familiar with the bongo, but when I was first trying to reach him he was in Africa," Edgecombe says. "Fortunately, as soon as he got back he immediately jumped in; his expertise is invaluable and he is delightful to work with. The students have found him a great resource and inspiration. He has really helped to stretch the performers. Acting, dancing and singing demand a great deal, especially from students who may not be as experienced as some of the community cast members or who may have major roles."
The large cast includes not only UVI students and several people from the VI community, but also UVI faculty member Sharon Simmonds.
"I wont give away her role," Edgecombe says with a smile, "but for an accounting professor, shes a hell of a dancer."
Not only are UVI theater majors acting in "Dance Bongo," they are also helping with the set, the lighting, the sound, publicity and running the box office.
"The most satisfying aspect of being the director is working with the cast and watching them become enthused by drama and dance," Edgecombe says. "The least satisfying aspect is waiting for performers who chronically arrive late without so much as a telephone call ahead."
Tickets for "Dance Bongo" are $12 for adults and $6 for students. They may be purchased at the UVI Bookstore or the Humanities Building on the St. Thomas campus at UVI, Dockside Bookshop at Havensight Mall and Parrot Fish Records or Sweet Kisses in downtown Charlotte Amalie. The play runs November 3, 4, 5 and 6 (Friday through Monday) at the Little Theatre, on the 2nd floor of the Classroom Administration Building on the St. Thomas campus of UVI. All performances begin at 8 p.m. For further information, call 693-1340.
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