Remembering Bert Rose
NDTC shares recollections of Bert RoseSaturday, April 03, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Thursday's news of the passing of local dance icon Bert Rose sent ripples through the local creative community, but particularly his beloved National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) of which he was a founding member and dedicated 59 years of stellar commitment and service.
Artistic Director Marlon Simms has described Rose as a master storyteller, and a creative genius who gave of himself to the company for 59 years.
“His ability to conceptualise, take it from an idea and then execute, was just amazing. These came through in all his creative endeavours, whether it was choreography or his work in producing events. He was also a great set builder. A real creative.”
But Simms, who has performed in works choreographed by Rose for the NDTC such as Steal Away and Edna M, also paid homage to his ability to weave a story for the stage.
“Bert Rose was a master storyteller. That can be seen in his works which have immortalised the history of our country and captured the essence of our people, by telling our stories. The works he choreographed for the company are cherished, memorable and will live on. His storytelling ability is showcased in works such as Switch, which tells the story of Annie Palmer, and Edna M, an ode to Jamaican artist Edna Manley. Among his other popular works are Reflections which he choreographed in 1975, Glory Road from 74 and Thursday's Child in 1973. There is also the very popular Steal Away.”
The company's current ballet mistress, Kerry-Ann Henry, who like Simms has performed in both Edna M and Steal Away, shared that it is the magnetism and energy of Rose that will always remain with her.
“My first memory of Uncle Bertie is him coming into the dance studio with all his dynamic energy and filling the space as we prepared Edna M. I was one of the supporting members of the cast and I was struck by how quickly and efficiently he worked. From his energy and strong performance sense you got exactly what he wanted from you. Years later he approached me to dance the lead. Truthfully I did not think I was ready for such a major role, but didn't want to disappoint him by turning it down. I thought to myself that he must have seen something in me to ask in the first place so the least I can do is give it a shot. Dancing Edna M forced me to learn so much about Edna Manley, her work and her love for the people. I can say this role helped me to grow so much as an artiste and I have Bert Rose to thank for that.”
Henry said it was a similar situation as she prepared to perform the major role in Steal Away.
“This was also a big part of my becoming. It is a dance I loved watching and when that music starts it hits you to the core. So when I was asked there was doubt because I loved the piece so much I could not afford to be less than. Bert Rose made me feel like I could do anything... no time to sit in any self-doubt. Arlene Richards had kicked that role when she performed it, so I had huge shoes to fill. I had to find myself in the role and he just said to me, 'Arlene did Arlene, now it is time for you to do you'. He had that ability to make me feel confident in what was being asked. So there is a moment in Steal Away when I am lifted onto the male dancer's shoulder and I was to raise one arm while holding on with the other. I just asked if we could not hold hands. They were nervous but he said sure and supported my suggestion. Every time I perform one of his pieces and I know he's in the audience or in the wings I try to give a little something extra,” henry shared.
Melanie Graham was a principal dancer with the NDTC for many years. She joined the company in 1972 at Rose's insistence.
“Bertie and I were friends for many years. I studied ballet with Madam Soo Hi and when we did performance she would invite dancers from other companies to join us. That is how I met Barry [Moncrieffe] and Bertie. So we had a great friendship. We were both teaching dance at different schools in May Pen and one day during the drive down he suggested that I join the company. I said to him,'You don't just show up , you have to be invited.' He then said he would speak to Rex, and sometime later he told me that I was being invited to take classes with the NDTC. And the rest as they say is history.”
Graham played lead in a number of Bert Rose works including Edna M and Switch, and noted that Rose had a way of creating emotional pieces with clear storylines.
“He had spoken to me about Edna M and the fact he wanted me as lead. I said no problem. I was listening to a film score and shared it with him and he said was perfect. He had posed for Edna Manley in the past and got to know her so that prepared him to create the work and even told her of his intention to choreograph something in her honour. We started working on it but she died before the work was complete. The duet, which comes at the end of the piece, was actually the first piece that we completed and we wanted to perform it for her funeral but it never happened. When we were in final rehearsals to première the full work we invited her son Michael to view and he cried when he saw what had been created. Switch was another emotional work and it was pretty taxing as one moment I was enticing lovers and the next I would be killing them. I had so many instances for Bertie; it was about the story and so he kept the dance simple, and it worked beautifully.”
According to Graham, Michael Manley came to the première and sent handwritten letters to Rose and the cast expressing his joy and satisfaction with the role.
“He was very good as a choreographer, quite at ease. I remember days he would say to me nothing was coming and there were days when it just flowed. He would tell you when you messed up, but he was just as generous with his compliments. I spoke to him on Wednesday evening and all he kept saying is he wanted t go back home... it's so sad,” Graham reflected.
Rose was among the 15 dancers at the genesis of the NDTC which was the brainchild of Professor Rex Nettleford and Eddy Thomas. Among the founding members were other names who went on to make a name for themselves in the world of dance. They included Joyce Campbell, Sheila Barnett, Barbara Requa and Monica McGowan. In 1970 Rose teamed with Barnett and Requa to form the Jamaica School of Dance, which is now part of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
In a recent post on its Instagram page to salute its founding members, the NDTC noted that Rose brought great energy and enthusiasm to the company, as well as a powerful stage presence and performing talent to the stage. His early training was with the Eddy Thomas Dance Workshop and summer school hosted by The University of the West Indies. This was enhanced by diverse dance experiences from the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in the United States, as well as being a performer in Off Broadway productions.
The company also pointed to his gifts of technical facility, theatrical flair and lyrical quality.
For his contribution to dance, Rose was recognised with the Order of Distinction in the rank of officer from the Government and people of Jamaica, and the silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica. He was 81 years old.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login