Dance Bongo to be staged at NAPA

Dance Bongo is a play of mystery and discovery, focused on a bongo dance in a small village.  Director Michael Cherrie, at right,  says,
Dance Bongo is a play of mystery and discovery, focused on a bongo dance in a small village. Director Michael Cherrie, at right, says, "This is like no other production of this play, and you’ll just have to come and experience it yourself."


This weekend, theatregoers have a rare chance to see one of Errol Hill’s most memorable plays, Dance Bongo, directed by Michael Cherrie.

The play is one of mystery and discovery, focused on a bongo dance in a small village. Written in free verse, it is rooted in traditional Afro-Caribbean traditions. The bongo dance and songs, part of traditional wakes for enslaved people from Africa, have taken place through much of the Caribbean to different extents, though it has been in decline.

Dance Bongo was published in three different anthologies, starting in 1965, and on its own in 1972 in the UWI Extra Mural series of published plays. It went through multiple printings.

Hill called it a “fantasy.” His widow, Grace Hill, recently recalled the backstory to its creation: “Errol was invited to teach playwriting at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada one summer. On the first day of class, he told his students that they would be required to write a one-act play, and that he would also write one!”

In an online list of the best Trinidad plays, playwright Zeno Constance noted Hill’s Dance Bongo evolves “around a three-sided conflict between the ‘Stranger,’ a ritualistic bongo dancer, who came to the village loaded with mystery and an ominous premonition – he only danced ‘for the dead’; Jeremy, the pompous, headstrong, village bongo dancer of whom they were most proud; and Sarah, the old woman whose firm conviction it was that Jeremy had spitefully murdered her grandson because he was a better bongo dancer.”

The play has been staged many times. It was performed on TTT in 1976, and several schools in secondary school competitions from 1967-2014, as well as in St Vincent and the Grenadines; the Virgin Islands; at Spellman College in Atlanta; the Black Theatre Workshop in Montreal; and the Hemispheric Institute at New York University.

Director Cherrie is an assistant professor at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and one of the country’s most respected actors in film and stage. Only Netflix knows when Shirley, directed by Academy-Award-winner John Ridley – a film Cherrie worked on last year and early this year – will be released. The film is based on the life of Shirley Chisholm, first black woman in Congress who in 1972 ran for president of the US. Cherrie plays her husband.

Cherrie has also been featured in local films such as Maya Cozier’s She Paradise and Horace Ove’s The Ghost of Hing King Estate, as well as a UK Channel 4 production of Caryl Phillips’ The Final Passage and VS Naipaul’s The Mystic Masseur (2001), directed by Ismail Merchant. Cherrie has also performed in many stage productions, both in the US and the Caribbean and has been a regular in 3canal stage shows. He was featured in Tony Hall and David Rudder’s calypso musical The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horseshoe Club.

Dance Bongo is rooted in traditional Afro-Caribbean traditions. It is directed by Michael Cherrie, at right. It will be staged at NAPA, Port of Spain, on December 9 and 10.

The acting programme at UTT was set up in 2010 by Cherrie and Belinda Barnes, head of the National Theatre Company of TT. Trini actors Lorraine Toussaint and Michael Rogers and later Marvin Ishmael, as well as adjunct lecturers such as Tony Hall, Hazel Franco, Sally Rochford, Dr Efebo Wilkinson and Earl Lovelace have been instrumental in the programme.

The multidisciplinary nature of the academy makes a productions like Dance Bongo, with dance and music, ideal for its students. Now that the Performing Arts Academy is emerging from covid, Cherrie encourages anyone interested in the performing arts to see this production and find out about becoming a student at the academy.

Cherrie’s idea of directing Dance Bongo came from two events since covid stopped live productions on campus. For the 100th anniversary of Errol Hill’s birth, an online dramatic reading of his play Man Better Man was performed by tertiary theatre lecturers and students from across the Caribbean, including his students at UTT.

Cherrie followed this last year with his UTT students doing an online dramatic reading of Hill’s Dance Bongo. That started a process of exploring how he would want to stage a live performance of a play he finds fascinating, one that has ancient parallels throughout literature such as Homer’s Odyssey.

“It features an ancient theme of what happens when a stranger comes to a small community and the community has to face things that have happened and be accountable.”

This is the first live production for the UTT theatre programme since covid and one that Cherrie is very excited for audiences to come out and see it in person. It features advanced students in a production with choreography by Terry David and drummers including Tobago student Nkosi Waldron, who had grown up attending bongo wakes and brought his own experiences to the production.

“Things unexpected happen,” said Cherrie. “This is like no other production of this play, and you’ll just have to come and experience it yourself!”

Dance Bongo will be staged at the UTT Academy for the Performing Arts Campus at NAPA, Port of Spain, on December 9 and 10 at 7.30 pm.

Anyone interested in attending can contact Lamar Pollard (642-8888 ext. 45102) or by e-mail at, or Onika Martin-Duke (642-8888 ext 32274) or e-mail at to make reservations or buy tickets.


"Dance Bongo to be staged at NAPA"

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