Image credit: National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica performing Kumina by Rex Nettleford.

National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica – The importance of recording today for the future

“Modern memory is above all, archival.  It relies on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image” (Nora 1989).

 

This year, Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage was proud to present the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) at Curve in Leicester on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 May, as a part of Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF24).  The company formed around the time of Jamaica’s independence in 1962.  As a part of their journey, they describe how Jamaicans have to “…depend on the spirit rather than on the letter of indigenous material (folksongs and stories largely) to build their dances” (NDTC 2020).  Remarkably, the members of the company are unpaid and they all have occupations such as students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, farmers and they are all dedicated to the use of dance for nation-building (NDTC 2020).

 

The performance of NDTC at Curve has been recorded and there are a number of reasons for this.  One of the important reasons for recording the performance is for the Living Archive at Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage.  The Living Archive collects material, both physical and digital, that relates to the African and African Caribbean Diaspora.  In this blog, I will use the fact that NDTC’s performance was recorded and will be archived and preserved, as an example to demonstrate the importance of collecting today for the archive, especially when we are discussing the African and African Caribbean Diasporas.

 

There is a misconception that an archive only holds material that is decades, or even hundreds of years old.  However, there is an increasing rise in contemporary archives.  When I refer to contemporary archives, I am discussing archives where the collections were created in recent years and are recognisable as originating from the times we currently live in.  Sisinna (2023) also describes contemporary archives as mainly digital in nature and they are created, managed, preserved and accessed differently to how archives have been accessed in the past.  Contemporary archives are not necessarily dependent on donations from members of the public.  Material is consciously collected by the archive itself, using the archival lens when looking at material today and understanding what it can mean to researchers now and researchers of the future.

 

Historically, Black communities are massively underrepresented in British archives. There are a multitude of reasons for this.  When Black communities are represented in archives, it usually has a London-centric focus or is from a colonial perspective.  This makes it imperative to record and document the activities and work of people from Black communities today.  They are the current chapter in a long history, and it may not be recognised today but what they are doing is changing and shaping the representation of Black people.  Future generations will be able to benefit from being able to access an archive that they feel seen in.  Also, what is happening now will be used in the future to compare progress.

 

So, what can we learn from the recording of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica?  The fact that the NDTC recording is digitally born and will be a part of the Living Archive is significant for collecting Black arts, heritage and culture.  NDTC’s performances articulate Jamaican post-colonialism.  From their choreography through to the way they move their bodies, they show the multi-layered cultural self and historical self which have come from Europe, Africa, East Asia and the legacies of the Indigenous people, and the Jamaican spirit that has been exemplified throughout the country’s history and new nationhood (Nettleford 2003; Sörgel 2007; NDTC 2020).  Within Jamaican culture, their history is not simply recorded on paper to be read.  They use creativity as a singer, musician, dancer and storyteller for both the creation and dissemination of information (Griffin 2021).  Cooper (1995) expanded on this by describing “The oral tradition in Jamaica is conceived as a broad repertoire of themes and cultural practices, as well as a more narrow taxonomy of verbal techniques…[which] includes diverse cultural beliefs/practices such as religion – obeah, myal, ettu, revival, kumina, spirit-possession; entertainment/socialization practices – children’s games, storytelling rituals, tea-meetings and social dance, for example.”  The recording of the performance of NDTC captures the special method of documenting and communicating Jamaican culture and history through dance.  As a resource, users of the Living Archive will be able to view the NDTC performance and have the ability to see and recognise aspects of their own history and culture that is not often available as an archival resource.

 

If we look beyond the transformative performances of NDTC, we can also learn from the circumstances that they operate within.  One example is out of 56 Commonwealth countries (The Royal Household), Jamaica is currently the only Caribbean country that requires a visa to visit the UK.  In 2003, David Blunkett imposed the rule on Jamaica as a response to gun and drug-related crime (Independent 2003).  Jamaica’s Foreign Minister, Allando Terrelonge, is currently in discussions with the British government to lift the visa requirement.  Terrelonge argues that Jamaicans should have the same right to travel freely to other countries and experience different cultures in the same way that is open to Europeans and Americans (St Kitts & Nevis Observer 2023).

 

The interesting part of archiving material created today is we do not know the role they will have in the archive in the future.  Archives are usually viewed as sources from history, tools for accountability and touchstones for memory and history (Millar 2017: 68-72).  Conscious decisions have to be made today for the value of material, both for the present and the future.  Making these decisions today can be complicated because there is an increasing pressure on archives to manage their storage space.  There is also a question around how we can sufficiently evaluate the research value of material today, when we cannot be sure what significance it may assume over time.  We should collect today for the unforetold significance and power materials assume with the passage of time.

 

Image credit: National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica performing Kumina by Rex Nettleford.

 

References

Burrell, I. (2003). ‘Blunkett imposes visa rule on all Jamaican visitors’. Independent. [online]

Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/blunkett-imposes-visa-rule-on-all-jamaican-visitors-123450.html [Accessed date: 31/03/2024]

 

Cooper, C. (1995). Noises in The Blood: Orality, Gender and the ‘Vulgar’ Body of Jamaican Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.

 

Griffin, S.H. (2021) ‘4 Noises in the archives: Acknowledging the present yet silenced presence in Caribbean archival memory’. In: Moss, M, and Thomas, D. (eds). Archival Silences: Missing, Lost and, Uncreated Archives.

 

Millar, L.A. (2017). Archives: principles and practices. Second Edition. London: Facet Publishing.

 

National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica. (2020). ‘History’ [online]

Available at: https://ndtcjamaica.org/about/history/ [Accessed date: 15/03/2024]

 

Nettleford, R. (2003). Caribbean Cultural Identity: The Case of Jamaica. Kingston: Ian Randle.

 

Nora, P. (1989). Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire. Representations, No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory, pp. 7-24. [online] Available from: https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/jaro2013/SOC564/um/40802691/Nora_Between_Memory_and_History.pdf [Accessed: 26/03/2024]

 

Sisinna, G. (2023). ‘How Contemporary Archives are Preserving and Accessing Digital Records’ [online]

Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-contemporary-archives-preserving-accessing-digital-sisinna/?trk=pulse-article [Accessed date: 15/03/2024]

 

Sörgel, S. (2007). Dancing Postcolonialism: The National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag [online]. Available at: https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/22737 [Accessed date: 01/04/2024]

St Kitts & Nevis Observer. (2023). ‘Jamaican Foreign Minister Requesting Visa-Free Travel to UK for All Jamaicans’ [online]

Available at: https://www.thestkittsnevisobserver.com/jamaican-foreign-minister-requesting-visa-free-travel-to-uk-for-all-jamaicans/#:~:text=The%20Caribbean%20island%20is%20the,visas%20to%20enter%20the%20UK. [Accessed date: 31/03/2024]

 

The Royal Household. ‘The Commonwealth’ [online] Available at:

https://www.royal.uk/the-commonwealth#:~:text=The%20Commonwealth%20is%20a%20voluntary,were%20formerly%20under%20British%20rule.

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