TAKING A STAND: NDTC members performing the Nettleford-choreographed Dis Poem.
Marlon Simms' Chromosome X, a fusion of lithe movement and an evocative score, opened the show (organized by the Rex Nettleford Foundation), setting the tone and pace for an evening of ovation-worthy entertainment. Soloist Mark Phinn, a sculpture of remarkable muscle definition, was all sinewy rigour and control as he rendered Jamie J. Thompson's deeply affecting Don't Leave Me, set to the sublimely lugubrious strains of Nina Simone doing "Ne Me Quitte Pas."
The full company was then in flight for a remounting of Bert Rose's spiritually riveting Steal Away (replete with memorable imagery) and Awakening, featuring excerpts choreographed by Nettleford and revived for this latest go-round by Kevin Moore and Verman Thomas. A flurry of white-costumed revivalism, African drumming and traditional hymns, the stunning piece was preceded by Nettleford's 1988 masterwork Dis Poem, essentially his dance interpretation of the classic Mutabaruka selection. To say the least it's a militant and vigorous piece fuelled by social commentary-in-motion and the kind of thought-provoking ideology that has come to characterize Nettleford's scholarship and, indeed, the best of Mutabaruka.
Meanwhile, the University Singers, whose annual concert seasons were elevated significantly by the legend's contributions by way of choreography, delivered their tribute in sizzling song: the roof-raising "Hosanna in Excelsis"; pint-size powerhouse Alecia Forbes' lovely solo "This Little Light of Mine"; the Orain Thomas-arranged medley "Survivor" (a cool blend of contemporary and vintage Jamaican grooves) and a "Nine Night Suite" steeped in deep-rural Jamaican mourning traditions.
Representing the Mona Campus-based foundation, Cecile Clayton, in acknowledging the overflowing car park and the packed house, said they were all heartened by the large numbers in attendance. "Judging from the enthusiasm, I can see that [Nettleford's] memory is still very keen and dear to us, and we have to see to it that his memory never dies," she told the attentive gathering. The website rexnettlefordfoundation.com, she said, will keep visitors abreast of plans for the future.