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Minshall returns, with ‘The Dying Swan’

By Andre Bagoo Saturday, January 30 2016

AFTER a hiatus of almost a decade, mas man Peter Minshall on Thursday night returned to the Queen’s Park Savannah stage with a design that looked back one hundred years, and fused the Moko Jumbie with the Ballet Russes. ‘The Dying Swan’ – a mas designed and directed by Minshall – floated across the Big Yard, brought to life by former King of Carnival Jha-whan Thomas. With the simple addition of toes and heels, the stilts of the Moko Jumbie became a ballet dancers’ elongated calves, feet en pointe.

Thomas made good on the presentation’s sub-title, ‘Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavlova’, channelling the two great Russian ballet dancers Vaslav Nijinsky, often described as the greatest male dancer of the 20th century, and Anna Pavlova, for whom ‘The Dying Swan’ was choreographed in 1905, and which she performed 4,000 times. The masquerader wore a large white couture dress, with long plumes, made by Ronald Guy James, which echoed Minshall’s ‘Joy to the World’ from 1995.

As pannist Fayola Granderson played notes to Camille Saint- Saëns’ ‘The Swan’, Thomas glided onto the darkened stage, making tiny, nibbling steps, his back facing the audience, his arms exquisitely mimicking Pavlova’s famous arm movements suggesting the wings of a bird seeking flight. He turned.

CROWD IN AWE The effect and connection with the audience was instant.

Applause broke out in the Grand Stand which had been dormant for most of the long night of the preliminary round of the Kings and Queens of Carnival.

With his muscular limbs covered in white body paint, Thomas, portrayed the struggle of an animal staving off the inevitable.

With memories of previous years when he had fallen in the competition still fresh, a palpable tension emerged. This added to the drama of the dying swan, struggling, under the glaring headlights, to carry on to the other side of the stage.

“The work will resonate,” Minshall – who was not at the Savannah on Thursday night – yesterday told Newsday. “I had seen Moko Jumbies all my life. But one day, suddenly, I thought: my God, he is a ballerina on toes. I added a little toe and calf and somehow it makes him look like a creature from Alice in Wonderland. This is not a costume, it is a mas. On Thursday night, Jha-whan played the mas.” The veteran mas man, famous for Kings like, ‘Mancrab’ and ‘Saga Boy’, said he came up with the ballerina idea around 2001 when he was working on another production at New York months before the September 11 attacks. He was also drawn to the fact that Thomas had, in several presentations over the years, fallen, including on Valentine’s Day 2007 when Thomas fell at the Savannah while wearing Brian MacFarlane’s ‘Raj Kumar Boyie’, a giant elephant on stilts.

“Jha-whan had several accidents,” Minshall, 77, said. “I thought: come on! Let’s do this! Let’s do something that brings alive the Ballet Russes. Let us join classical Africa to classical Europe. That is what that mas last night was.” Minshall continued, “I didn’t go to the Savannah in person because I trusted the team. And then when I saw what Jha-whan did! He nailed it. He got it. And you know what is more wonderful for me? The audience got it too. That’s incredible.

The basis of our mas art is to never patronise. Aim for the highest. ‘I do not want to die,’ said the swan. ‘I want to live’. Trinidad and Tobago must live. Or the whole world will die.”

THOMAS HONOURED Speaking with Newsday hours before crossing the stage on Thursday night, Thomas said he was honored to have been chosen by Minshall to do the mas.

“I know him from since I was fifteen,” Thomas said. “Everybody knows Minshall has not been in the mas game for some time, but he still has a passion for his culture and the mas. He thought this would do good for this year. It is a combination of great elements from times past. It can mean anything, but really the mas speaks for itself.

The world will see this.” The costume, which placed fourth in the preliminaries, returns to the stage at the finals next Tuesday night.

Thomas became the first King of Carnival on stilts in 2008 with ‘Pandemic Rage’, from Mac Farlane’s ‘Earth – Cries of Despair, Wings of Hope’. That year, the masquerader tumbled in the semi-final and preliminary rounds, but crossed the stage without a hitch on finals night.

While Minshall has brought out a King, he has not brought out a band. His design is featured as the King of ‘Searching For Shangri-La’, which is being presented by K2K Alliance and Partners.

This year, the King and Queen of Carnival competition is following a new format. Forty Kings and 44 Queens crossed the stage on Thursday night, but only 15 of each will make next Tuesday’s finals.

There is no semi-final round.

Other notable Kings who crossed the stage on Thursday included: ‘Pan - Greek God of the Forest’, carried by Ansel G Price; ‘Esu Ajaguara, the Force of Creation’, by Jonadiah Gonzales; reigning champion Roland St George’s ‘Hocus Pocus’; Keston Benthum’s ‘Elfurdrakos’; Curtis Eustace’s ‘Demonato Price of D Forbidden’; Ravi Lakhan’s spooky ‘Night of Horror’; and Glenn Dave Lakhan’s ‘Night of the Owling Creature’.

Reigning Queen of Carnival Stephanie Kanhai made clear her intention to keep her crown with, ‘The Virgin Queen’, a stunning costume which fused Elizabethan, Caribbean and contemporary sensibilities, flowing in blue, white and gold, and, like Thomas, on Moko stilts.


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