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Remembering an artistic genius — Eddy Thomas

Weston HAUGHTON

Monday, May 26, 2014    

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THE word genius describes a person who is a mastermind, brilliant and gifted. That certainly sums up my friend, teacher and motivator, a man who was so blessed as a multi-talented individual.

This creative genius was an accomplished musician, composer, dancer, choreographer, artist, and designer. He has tutored and guided many of us in the creative arena to be extremely professional and make no apology for excellence.

Eddy Thomas was the co-founder of the National Dance Theatre Company in 1962 and, together with the late Professor Rex Nettleford, created what has today become a world-renowned company of which all Jamaicans can be proud.

The dance experience

They say that drums have a way of beckoning one to listen. That was exactly what happened in 1967 when I was on my way from Ardenne High and heard the drums pounding at the Junior Centre in Half-Way-Tree. As an inquisitive youth interested in the performing arts I was drawn to "go fass" and see what was happening. There they were -- dancers going through various movements to the sound of drums played by a man who shouted directions and at times demonstrated moves. That was my first encounter with the world of "creative dancing" as it was called then. I made my enquiries and, soon after, was one of those students on the floor moving to the drums at the Eddy Thomas Dance Workshop.

After months of training, the outstanding students were selected to be a part of the new dance ensemble -- The Jamaica Dance Company. It was not an easy task to meet that standard of the director. I remember once doing a movement that required us to have flat backs. And as I thought I was doing a fantastic job, I heard Eddy shout out: "Your back is as round as the world." He made it clear that, as a performing artiste, one needs to be open to criticism and not take directions personally. This advice served me well as I was able to apply it in my movement to becoming a professional entertainer.

After some years the Company had challenges and soon it was no more with most of the dancers forming a different company. It was then that I invited Eddy to come to the north coast. The rest, as they say, is history.

The designer

Eddy operated a boutique in the early 60s called ETEES Boutique. This was where the fashionistas of the day went for one-of-a kind creations to make an impression at any event. To date, I think he is the only Jamaican designer to have shown three collections in one year — spring, summer and Christmas. I modelled his outfits on many occasions and won for him the very first award in a fashion show organised by the Kiwanis Club of Kingston. He was also the very first person to do a sidewalk fashion show, which he did in front of his boutique, Boonoonoonoos, on East Street in the 70s.

Eddy was an awesome artist and his sketches were a total work of art. I always encouraged him to compile them in a book or catalogue. I would go along with him to the stores and, with sketch in hand, he would find the exact fabric (or close) to that

on his drawings. He was famous for using unusual materials like raffia and straw on costumes, and one marvelled at the outcome.

Theatre work

Eddy's theatrical experience goes way back, long before I met him, and it was known that he performed on Broadway as a dancer and actor and also in local Jamaican productions in the early days.

My involvement came in 1969 when he was artistic director for the national pantomime Moonshine Anancy. It was one of my most fascinating experiences as I had the pleasure of working with the theatrical giants such as Louise Bennett Coverly Ranny Williams.

That production was followed by many where he again worked his magic as musical composer, set and costume designer and director. I learned so much and used every moment to my advantage.

The hospitality industry

Flash back to 1981, when Sandals Montego Bay opened its doors as an all- inclusive resort for couples with the slogan "Love is all you need". I had just taken the job as entertainment manager at the Holiday Inn in Montego Bay when I heard that Sandals Montego Bay was interested in me joining the team. I attended the interview and met the 'man with the vision' himself -- Gordon 'Butch' Stewart'. When he told me all the features that the hotel was going to have in the Entertainment Department, I was ready to pack and move in. However, after deliberating, I decided against jumping ship and recommended the man who taught me; the creative genius.

Enter Eddy Thomas... and more history. Eddy spent many years at Sandals creating costumes, sets, uniforms, and doing choreography for entertainment team members, who were called playmakers. He was responsible for mounting the Sandals Spectacular — a full Jamaican cabaret with musicians, dancers and singers. Years later, I joined the Sandals team as creative director to again work with my friend, teacher and motivator.

Eddy Thomas, his initials tell the story Extraordinarily Talented. May the Lord grant him peace.

Weston Haughton serves Sandals Resorts as creative director,

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