Remembering Barry

Arts & Culture

Remembering Barry

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, February 16, 2020

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The superlatives flowed, as speaker after speaker paid tribute to dancer, choreographer and fashion designer Barry Moncrieffe at the celebration of his life and work, held at the Little Theatre in St Andrew, last Thursday.

“A brilliant dancer, a strong leader, a gentle spirit”, are but some of the ways in which he was eulogised by his family and peers from the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC), to which he gave 55 years of service rising from dancer to artistic director.

Opposition leader Dr Peter Phillips, whose wife, Sandra, is among the alumni of the NDTC, noted that it was Moncrieffe who was the artistic base to the company in the burgeoning years.

“Anyone who witnessed Barry Moncrieffe as he danced across a stage, could not be in any doubt that they were in the presence of an artistic genius. It would be futile to try to select which would be his best work, because there were so many and in each he displayed his inimitable and exquisite style. In each his languid movement and lyrical presence were always embedded in the distinctive rhythms of the Caribbean,” he noted.

“Rex Nettleford may have provided the cerebral underpinnings for the company, being one of the region's leading intellectuals, but Barry was the embodiment of dance itself. He taught dance at the Edna Manley College; he lived dancing; he decorated the dancers; and the rhythms of Jamaican life pulsated throughout his very being.” Phillips continued.

For Marlon Simms, the current artistic director of the NDTC, it was difficult to quantify Moncrieffe's contribution to the NDTC over 55 years.

He told the gathering that the simple answer was that Moncrieffe found his divine calling.

“He recognised his purpose early in life. Believing and embodying that in sharing his gifts he too will equally be inspired and fulfilled. This became evident to all who were in his presence, so much so that grace, style, class and sophistication became synonymous with the Uncle Barry way. He was dance royalty,” said Simms.

It was media personality and university lecturer, Dr Kingsley “Ragashanti” Stewart who offered what was the most personal reflection of the evening.

Stewart recalled being a student at the School of Drama at the Cultural Training Centre, what is now the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. He was required to take a class at the School of Dance and that is where he first met Moncrieffe.

He recounted getting into trouble and being locked up at the Half-Way-Tree police station. He tried to get a message to the teacher who was always looking out for him.

“I was not a model child. I was always getting into fights and ended up in lockup. My court date came and I am in court and I have a lawyer... I kept saying I don't know that woman. She introduced herself as Hillary Phillips. She was really good and got the judge to set me free with a clean record. Afterwards I asked her who she was. She said, 'You have a teacher who is a friend of mine. I have known him for years and I have never seen him cry. He came to me and begged me to come here and represent you. He said you are a bright young man who is going to come out to something and he is afraid that if we don't help you at this moment , we won't be able to save you later on. The way that he was confident that he had to do this for you, I don't know you, but I believed him and I believe in you too. Mr Moncrieffe believes in you that lead me to believe in you... it is now time for you to believe in yourself,'” Stewart recounted.

He said that was his epiphany and that lead to his transformation.

The celebration also say performances by the NDTC, Jamaica School for the Blind, Ashe Performing Arts Ensemble, Stella Maris Dance Ensemble, School of Dance, L'Acadco and the University Singers.

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