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'Rex Nettleford, A Celebration in His Honour'

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer

"Oh death, where is thy sting?" seemed to be the unvoiced cry by the many Jamaicans who turned out to join members of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) in their celebration of the life and work of Professor the Honourable Rex Nettleford.

Placed downstage right, surrounded by a beautiful floral arrangement, observing the proceedings in the form of a large size picture was Prof, Professor, Father, Rex or choreographer Nettleford.

The evening's programme, titled 'Rex Nettleford, A Celebration in His Honour', was appropriately staged at the Little Theatre, the home of NDTC. The programme comprised reflective and entertaining tributes, paid alternately in dances and speeches with an addition video and song presentations. The spoken tributes were anecdotal and generated applause of agreement and understanding from the large audience, who overflowed into a tent located to the right of the theatre house, while the dances except for two ('Steal Away' and 'Incantation') were predominantly Nettleford's choreography.

Video presentation

'Rex Nettleford, A Celebration in His Honour' began with a procession of NDTC past and present members and an Invocation by Monsignor Kenneth Mock Yen. The celebration was followed by a Lennie Little-White video presentation dubbed 'In Celebration of His Work'. The video, an abbreviated chronologically arranged clipping, depicted interviews from Nettleford, the youthful-looking dancer and choreographer, to the mature-looking University of the West Indies (UWI) vice-chancellor.

Bridgette Spaulding, another NDTC founding member, gave the first spoken tribute. Representing the NDTC, her speech, in part, choreographed a dance of Rex the visionary, the counsellor and Rex the people person. In concluding, she voiced a question that was being asked: "Can the NDTC survive without Rex?" And she replied by saying, "It is foolish to think that we can replace Rex, but it is fitting that his dance Jamaica be renewed."

However, "Rex has gone and we simply must go on," was the reply from Barbara Gloudon, in her tribute from the Little Theatre Movement (LTM). Proudly wearing a pink top that was admired by Rex, Gloudon recalled some humorous moments shared by the Pantomime Company and the professor. She also iterated that the success of the [Pantomime] company was tribute to him, as he can craft something out of nothing, and that "Rex has taught us to respect Jamaica."

The other two generations of NDTC, Bridge Generation and New Generation (terms apparently coined by Prof) gave compelling tributes. Bridge Generation gave a collective tribute with individual lines. Their anecdotes were personal, compelling and thought-provoking. They concluded and made their exit with the singing of
Weeping Willow Tree

New Generation was represented by dancer and ballet mistress Kerry-Ann Henry. She described the Professor as "a father, the ultimate role model and a wonderful blend of artistry who encouraged all members of the NDTC to be educated. He taught us that attitude and discipline is important for life; our father loved us for our unique ability," she said. And like Spaulding and Gloudon, the New Generation also answered the question presented by Spaulding - 'Renewal and continuity'.

The first dance tribute, performed by 11 members of NDTC was Jeanguy Sintus' choreographed
. It presented a beautiful juxtaposition of sorrow and hope.
was a dual tribute. It is one of the dances chosen for the NDTC's 2010 season as their tribute to the people of Haiti,
The Gleaner
was told by Barry Moncrieffe, one of the programme organisers and a founding member of NDTC.

Bert Rose's choreography, aptly titled,
Steal Away
, continued where
left off. The five dancers carried the words of the songs, (
Bridge over Troubled Water
and the title song,
Steal Away
), that is best described as beautiful and controlled.

And, after the NDTC singers' tribute, came an excerpt of
, one of four of The Professor's choreographed dances. The others were

Signature piece

was chosen because it was the last of Nettleford's choreographed pieces, a tribute to him without
would be incomplete. "People identify him with
; it is his signature piece," said Moncrieffe. And fittingly, the Tuesday evening's celebration signed out with evidently a renewed company of dancers, as Marlon Simms in his lead role of the King in the dance seemed to have been transformed. With an awesome support from the other dancers, he gave his best performance, silencing those who dared to ask, "Can the NDTC survive without Rex?"

Moncrieffe, too, had a response, "A great void is left but he has left things in place; we are busy preparing for a Black History Month celebration event at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and the Easter Sunday show, the overseas tour and the 2010 season are still on."

Other organisers of 'Rex Nettleford, A Celebration in His Honour' included Bert Rose and the NDTC board members. And dance choreographer Terry Hall said "The tribute was good; I like the mix in Generation."

There was glee when the board and members of the National Dance Theatre Company paid tribute to Rex Nettleford at The Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, last Tuesday.

Apocalypse gave a colourful showing.