To Rex, Barry, Noel, with love
The colossal dance, music and social legacy of three extraordinarily great Jamaicans was celebrated with much fanfare inside the Little Theatre on Tuesday evening. Lusty shouts of ‘bravo’ filtered through the air as patrons showered appreciation on the singers and dancers whose brilliant performances made Remembering Rex – and Barry and Noel – memorable. At times poignant and at other times dipped in humour, the tributes were suffused with love, and took the form of known pieces, with each having distinctive significance.
Divided in three parts, the artistic music and movement presentation got started with a section titled Remembering Barry, the beloved dancer, teacher, choreographer and designer, who was elevated to the post of artistic director of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) upon the passing of his mentor, Rex Nettleford. Iconic works, Hush and Goodbye Motherland (both excerpts from The Crossing, 1978), were naturally included among the pieces carefully chosen to hail the man. Other works were Unscathed, Journey and I Want Jesus To Walk With Me.
The NDTC Singers and Musicians, the Company and the University Singers in the form of soprano Carolyn Reid-Cameron contributed their talents to keep the audience riveted. “Flawless” was the term used by a self-appointed critic in the audience to describe Reid-Cameron’s passion-filled I Want Jesus To Walk With Me, arranged by Franklin Halliburton.
A video presentation, with the I-Three’s Bob Marley tribute, He’s A Legend, as the soundtrack, showed Moncrieffe in various stages of his career, filling spaces with his boundless energy. And if one closed one’s eyes briefly, it would be only too easy to imagine that he was still in the flesh, delighting patrons with his signature leaps across the Little Theatre stage, as he has done countless times. Closing out that section was Unscathed (2015), choreographed by Troy Powell (former principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater). Always an anticipated piece from The Company, it involved explosive elevations of dance, which had the fringes of the red costumes seeming to be as much a part of the expressions as the dance itself. The dancers worked tirelessly and executed with precision, wearing facial expression ranging from difficult-to-discern to happy, smiling and celebratory. Patrons gave their seal of approval with robust claps and shouts of “fabulous” and “fantastic”.
For his almost half a century as conductor of the acclaimed University Singers, Noel Dexter was remembered with a suite of songs that all had his name indelibly printed in the programme, either as arranger or for the music. The men and women of the University Singers entertained with Everytime I Pass, You A Tell Lie, Man & Woman Story and Psalm 150, the latter on which they were joined by the NDTC for a fulsome dance praise which appropriately pulled the curtain on Remembering Noel. But prior to that, there was a video presentation which showed an interview in which Dexter disclosed that he was prompted to write by Rex Nettleford. “The first thing I wrote was a piece for a pantomime,” he said in the interview. While the video played, the University Singers stood reverently on either side of the stage.
The year 2020 marks a decade since the passing of scholar, social critic, choreographer and cultural ambassador, Ralston Milton ‘Rex’ Nettleford, “the signature honouree and the spirit behind this gathering for the past 10 years”, as stated in Company notes. Of Sympathy and Love, choreographed by Clive Thompson and executed by experienced senior member of the company, Mark Phinn, opened the final segment of the evening, Remembering Rex. The Ewan Simpson and O’Neal Mundle arranged Rastaman Chant, with movement from Nettleford himself and performed by the University Singers, featuring baritone Stephan Sinclair, preceded Nettleford’s video vignette.
It was no surprise that the ultimate curtain closer for the 2020 staging of Remembering Rex would be Kumina (1971), choreographed by the man himself, with traditional music by the NDTC drummers and singers. Artistic director, Marlon Simms, played the king, while Keita-Marie Chamberlin took on the role of queen, as they have both done exceptionally in the past, and with no less fervour and enchantment on Remembering Rex.