March 2017

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The jammettes are causing a commotion at the Old Yard. In short dresses and torn stockings they stride the yard, accosting the men, posing for photos, demanding the attention of all with their laughter, speech and gestures. It’s hard to imagine these talented young actors as anything other than what they portray, hard to imagine them as UWI students in the year 2017, using a smart phone, taking a maxi home after class.

The irony of art is that sometimes, the better it is, the more it connects with us at an emotional and even spiritual level, the less we see the discipline, workmanship and dedication that create it. In Old Yard 2017, the annual Carnival event of The UWI St. Augustine’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts, these traits were very much on display as students and visiting performers shared the power and subtle brilliance of traditional mas.

“The philosophy behind this event experience is similar to the Disney model. When you come through the gate of the Old Yard you are transported into the period of the old barrack yard, when those characters would have come alive at Carnival time,” says Dr. Jo-anne Tull, Lecturer and Coordinator of Carnival Studies, as well as Project Director of the Old Yard.

Held at the DCFA grounds on February 19 this year, Old Yard plays several roles. It is a teaching lab for both performing and festival management students (who handle all aspects of the event management side of the yard). It is a living museum that preserves culture. It is a promoter of traditional Carnival to new generations. As Dr. Tull says, “a significant portion of our audience is school children. That is deliberate.”

And of course it is an immersive and entertaining experience. The yard is inhabited by bats, minstrels, stick fighters, burrokeets, the Midnight Robber, jab jabs and all the gorgeous and grotesque characters of Dame Lorraine mas. And though there is a stage, the “Gayelle”, there is no true barrier between the audience and the players. The players will come for you.

This year’s Old Yard also had a special exhibition of artifacts, photography and audio-visual presentations from the previous years of the event, titled “A look back at the Old Yard.” The DCFA is critical in preserving and passing on these cultural forms through its students and events, both on campus and through its outreach programmes such as Arts-in-Action.

And judging by the performances of their students, the DCFA is doing an outstanding job.

When asked how they are able to engage their students so well, Dr. Tull says, “the students own interpretation of the masquerade must be respected. It’s not to say that you don’t respect tradition but as artists you want them to be questioning and introspective about their performance. This engages them.”

The jammette passes by, blowing a kiss at the people in the stands. Immediately they erupt, scrambling for their camera phones. “All yuh want to take my picture?” she inquires, putting her hand on one hip and cocking her head to one side, “okay, go ahead.”

A jammette in a smartphone world, owning it.

Photos: Aneel Karim