Bert Rose brought great energy and enthusiasm as well as a powerful stage presence and performing talent to Jamaica stage. He received his basic training with Eddy Thomas and in the early Summer School hosted by the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. Further development of Rose’s technical craft came though his diverse dance experiences in New York both Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance as a performer in off Broadway productions. Rose had gained a strong stage presence though constant performing in musicals, dance workshops and lecture demonstrations abroad. With his gifts of technical facility, theatrical flair and lyrical quality, he attracted significant attention from the beginning of his performing career. He also exhibited skill at dramatic work and partnering graced with quick intelligence and playful wit. Rose was also capable of emotional intensity and expressive agility of form. He won praise for his portrayal of the plantation owner in Legend of Lover’s Leap (Eddy Thomas) when he was one of the youngest of the Company. The role in which he made a most lasting impression, however, was as the man in Dialogue for Three (Rex Nettleford).
The opportunity for establishing a school presented itself in 1970, when Rose, Sheila Barnett and Barbara Requa teamed up under the direction of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) to establish the Jamaica School of Dance. The latter were also NDTC members and were co-directors of the Contemporary Dance Centre. Together they offered high quality training in technique such as Caribbean and specifically Jamaican folk dance, Modern, African, and Afro-Caribbean Dance movement, Classical Ballet, and Educational Dance as well as studies in Composition and Repertoire and general exercises for muscle control and poise. Other instructors in those early years were the NDTC’s ballet mistress, Yvonne daCosta, principal dancers Dorothy Fraser and Barry Moncrieffe, along with the Company’s Artistic Director, Rex Nettleford, who also provided overall guidance. Rose eventually took his skills as an educator, visual artist and choreographer abroad to teach for two years in Vienna Austria.
As a choreographer, it is said that Bert Rose was responsible for continuing the modern dance influences on the NDTC repertoire. Before he began to choreograph fully, he contributed to Joyce Campbell’s folk piece Dance Time in Cascade a work that had a short life in the active repertoire. He began serious choreography in 1973, at the height of a distinguished performing career. His first Company work, the
dramatic Thursday’s child, integrated Modern Dance with the Caribbean way of moving. He followed it with Glory Road adding to the repertoire clarity of form and plasticity for which he was also noted as performer. One of his other outstanding works, Reflections, explored the preoccupation of three emotionally disturbed woman, but his best remembered dramatic works, Switch, was inspired by the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall. His skill at solo work, as well as the placement of bodies in dynamic spatial relationship in duets, produced Moods, Ebb-Flow and Caro, challenged the Company’s dancers to virtuosity. Edna M Rose’s moving narrative dedicated to the memory of Jamaica Fine Arts matriarch Edna Manley, Caribbean Canvas his colourful portrayal of varied “Caribbean moods and reminiscences” and Steal Away a haunting interpretation of the Negro Spiritual’ complete Bert Rose’s fundamental contribution to the layered “Caribbean-ness’ of the NDTC’s repertoire.