Simply the best I’ve witnessed at City Hall

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The best thing about being an art lover is that once in a while a truly great piece of art reveals itself to you, and you are one of the lucky few who possess the ability to truly appreciate it. Whether it be a painting, a poem, a song, a dramatic piece, or a masterpiece of movement and sound; truly breathtaking art is rare, and therefore, especially precious.

I have been lucky enough in my life and career to meet and spend time with outstanding artists, so I feel that I have what it takes to appreciate the power of great art. Well, City Hall has recently been hosting quite a bit of great art, and Friday night saw the greatest production I have seen in many years delivered on the City Hall Theatre stage.

Eric Bean Jr’s ‘Return to Paradise’ was a mesmerising merger of movement, poetry, and power that left the capacity audience absolutely breathless. At one point during this production, the sheer scale of artistic elegance being presented before me compelled me to put my notepad away and focus all my attentions on the dance. By the first intermission I was thoroughly spellbound and speechless.

I mean no disrespect to any other production company or artist I have previously reviewed when I say that what I saw on stage was simply the best thing I have ever witnessed at the City Hall Theatre. ‘Return to Paradise’ is a tour de force, and because it is the vision of Bermuda’s newest superstar, the powers that be must commission this show to run again! A one week run during the 2012 Bermuda Festival of the Arts for this absolute world class gem of a production is the least it deserves.

The show featured six female dancers and three male dancers in a two-part presentation that ran a tad over 90 minutes. All the female dancers were Bermudian, and represented the ‘cream of the crop’ from a large open audition held by Mr Bean’s Jarricodance: An Arts Company specifically for this production. Two of the male dancers were foreign, and Eric rounded out the cast of characters.

The show started soon after 8pm, and immediately captivated the crowd with a full company piece called ‘We’. Set to an up-tempo urban soundscape, the opening piece was effervescent and ebullient; an excellent start to what would become an evening of revelations.

Next up was the first of two duets by Mr Bean and the exquisite Dawnita Smith. This proved to be a brilliant pairing, resulting in a piece that exuded charm, personality, and innocence. Entitled ‘Hello’ and depicting the moments when a couple begins to like each other, this piece was pure springtime, young love, and cheek kisses; delightful.

Relationship themes permeated this show, with the duets being especially poignant and potent. ‘Trust’ found Dominique Anderson paired with Alex Diaz in a delicate dance of strengthening love and supple support. Sinuous and solid all at once, ‘Trust’ delivered an emotional punch that the audience certainly felt.

‘Lost’ was the first solo of the night. A dazzling piece delivered by Charles Way that merged deftly into the powerful ‘Brothers’. The latter piece featured all three male dancers struggling to survive in these trying times to the haunting sounds of the jazz classic ‘Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child’, an astonishingly visceral piece.

‘Silence’ and ‘Loneliness’ closed out the first half of the show. ‘Silence’ featured a spoken word piece recited by Tiffany Paynter, and ‘Loneliness’ was a full company descent into isolation and depression.

By now, the audience was completely engaged, and the emotions being depicted on stage were becoming tangible. This was a magnificent first half, and the crowd was rapt and ready for the second act.

‘Voices’ found the entire group on stage dancing to their own words as they expressed their personal views of the violence Bermuda has suffered recently. A recorded poem, written and recited by the individual dancers accompanied this uplifting, hope-filled piece.

‘Lies’ was the second of the aforementioned solo pieces by Mr Bean and Miss Smith. This piece alone was well worth the price of admission. ‘Lies’ was a guttural, grating piece, filled with discord, disappointment, and disharmony; the perennial story of love in turmoil. It was somewhat painful to watch for lovers who have been there before, and a stupendous work of modern art because of it!

The duet seamlessly became a trio when Mr Way joined the party in the equally heart rending ‘Longing’. The technique and emotional gravitas exhibited on stage during this part of the show was nothing short of dizzying, and every eye in attendance was fully engaged in the epic tale of confused love; simply hypnotic.

‘Conflict’ examined the effects of violence on love, while ‘Community’ depicted alienation and isolation from society as a form of death. Lauren Francis lent poetic license to ‘Community’ in the form of a spoken word voice over, while ‘Conflict’ found Miss Smith delivering yet another emotionally rich performance.

‘Hope’ offered respite. Fredrika Hill, Rhia Simons, Krystal Smith, and Dominique Anderson delivered us from the depths with considerable aplomb, allowing hope to return, and possibly, in time, paradise.

The show came full circle by the end, with ‘Paradise’ finding the full company on stage delivering a joyous, island-in-the-sun style romp. Rumba-infused and breezy, ‘Paradise’ was a utopian vision of this journey’s end; a place we all want to live in, perhaps return to.

Friday’s performance was followed by a question and answer period. The capacity crowd stayed right through the 20-or-so minute Q&A, having showered Mr Bean with a standing ovation when the curtain initially dropped. This was a night of pride for all of Bermuda; a night when a son of the soil returned to our shores, and brought us back to paradise.

Eric Bean Jr is an astonishingly accomplished artist at his age, and we must celebrate him! He is Bermuda’s new dance guru, and will inevitably join the pantheon of Bermudian dancers that includes Louise Jackson, Suzette Harvey, and Liz Pimental. If this show indeed is commissioned to run again, don’t let it pass you by next time!

‘Return to Paradise’ has raised the bar for dance in Bermuda, and is destined to become recognised as an enduring piece of treasured national art.

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Published Aug 15, 2011 at 9:12 am (Updated Aug 15, 2011 at 9:12 am)

Simply the best I’ve witnessed at City Hall

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