Nettleford, Rex (1933–2010) By Sörgel, Sabine
In a dance career spanning over 40 years, Rex Nettleford was perhaps the most influential choreographer to shape Jamaican dance theatre as it is known today. Starting out as a member of Ivy Baxter Dance Group in the late 1950s, he and Eddy Thomas founded the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) of Jamaica, and the company’s inaugural performance, Roots and Rhythms, took place on Jamaican Independence Day in 1962. An eminent political sociologist and long-time vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Rex Nettleford always connected his dance career to his scholarly pursuits in Caribbean cultural studies and historiography. Among his voluminous writings, two books – Dance Jamaica: Cultural Definition and Artistic Discovery (1985) and Dance Jamaica: Renewal and Continuity (2009) – document the ongoing history and development of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica from its original inception as a celebration of political independence through its struggles for self-definition to its worldwide reputation today. All along, Nettleford’s choreography aimed to strengthen the Africanist legacy of Caribbean dance by promoting African culture as the grassroots expression of Afro-Caribbean identity and by incorporating Jamaican folk dance as integral to Caribbean modern dance.