Rex Nettleford (1933-2010).
As choreographer and cofounder of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, Rex Nettleford used the probing power of dance to explore a nation's multiethnic cultural identity. Through his company, he revitalized for the stage such religious rites as the kumina, a Congo-based dance form using a flat-footed shuffle with polyrhythms in the hips, head, ribs, and arms. In the early 1960s, he was among the first to validate reggae and ska, which had been considered politically volatile. He incorporated Rastafari elements in his repertory, such as the lowset, skipping dance that hip hop has adopted as "skanking" and a Caribbean approach to musicality, in which the dancer slips into the rhythm and stresses the upbeat, not the down.
Born in rural Trelawny, Nettleford learned early in life to fuse his academic prowess with his passion for dance. An Oxford Rhodes Scholar in political science, he returned home from England to dance. Katherine Dunham's technique and her anthropological curiosity about Caribbean traditions influenced his thoughtful approach. Ivy Baxter, a Jamaican choreographer and impresario, brought together Nettleford and Eddy Thomas (the co-founders of NDTC), and a young Garth Fagan, now director of Garth Fagan Dance and choreographer of The Lion King.
Nettleford, who died in February, became a professor, writer, cultural ambassador, and academic administrator, but his love of dance infused all his activities. "Rex's 2003 Rhodes Centenary award--he was one of only four--debunks forever the 'just dance, dear' stereotype and epitomizes the intellectual capabilities of the dancer," says Fagan. Nettleford's repertory will be remembered for its subtle political edge, especially the image of what he called "proud, accomplished, hardworking Caribbean men."
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|Author:||Hewitt, Margaret Conner|
|Date:||May 1, 2010|
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