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'Rex N: A Celebration' revolves around the arts

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Some time after, 'Rex N: A Celebration', had begun last Thursday evening in the Oriental Gardens, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Principal Gordon Shirley set the context for the university's marking of Rex Nettleford's passage through life.

Shirley said that Nettleford would be celebrated through the spoken word, music, theatre and dance, the late professor's great loves.

Anything more than a cursory examination of Nettleford's life is bound to be long and Thursday's comprehensive celebration was duly so. So the performances served a dual purpose, injecting entertainment between the many tributes - themselves engaging insights into Nettleford's multi-faceted life - as well as allowing performing groups (many of which he was personally involved in) to pay him homage. Professor Mervyn Morris, himself an outstanding poet, was the evening's narrator, while images of Nettleford from various stages of his life were shown on big screen.

Appropriately, then, after the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra's musical ushering of those who came to celebrate Nettleford - a substantial number, but still far fewer than seating was provided for - an ensemble from the hall named in his honour was the first to give their respect in an arrangement of Hero.

The Jamaica Folk Singers were upbeat with tambo songs, and Nettleford's lifelong connection with the arts was underscored by Brian Johnson's performance of Bassiano's
The Merchant of Venice
. Nettleford had played that role in the first secondary schools' drama festival.

The National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) Singers continued the music, obviously structured to present varied facets of music, keeping the steady, near hypnotic pattern which imbues the lyrics with deeper emotion as they sang "the Lion of Judah, shall break every chain", closing with the plea to "sen' I back to Ethiopia land".

Artistic tributes

The University Singers ended their tribute on a high "hallelujah", while the University Dance Society chose to pay their respects through a sole female dancer who represented them well. The University Singers' Pantomime Songs started with
Evening Time
, but it was
One Han' Cyaan Clap
, infused with drama as it spoke to the necessity of community, which struck the funny bone at a time when the night's chill, and the length of the programme, were bearing down on the audience.

The artistic tributes were not only in performance. Marjorie Whylie summarised Nettleford's involvement in dance and formation of the NDTC with Eddie Thomas (she said the company was formed in Nettleford's flat on Chancellor Hall). After her tribute, Nettleford's distinctive voice was heard for the first time that night, discussing the meaning of dance.

A quintet from the NDTC gave a look at Nettleford's choreography in
Motherless Child
from Katrina. The night's final official artistic tribute was tapped out by the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra, which chose Steel Pulse's
Stepping Out
to close.

But after Shirley's farewell, Chalice, whose
Revival Time
has been utilised by Nettleford for the NDTC, was on the stand, paying homage to 'Prof' as they performed for the remnants of the audience in the Oriental Gardens, UWI, Mona.