Ragashanti bawls for Barry
As the memories were rolled back on Thursday evening at the dance and thanksgiving farewell service at The Little Theatre, Dr Kingsley ‘Ragashanti’ Stewart choked up as he tearfully recalled the larger-than-life shadow cast over him by late noted dance choreographer Barry Moncrieffe.
The academic, comedian and talk-show host who combined grass-roots raunch with scholarship to straddle opposing social classes recounted why it would have been impossible to forget the phone number of Moncrieffe, the former artistic director of the National Dance Theatre Company who passed away on January 16.
Ragashanti remembered, at a low point in his life decades ago, being locked up at the Half-Way Tree Police Station without a personal phone. As every inmate left the lock-up, he wrote down Moncrieffe’s number and pleaded, “Call this man! Tell him Kingsley is in Half-Way Tree jail!”
At his first court hearing, he was surprised to find out that he had a lawyer present for his defence.
“It was Hilary Phillips. She was impressive. Clearly, she was a class above the rest. She got the judge to set me free,” said Ragashanti.
The former University of the West Indies lecturer said that Phillips recounted to him how Moncrieffe tearfully begged her to save a young man with promise.
“I’ve never seen [Barry] cry so much. The way that he was crying, the way that he was confident that he needed to do this for you. I don’t know you, but I believed him, so I ended up believing in you, too,” Ragashanti said, recalling Phillips’ words.
Ragashanti, once an acting major at the Jamaica National School of Drama, told the audience that he was an emotional dunce when he first came under the tutelage of Moncrieffe, of a man who proudly wore leotards and tights.
“Me and me crew, we never inna nuh dancing sumn. So in order to protect myself, I said I was going to bring a knife to the dance class. I went and got a very long knife and put it in the side of my tights, and walked really funny from over the drama school to the dance school.”
In all his ire, it didn’t take long for Ragashanti to take a more enlightened view. “Before you know it, we were laughing. Our wannabe gangster masks were rapidly removed and we were just enjoying class, enjoying this man!
“We forgot all of the things we preconceived. Barry had infectious energy that could disarm you,” he said.