A Person You Should Meet - Stuart Hodes

A Person You Should Meet - Stuart Hodes
Christine Jowers/Follow @christinejowers on Twitter

By Christine Jowers/Follow @christinejowers on Twitter
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Published on December 10, 2007
Nan Melville

ON DANCING AND FLYING (and posture)
 
FROM FLYING A PLANE, TO REPORTING,
INTO THE DANCE WORLD WITH MARTHA GRAHAM
 
FASCINATED BY MARTHA “Who is this creature?”
 
STUART HODES ON MARTHA GRAHAM'S (AND OTHERS) CHOREOGRAPHIC PROCESS
 
FIGHTING WITH MARTHA
 
VALUE OF CHOREOGRAPHY
MARTHA’S EARLY MISTRUST OF LABANOTATION
 
WHY DO YOU GO TO DANCE PERFORMANCES TODAY?
“For the same reason, I hate ‘American Idol...”
 
RAP FOR MARTHA

BY CHRSTINE JOWERS, THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST, COPYRIGHT 2007

In the dance and acting game we speak of great performers as “being present”. For those who are not in the arts, being present is simply another way of describing someone who is totally involved in what they are doing. They seem to feel and see every molecule of energy that surrounds them and can draw from it. Their vitality wakes us up. Stuart Hodes is one of these electric souls, captivating because he is so genuinely interested and involved in the world around him.

I decided I had to meet Mr. Hodes after I attended the performance “From the HORSES MOUTH magical tales of real dancers” Martha Graham style. This was one of the special performances that was part of the Graham Company’s 80th Anniversary Season at the Joyce Theater last September. “From the Horses Mouth...” is a ingenious theatrical framework created by choreographers Tina Croll and Jaime Cunningham, in which dancers of all stripes (modern, ballet, jazz, ethnic, tap) share their behind the scenes stories, while giving us some dance performance and improvisatory surprises. This Martha Graham version marked the first time in the production’s history that all the artists involved were connected to the same choreographer. The show offered a unique and powerful view of Martha Graham -through the eyes of the people who created and continue her legacy. Stuart Hodes, Graham Dancer from 1947- 1958, was one of the highlights of the afternoon, delighting the audience with his whimsical RAP FOR MARTHA. How unusual it was to come out of a Graham Concert chuckling. Hodes made us laugh and deeply appreciate Martha Graham at the same time.

All I knew about him was that he danced with Graham for 11years, that somehow he became a Graham Dancer after flying as a bomber pilot in World War II (an unusual fact casually glossed over in his biography from “The Horses Mouth...” program) and that he was the Husbandman to Martha Graham’s (mature) Young Bride in the famous filmed version of “APPALACHIAN SPRING” (and what a fantastic performance he gave...how I wish I could time travel and see him performing some of his other favorite Graham Roles). Two video interviews later -for each video session we always ran out of tape-one phone session later, and after a short emailed question and answer session, I have figured out that I will never tire of hearing the stories of this eighty plus year old life enthusiast.

Hodes will say that his temperament is not suitable for “genius” the way Martha Graham’s was or the way his friend Paul Taylor’s is “ I was never concentrated enough to devote myself to just one thing. I simply have too many interests.”

He also lightheartedly compares himself to Taylor declaring, “For every hundred dances he’s made perhaps five are bad, whereas, for about every hundred dances I’ve created about five are good.” Yet just last year one of his dances, a duet with Alice Teirstein, about two former lovers meeting again for the first time in forty years, comically entitled “I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD” was cited by dance critic, Frances Mason, as a must see for 2006.

Stuart Hodes, as you will discover in the accompanying interviews is a man of considerable gifts. He embraces his passions fully with an incisive mind. He shares his discoveries generously with humor and without pretension. Perhaps he doesn’t call that genius, but I certainly think the dance world -the whole world- could use more people like Stuart Hodes in it.


INTERVIEW WITH STUART HODES

 

Christine Jowers, Dance Enthusiast:
What was your course of study before entering the Army, Stuart?

Stuart Hodes:
As a kid I was half nerd, half jock, went to Brooklyn Technical High School played second violin in the orchestra and was first backstroker on the swimming team.
Went to Brooklyn College for one semester before being drafted, took advanced algebra and physics 101 intending to continue in chemical engineering.
I swam in meets for BC also joined Masquers, the drama club and because many men were already in the army, got a good role in the play. I note that the reason I joined Masquers was to be around a very cute girl named Selma.
She wrote me all through the War, but married Jerry, the other guy she was writing!

CJ: Were you ever afraid you were going to die when you were in the War?

SH: No, as a bomber pilot, I was nowhere near the action except when on a combat mission.
Was I frightened when on a combat mission? I suppose so but don’t actually recall feeling fear whereas I acutely recall feeling stage fright, a weird and illogical thing about which I’ve long pondered. I had a special prayer when starting out on missions, which kind of helped.

CJ: When you lived and worked as a dancer in NYC was it unusual for dancers to be Broadway and Graham Dancers, I was always under the impression that dance was divided into distinct camps.

SH: It was not unusual. Pearl Lang was in lots of shows.
I saw Ethel Winter in a sort of raunchy one. Miriam Pandor, a Humphrey dancer, had done both Broadway and Hollywood movies. Bob Cohan was in “SHANGRI LA” also in Jack Cole’s nightclub act. Bertram Ross was in “BLESS YOU ALL”, choreographed by Helen Tamiris.

We were not paid to rehearse with Graham and needed to make a living.

CJ: I had also been told that Martha Graham’s Dancers wore black and Humphrey and Limon Dancers wore colors (rehearsal clothes). That no one studied with one another or talked to one another. Is that Mythology? What about ballet…did you study that?

SH: Gosh in my experience that’s not true at all. I watched Humphrey’s rehearsals but can’t recall what colors the dancers wore. (Graham women did wear black and the men wore white. Bertram Ross said it was so Martha could tell them apart.)

After my first year as a dancer, when I made up my mind to try to be one, I started an intense regimen of ballet. Martha herself told me to study with Muriel Stuart at SAB. I also started going to ballet performances. And because finances were tight, usually sneaked in to the City Center with a host of other dancers. The ushers knew us but never kicked us out!

Saw Uday Shankar, Teresa and Luisillo, Truday Schoop, Dancers of Bali, and everything else I could. Had to buy a ticket to see Harald Kreutzberg because he played the Ziegfeld.

CJ: Who were some of the people you really admired when you were dancing…as artists and as people?

SH: I became a dancer at least partly because I like dancers so picking out a few will be hard.
First dancer I got to know was Mark Ryder (real name, Sasha Liebich). I had admiration and warm feelings for Bob Cohan and Bertram Ross. My favorite male ballet dancer was Igor Yourskevich, whose classes I took.

Liked many Broadway dancers. We can brainstorm about that sometime.

CJ: Other than Martha, what choreographers did you enjoy?

SH: Somewhere I have a list of every choreographer I ever worked with. Well over 60. Some that stand our for the fun or the thrill of working with them (alphabetically) Edie Barstow, Jack Cole, Jean Erdman, Doris Humphrey, Steve Koplowitz, DJ MacDonald, Natanya Neumann, Herb Ross, Gus Solomons Jr, my daughter Catherine. Others should be on the list.

CJ: What was your favorite Graham Role?

SH: The Husbandman in “APPALACHIAN SPRING”, the Dark Beloved in “DEATHS AND ENTRANCES”, Fire in “CANTICLES FOR INNOCENT COMEDIANS”. The Husbandman had depth, the Dark Beloved had power, and Fire seemed to be, at least partly, me.

 


IN CONCLUSION:

Stuart Hodes has held many positions in his lifetime: World War II Bomber Pilot, War Reporter, Dancer with Martha Graham, Dancer on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and on TV, Teacher of Dance Technique and Choreographer (nationally and internationally) Dean of Dance at New York University, Dance Panelist for the National Endowment of the Arts, and Dance Representative at The New York State Council of The Arts to name a few of the larger posts. He holds an MS in Dance as well as an MA in Policy from Empire College in New York, and may yet go back to school if something interests him enough.

When Hodes was a young man he wrote a short story. As luck would have it, Linda, his first wife, also a former Graham Dancer, had a father who knew Tennessee William’s Literary Agent. Linda’s father passed Stuart’s story on to the agent who commented, “This is not a short story. This is a chapter of a book. Give me five more chapters and I will give you an advance.” This was high praise indeed, and a great incentive to put pencil to paper. Instead, Hodes put the manuscript in a drawer and didn’t look at it. He was too busy dancing.

In 1998, A MAP OF MAKING DANCES (not the book that Tennessee’s agent saw), by Stuart Hodes, with forward by Paul Taylor, was published. It contains 247 Projects to get choreographers started creating.

Today, in his eighties, Hodes has gotten back to writing and his love of words. He reveals that he is an amateur historian and has taken great pleasure in collecting and recording the behind the scenes tales of working dancers, including his, on a new website www.chorusgypsy.com. He feels strongly that these accounts should not be lost. Perhaps he can get them out in book form or maybe they will stay on the web. One gets the sense that how or where the stories of the chorus gypsies get published doesn’t matter to Hodes as much as recording them. His is a true dancers’ attitude- what is most important is doing the work.

Chorusgypsy.com is only one of Hodes current projects. There is a manuscript about his time with Martha Graham that he has given to friends and excerpted on the Internet. There is another book in the works, a departure from dance, more like a spy thriller, as yet untitled, about, says Hodes, “a stupid fundamentalist oil rich billionaire Texan”. Hodes is reading the work of psychologist and language expert, Steven Pinker, and Tim Wiener’s The Legacy of Ashes- A History of the CIA as research for that endeavor. These projects, in addition to his biking everywhere, visiting with his fifteen year old grandson Matthew, and his daughters: Catherine a former choreographer, now social worker, and Martha, a history professor at NYU and author (named after Martha Graham and born during the filming of APPALACHIAN SPRING), along with helping his wife Liz, stage productions for her voice students, keep him busy -at least until his next stage appearance.

As we conclude our time together I ask Stuart for his assessment of his dancing in his hey day.

“I was dramatic and intense-great for Martha Graham’s work not for Broadway. I was a strong partner and could really lift. I was rugged, not classic lined; I didn’t have great feet (but) I had burst, like a football player. I could move really fast out of nowhere.”

Then I ask, “ What gets you out of bed everyday?”

Hodes replies slyly, “Luck.”

Personally I think it is his sense of adventure and curiosity.

Hodes said it best when he described an encounter he had with dance critic Marcia Siegel regarding her book Dance at the Vanishing Point. He pointed out that in her book title was the fundamental difference between their views on the art of dance (and I believe this view carries over into everything he does) Siegel was already talking about dance being past and disappearing, but for Hodes dance is always happening, he is living it.


WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT STUART HODES AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES?

CHECK OUT THE STORIES OF THE CHORUS GYPSY ON www.chorusgypsy.com

SEE HODES AND HIS PEERS DANCE, AND TALK ABOUT WORKING WITH MARTHA GRAHAM ON THE EXCELLENT NEW DVD’S RELEASED BY THE CRITERION COLLECTION “MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE ON FILM”

* IF YOU PURCHASE “MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE ON FILM” ON THE GRAHAM COMPANY WEBSITE YOU CAN GET A 25% DISCOUNT

http://marthagraham.org/center/

 

The Dance Enthusiast

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