Successful 17th Anniversary St. John Arts Festival

Above: Caribbean Dancers perform for the crowd at the 17th Anniversary St. John Arts Festival. Photo by Perdita Stapleton.

by Frank Langley

This year’s Festival was an outstanding success, starting with Children’s Day on Saturday, with a truly unique and lively 12-piece steel pan band concert, the Love City Pan Dragons, under the direction of Elaine Sprauve, and, in particular, some very melodious pieces with intricate, syncopated rhythms – both fascinating and flawless.

The Love City Pan Dragons perform at the 17th Anniversary St. John Arts Festival. Photo by Frank Langley.

Immediately following was an equally charming concert of children’s voices led by Kristen Carmichael-Bowers ranging from grades K to 5 in front of a crowd of admiring parents and visitors. The children were from Julius E.Sprauve School, St. John Christian Academy, Gifft Hill School and home-schooled, forming the “St.John All-Island Children’s Choir”- a program of the St.John School of the Arts.

St.John All-Island Children’s Choir performs at the 17th Anniversary St. John Arts Festival. Photo by Perdita Stapleton.

Keeping the pot boiling, was a series of old-time Quadrille dances performed by children in traditional Caribbean dress from Julius E. Sprauve School under the direction of Evans Williams (also a veteran Quadrille dancer from the former St. John adult group).  It was a joy to see the old island traditions being kept alive with today’s children who in turn, will pass it on as they grow up.

Mr. Frank Langley, President of the St. John Arts Festival, introduces JESS Quadrille dancers. Photo by Perdita Stapleton.
JESS students dance Quadrille directed by teacher Mr. Evan Williams. Photo by Perdita Stapleton.

Finally on Saturday, a new group of children, the “Dynamic Dancers,” under the direction of Loraine Richards, gave a lively series of dances and gymnastics to the more modern calypso rhythms.

Dynamic Dancers entertain the crowd at the festival. Photo by Frank Langley.

The sun shone bright and the rain showers held-off for all the performances to the end of the Festival, and as a colorful back-drop, this year’s Caribbean Arts, Crafts and Food Exhibitions was complemented by exhibitors in colorful traditional Caribbean dress.

Andrew Eusebe of Dominica and his mother crafted these baskets out of “Lauma” vine, which is similar to bamboo. Andrew was a 3rd prize winner. Photo by Perdita Stapleton.

On Sunday there was a Gospel concert organized by Faye Fredericks, with church choirs from the St. John Methodist and Nazareth Lutheran churches, echoing the hymns which were sung back in the days of the founding of the churches many years ago, and in keeping with one of the special traditions of the islanders.  Following the Gospel concert was a similarly spiritually uplifting series hymns sung by the St. John Women’s Ensemble directed by Kristen. Rounding off the day’s performances was several Quadrille dances by the St. Thomas “Heritage Dancers” in their colorful traditional dresses.

Monday was the highlight of the five-day Festival, starting with dances by Marcella in the African tradition, and phasing into Koko’s Sunshine Band, a scratch band, playing calypso-style songs and rhythms as a pre-amble to the Caribbean Ritual Dancers from St. Thomas, directed by Diana Brown, with children performing Bamboula dances and with Moko Jumbies from St. John by Cooper Penn.

Koko and the Sunshine Band perform on day three of the festival. Photo by Perdita Stapleton.

In the evening, as a special event, Marcella performed a number of “fire dances” with hand-held arrays of naked flames, dramatically emphasizing her movement in the darkened park – and enthralling the spectators.

Photo by Perdita Stapleton.

Tuesday reached-out to our South American neighbors with Latin-American music by Rich Greengold’s Sambacombo, and, in the evening, a truly remarkable film: “Vanishing Sail” was shown at the St. John School of the arts by film-maker Alexis Andrews.  The auditorium was packed to capacity and the film, which showed the building and racing of the last Carriacou wooden sloop, was more than a documentary – it was an outpouring of the passion and determination of the island boat builder, Alwyn Enoe, in making his last boat and having the satisfaction that, through the film, the craft would not die.  Both the film and the address given by Alexis Andrews were emotionally moving and inspiring, not to mention the haunting recurring musical theme which gave the film a strong spiritual connection.

Wednesday was the last day of the Festival and as always, the St. John reggae combo, “Visions,” played under the direction of Jupiter, brother of Grasshopper, who is slowly recovering from a physical set-back.

Visions, Reggae Combo was the final act of the Arts Festival. Photo by Perdita Stapleton.

Also, running through the whole week, was an excellent exhibition of children’s art on the second floor of the Market Place, organized by Rosemary Richards of Gifft Hill School, using the windows of empty stores. A novel idea on her part!

Artwork on display at The Marketplace on the 2nd floor. Photo by Frank Langley.

Last, but not least, cash prizes were awarded to the exhibitors with 1st prizes for: traditional dress; goods displayed; and singular attendance for the five days (excepting rainouts); to: Dahlia Smith (dress) and Randolph Morten (wood carving) and Ester Frett (traditional dress/dolls). 2nd prizes were awarded to Mode Laguerre (St.John produce), Joseph Degazon (wood carving) and Daniel Mead (carved calabash).  The 3rd prizes were awarded to: Enrique Palmer (assorted jewelry); Andrew Eusebe (basket weaving) and Ecelma Sprauve (baked goods).

Dahlia Smith won 1st prize for her traditional dress. Photo by Frank Langley.
Ester Frett, 1st prize winner, wearing a cultural outfit of her own design. Photo by Perdita Stapleton.
Mode Laguerre, 2nd prize winner, pictured at her fruit stand. Photo by Frank Langley.
Daniel Mead, 2nd prize winner. Photo by Frank Langley.