Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Culture: The Past Ever Present, Remembering Rex Nettleford in Dance and Song

In an evening that  largely lived up to the demanding standards of its cause celebre, the Rex Nettleford Foundation paid stirring tribute to the late icon of dance and former Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies (marking its 70th year) at the Little Theatre on Tuesday night. Nettleford was, of course, co-founder and Artistic Director of the National Dance Theatre Company.

On the stage where the NDTC - this year marking its 55th anniversary (as is the nation) made undeniable cultural history, a compact yet fulsome programme unfolded that artfully inked movement, live instrumentation, and vocals in the best NDTC tradition.

Aiding in this process, and very nearly stealing the show, was the University Singers group, themselves of considerable renown. Opening the proceedings, their masterful rendition of  M Thomas Cousins' mid-20th Century masterpiece, "Glorious Everlasting" reflected both sombreness and soaring passion, a duality that would feature throughout the programme. They followed up with "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and closed on a lighthearted note with the Neapolitan classic, hugely popular in in its 1880s heyday (the sheet music would sell over a million copies) "Funiculi, Funicula". Notably they sung the Italian, and then used the later English lyrics by Edward Oxenford, which often appear under the title "A Merry Life".

This air of merriment and even ribaldry continued into the dance programme, which opened with Clive Thompson's "FolkTales" (from 2003) with its airy arrangements of  folk classics, like "Evening Time" and the wonderful costuming of Arlene Richards.

After another stirring vocal, this time soloist Ranice Barrett doing justice to "Ava Maria" the larger Company returned to the stage to present "Into The Blue", a 2015 piece (revisited last year) choreographed by Renee McDonald, its cosmic themes amplified by music from the moves "Interstellar" "Gravity" and others, it featured a profusion of highly athletic passes by the dancers, unified in the cobalt blue monochrome of their outfits.

Returning from the break Tony Wilson's "Weeping Widow" (2016) brought a blast of minimalist Arctic cool to the Caribbean through the use of Icelandic star Olafur Arnalds' music (a timely intervention with newly appointed ambassadors from Finland and Sweden in the audience) through which soloist Kerry-Ann Henry played the title character. Henry, well-known as a judge on TV's "Dancing Dynamite" put her sinewy yet sinuous frame to compelling work, blending austerity and forced composure with unrestrained grieving, aided by a chair and desk atop which sat a black picture frame (the "photo" hidden from audience view).

The return of the Singers provided an excellent segue with "Revival Bands" s tour de force of song and movement that not even the uneven audio could dampen. The vocalists, divided into two groups, wearing blue and red, were exhorted by a "Leader Man" gloriously outfitted in a spreading white robe emblazoned with multiple colours, and complimented by a red headband with the obligatory pencil tucked in one side.

It made for an awesome spectacle, complimented by robust singing and movement, but the best of course, was yet to come. The NDTC fittingly closed this tribute with one of the late founder's masterworks "GerrehBenta" (1983). Complete with vivid pastel skirts 'a twirling, soul-lifting call-and-response vocals from the full musical Company (Singers, percussionists and other players) and, of course, the massive "horse-head" costume, towering and sometimes tottering eerily across the stage.

It capped a wonderful evening that would have brought a smile - eventually - to the late Maestro's lips, and warmed t he hearts of the capacity audience as they streamed out

Among the night's entertainment, there was tribute in another form. Two scholarships were awarded, one to

Dr Nicole Nation (formerly of Rex Nettleford Hall on the UWI and former Cornwall College alumnus Tajay Platt (now in his 1st year at UWI) in Nettleford's honour, and NDTC and cultural stalwarts Bridget Spalding and Dr Noel Dexter, the latter of the aforementioned University Singers and other accomplishments, were lauded for their respective contributions and their associations with Rex.

No comments:

Post a Comment