CHOREOGRAPHY – TRENDS
(Taken from souvenir programme 1984/85 Sipplesilver)
Rex Nettleford is a household name in Jamaica, in particular for his outstanding contribution to national and cultural life as a co-founder and Artistic Director of the National Dance Theatre Company. He’s had sustained contact with the LTM National Pantomime since 1959 to the present, as the following records:
In 1959, Rex Nettleford returned from Oxford with two years of solid experience in dance-creation for musicals and revues in Oxford, at the Edinburgh Festival and at Henley-on-Thames. Henry and Greta Fowler (on holiday in Oxford in the summer of 1959) caught sight of Nettleford and of his choreography in Aristophanes – “The Birds” updated into a rock musical with the music by Dudley Moore.
Greta then and there pressed Nettleford into service since he was planning to return home in a matter of months. He was to take over the choreography of that year’s Pantomime “Jamaica Way” with Eddy Thomas and Glenna Brydon in the young lovers’ lead and Robin Midgely (of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation) directing. The young group of dancers (largely from Thomas’ Workshop) worked as an integral part of the Pantomime cast.
The dance started to advance the plot rather than appear as set pieces fitted in. In its wake came “Carib Gold” attracting more of Thomas’ dancers and ones from the Ivy Baxter Dance Group as well as Yvonne DaCosta and Pansy Hassan from Faye Simpson’s. Noelle Hill Chutkan (also from Simpson’s) had long been in Pantomimes, Louise Bennett and Nettleford co-directed and Nettleford choreographed. Therewas much dance, some felt too much. The Guyanese tale (about porkknockers or gold miners) pleased but did not excite audiences.
It was not until 1961 with “Banana Boy” which Nettleford both directed and choreographed that the dance made the musical move, in what was then regarded as the “integrated musical” style. Many of the dancers involved were to form the nucleus of the NDTC – Barbara Requa (then Grant), Pansy Hassan (then Silvera), Yvonne daCosta, Gertrude Sherwood, Bert Rose, Audley Butler.
Between 1962 and 1970, dance figured much and choreography in Pantomimes gained increased popularity. Nettleford acted as an in-house consultant choreographer to the LTM. Greta Fowler, as President of the LTM sat on the NDTC Management Committee. From the ranks of the NDTC within that decade, Eddy Thomas choreographed once, Nettleford three times, Sheila Barnett twice (the two versions of “Queenie’s Daughter”), Neville Black once and Joyce Campbell once.
By 1971, young Jackie Guy, just beginning his career as an NDTC dancer of merit, was ready to create dances for the Pantomime. He did so in “Music Boy” with Nettleford as artistic advisor for the entire production.
The next five years of Pantomime were again shared between Eddy Thomas who choreographed twice and Nettleford who choreographed three more Pantomimes. By this time (1977) Bert Rose, an NDTC choreographer and principal dancer, took on “Twelve Million Dollar Man”. Between 1978 and 1981, Jackie Guy (by then an established principal dancer with NDTC) resumed with three Pantomimes to his credit while Patsy Ricketts (widely acclaimed then as NDTC’s leading principal female dancer) also did one.
In 1982, Nettleford returned to the boards staging the musical numbers for “Tantaloo” while Tony Wilson (recently returned to the NDTC from his sojourn abroad) created a number of set dances for the show. In 1983 it was again Jackie Guy’s turn with the Barbara Gloudon’s record-breaking “Ginneral B’.
CHOREOGRAPHY OR STAGING?
Nettleford has always made a distinctive between the staging of musical numbers and the choreographing (in the strict sense of conceiving from scratch and designing movement vocabulary, patterns and style for a work). Nettleford shifted significantly in “Dickance for Fippance” (Gloria Lannaman’s tribute to 1938) by emphasizing the staging of musical numbers and working for the overall movement effect of the entire production.
“The Witch” (by Gloudon) was similarly handled, through the dance of the cat (Patsy Ricketts and Joan McLeod) was a choreographed piece as was the dance of the Rolling Calf (Michael Binns) in “Brashana O” (another scripted by Lannaman). Jackie Guy was to follow this pattern in the work he did in the late Seventies drawing on the new vocabulary of the urban young “Johnny Reggae”, “Pirate Princess”and “Ginneral B”. It is reasonable to speculate whether the turn that dance will take in future Pantomimes will be greatly influenced by the new video craze.
Footnote: The LTM continues to use choreographers from the NDTC for the annual Pantomimes - most recently for the productions "Combolo", "Iffa Nuh So"and "Zu-Zu Macca". Prof. Rex Nettleford's last involvement with the Pantomime beofre his death was the 2009/10 "Pirate Jack". Members of the Pantomime Company include graduates of the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts (School of Dance) and members of various dance troupes. Dance sequences are fully integrated with the story line and production numbers. The “staging” or “movement” of today’s Pantomime strikes a balance between current dances while still preserving the folk forms of yesterday. Quadrille, Mento, Dinki-mini, Bruckins sequences often merge with the latest dance moves seen in the dancehall or night clubs.