Wednesday, 12 February 2014

LONG LIVE THE KING: Remembering Rex yields a rousing song-and-dance celebration

TAKING A STAND: NDTC members performing the Nettleford-choreographed Dis Poem.

It goes without saying that any occasion orchestrated in celebration of the memory of Rex Nettleford must include aspects of the performing arts for which he earned international renown, dance theatre chief among them. And so it was an immense delight to witness the latest performance by the National Dance Theatre Company as they paid soul-stirring tribute to their dearly departed patriarch during Remembering Rex at the Little Theatre on Tuesday. (Like Bob Marley and yours truly, February is Prof. Rex's birth month.)

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, she said, will keep visitors abreast of plans for the future.

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