Inclement weather did not stop Tobago’s 4th annual Bele Fest from being staged in grand style at the East Side Pan Tent, in Belle Garden. Rather the stage was set, for an intimate and colourful array of elaborate costuming and the eloquent, graceful and at times spicy moves of various aspects of the Bele artform.
At the start, the colourfully clad Bele Performers, representing groups from across Tobago, as well as visiting groups from Trinidad and St Lucia, entered the Yard, in full procession and flair which ended in a traditional dance ritual.
A large turnout of visitors and residents were welcomed to this French-influenced Village of Belle Garden by a member of the Village Council. A proud Secretary of Community Development and Culture Dr Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus, extended greetings, as she welcomed the Minister of the Arts and Multi-Culturalism, Dr Lincoln Douglas to the proceedings.
Secretary Tsoiafatt-Angus explained that the Division had successfully struck a balance between “entertainment and education,” as she pointed to the bele fest workshops, which preceded the Festival and in which some 125 school children in the East and close to 75 in the West, had participated.
She advised that “the children were exposed to about fourteen (14) variations of the indigenous bele artform, at these Workshops,” and she especially commended and thanked the Tutors, Cultural Officers and the monitoring personnel, without whom she stressed, “all this would not be possible.”
The Secretary also expressed her appreciation to East Side Pan Yard for allowing the return of the bele festival to this site and given the majority of new performers to this stage, she called it an evening of “new faces in old spaces.”
The Secretary was also pleased to announce that seven (7) Tobagonians had recently graduated from courses at UWI in the field of Dance Education.
The evening included an explosion of rich, colourful heritage and a reflection of varying styles of bele, to include varieties such as the Grand Bele, Congo Bele, Bele Jig and Bele Reel, Creole Bele and Pique, which unfolded centre-stage.
A total of eighteen (18) groups crossed the stage, executing combinations and fusions of the Grand Bele with the Congo Bele and others, all of which kept the audience fully occupied and entertained.
Amongst the performing groups and villages were ‘Zante Dance Company’, Parlatuvier and Roxborough, which comprised youthful, kindergarden and tinytots, who performed a vigorous combination of Bele Jig and Bele Reel. Next, dancing the traditional La Riene Rivere, was ‘Sisters in Culture.’ A fusion of Grand Bele and Bele Renaissance was performed by ‘Tobago Cultural Revival,’ to name a few.
Special tribute was paid to what was described as the “immeasurable contribution to the Arts,” by the late Cultural Icon, Mr Henry James, with a rendition of a fusion of Pan and Drum.
Amidst the creativity, poise and elegance of the Tobago groups, it was further characterized by groups from Trinidad who were at home on the Tobago stage, with the ‘Diego Martin Footprints’ executing the Grand Bele and Creole Bele combination. Captivating the audience with an interactive mode of delivery was St Lucia’s ‘Youth Spac,’ which demonstrated the varying styles of Bele, Bele Konti, Bele Mabelo with an exquisitely performed sequence, of a French-influenced repertoire.
As the evening drew to a close, Secretary Tsoiafatt-Angus was caught by surprise, as she was chaperoned on stage by the host community of Belle Garden to share a coronation, with performers resplendent in bright orange and bright pink, who fittingly brought a most memorable evening to a close.