The Dance Enthusiast Asks- The Men Dancers
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Male Superstars of Dance- Lar Lubovitch, Arthur Mitchell, Gus Solomons Jr. and Robert Swinston- Share Their Stories
Directly From The Horses Mouth
The Men Dancers at Jacobs Pillow
Pascal Rekoert reporting for The Dance Enthusiast
with Photographs © Miguel Anaya and @Christopher Duggan; Video by Pascal Rekoert
July 2012- Jacobs Pillow, Beckett MA.
(Editors note: both Rekoert and Anaya , brilliant dancers, also participated in this special The Men Dancers: From the Horse's Mouth at Jacobs Pillow)
Fourteen years ago, choreographers Tina Croll and Jamie Cunningham created the groundbreaking, From the Horse’s Mouth-magic tales of real dancers, a production in which dance artists tell their stories and flaunt their genius for movement. Since its inception, this celebratory dance/ theater enterprise has received numerous standing ovations for its captivating tales and unprecedented dancing.
Spoken word and dance are equal partners in From the Horse’s Mouth. The dancers recount anecdotes about memorable teachers, performances and injuries. Their parade of diverse tales is supported by the simultaneous movement improvisations of their cast mates. Over the years, established artists and dance world luminaries like Mary Anthony, Christopher Elam, Carmen de Lavallade, Pearl Lang, Deborah Jowitt, John Jasperse, Elizabeth Zimmer, David Parker, Pascal Rioult, Mary Seidman, and Martine van Hamel have shared their stories.
Earlier this summer, a cast of 30 male artists ranging from 17 to 78 years old performed in The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth. They traveled to Jacob’s Pillow to celebrate The Pillow's 80th birthday and to pay tribute to its founder, Ted Shawn, and his pioneering all male company, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview several titans from the production’s cast: Robert Swinston, veteran dancer and trusted rehearsal director to Merce Cunningham, soon to bring Cunningham's work to Paris as director of the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine in Angers, France ; Gus Solomons Jr.,dancer, dance critic, actor, choreographer and leading figure in the modern and post-modern dance worlds ; Lar Lubovitch ,renowned American choreographer and artistic director of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company; and Arthur Mitchell, the creator of the first African American ballet company, the Dance Theater of Harlem, and a recipient of the United States National Medal of Arts.
Pascal Rekoert for The Dance Enthusiast : From the Horse’s Mouth performances are about telling a personal dance story. Could you share another one of your stories with us?
Gus Solomons Jr. : The year I danced with Martha Graham, she created a new piece called The Witch of Endor. She wanted me to be “an enormous gesture”, so I had the idea to devise a rig in order to become ten feet tall. There was a stool which was bolted to the stage about 5 feet high, and then boots which were bolted to the stool. I stood in the boots, so I could lean my whole body out as the enormous gesture she wanted. It became quite impressive. I was behind the backdrop, which during the choreography dropped down in order to reveal me. During the curtain call of the premiere night, the company all entered to their bows after which it was Martha’s solo bow. There I was bolted to the stage, ten feet tall and not able to go anywhere. This was the day I took my solo bow with Martha Graham.
|Los Angeles Dancer/Choreographer,Chad Hall, performing in The Men Dancers: From The Horses Mouth at Jacobs Pillow July 2012 -Photo © Miguel Anaya
Another favorite story is one from my childhood. I have always danced from the moment I could walk, but every single time I did this, I got punished for one
"Forty-one years ago I was a scholarship student at Jacob’s Pillow...
reason or another. I danced in church when I was four, and I got punished. I went to the movies on a Saturday afternoon and stayed for six hours just so I could watch the whole musical twice. After having been out all afternoon while my mother was clueless about my whereabouts I would come home and of course get punished for it. We didn’t have cell phones back then!
Ted Shawn at some point brought all of the scholarship boys into the small studio, and told us that he did it all for us. He stated that all that he did was to perpetuate dance for men."
And at one point, I don’t know what possessed me, I was sitting on the back of a couch, and I thought I could do a back bend off the couch and ripple down the couch like a waterfall. I did my back bend, and needless to say my legs jack-knifed and went right through the window, so I got punished again. All my efforts to keep dancing were punished, and yet I would keep going, and I’m still doing it.
Over the years my spine shrunk four inches, but I am still going!
Robert Swinston: Forty-one years ago I was a scholarship student at Jacob’s Pillow, one of the fourteen boys staying at one of the cabins on the grounds. We came one week early for a nine- week season of classes and performances, and we stayed a week later.
It was an extremely endless summer, and we worked like slaves. We each had a task. Mine was cleaning the Ruth St. Denis studio. Two weeks out of the nine -week season, I was able to work backstage. One of the companies I worked backstage for, was the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, which is a company I adore.
This summer was during the last year of Ted Shawn’s life. Ted Shawn at some point brought all of the scholarship boys into the small studio, and told us that he did it all for us. He stated that all that he did was to perpetuate dance for men. That was quite inspiring.
I also took some of Ted Shawn’s classes. These changed my life. I had just transferred to Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, which led me to the Martha Graham School, where I ended up being an apprentice for six months. Fortunately I was rescued from that by Kazuko Hirabayashi, and I finished my education at The Juilliard School.Ted Shawn and that summer at Jacob’s Pillow really gave me a springboard for my dance education.
|Arthur Aviles, American Bessie Award Dancer, formerly of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company and
Director of Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre, Performing in The Men Dancers: From The Horses Mouth at
Jacobs Pillow July 2012 - Photo © Christopher Duggan
With the Merce Cunningham Dance Company I returned to Jacob’s Pillow seven times to perform. The last time we came here was the last week of Merce’s life. We spoke to him via Skype the afternoon prior to the last performance. It was a very special show, because we were performing a piece called Soundance, which I consider to be one of his greatest works. Later on that night there was a tremendous thunderstorm, which is when he passed away.
The Pillow is very important to me, and I’ve been very fortunate to have come back here. I’m glad I was able to return again as part of the From the Horse’s Mouth performances.
Lar Lubovitch: After fifty years of dance I have lots of stories. I hardly know where to begin. When I just started dancing professionally, I was supporting myself as a go-go dancer in night clubs around New York. I was primarily employed by a woman, Trudy Heller, who ran several clubs in the NYC area. She had a main nightclub which was called Trudy’s in the West Village. I was also getting free classes during the day at a ballet school in exchange for cleaning the studios, so I basically danced day and night. I was getting really inventive with my go-go dancing when I really was supposed to be doing the latest moves from the pop dances. Trudy Heller was very intense, aggressive, and somewhat mean-spirited. She got angry with me for this “free dancing”. She ran up to me and said: “If you call that dancing, you can’t dance at my club anymore.” I got fired that night.
|Lar Lubovitch Gets His Turn as Jason Samuels Smith, award winning American Tap Dancer/Choreographer,
Passes Him the Microphone - The Men Dancers: From The Horses Mouth at Jacobs Pillow - July 2012-Photo© Miguel Anaya
TDE- How did you get involved? Is this your first time?
Gus Solomons Jr.: I have known Jamie and Tina forever. When they were putting the first From the Horse’s Mouth performance together at Joyce SoHo in 1998 it featured random dance people from the New York area. I was just one of the people they asked. They made of a film of it. Melanie Everett who has danced with Paul Taylor and who is now a filmmaker made a short film of this performance. Subsequently, they began to ask me whenever they were doing one, and I almost always said yes.
In total I have done it six or seven times. After these initial performances they started the specialized ones like the one dedicated to Martha Graham and the 92nd Street Y's 75th Anniversary show. I had a history at all those places as well, so I naturally performed in those.
I keep doing them because it’s fun to do, it is fun to listen to all these stories, and it is fun to meet people that I haven’t met before. It is a wonderful compendium of anecdotes that no one would ordinarily get to hear.
Arthur Mitchell: This was my very first time participating in From the Horse’s Mouth. They did it in Los Angeles where one of my ex-dancers now lives and she called me informing me of how wonderfully unique this venture was. I called Tina Croll, and I told her I was interested in participating. For a long time I didn’t hear back from her, until she contacted me for this anniversary performance of Ted Shawn and Jacob’s Pillow. They were so impressed with my stories, that they even told me that I was going to close each performance.
TDE - What do you enjoy about performing in From the Horse’s Mouth?
Robert Swinston: What I enjoy most about this performance of The Men Dancers:From the Horse’s Mouth is getting to meet the other men, and to socialize with them. I find that really interesting, because we cross paths through these different generations, and there’s many people that I never knew before, but heard much about. This week of performances is a great way to say hello over a shared meal.
Arthur Mitchell: The most important thing aside from the stories is to see the training and the technique within each dancers improvisation. That doesn’t happen so much in classical ballet. Working with a large number of modern dancers that are creating their own movement, I found extremely fascinating.
Gus Solomons Jr.: I enjoy dancing with the other people. That’s how I met Martine van Hamel, and then asked her to dance with my company, Paradigm. Paradigm came to Jacob’s Pillow, and she shared a show with us. At the InsideOut outdoor stage she performed a piece that Wendy Perron had choreographed for her. She brought this wonderful huge white garment in which we both danced simultaneously.
TDE - Which other Horse’s Mouth cast member do you enjoy watching perform, and why?
Arthur Mitchell: Each performer has their own strength. You have to be very open to accept their style and way of performing. I love the way Chet Walker performs his subtle Bob Fosse moves. He’s not a slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am type of artist, but to see his subtlety of movement is simply breathtaking. Then there is Emanuel Abruzzo who was a dancer at Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, performing on his point shoes; his technique is very good.
|Emanuel Abruzzo of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at The Men Dancers: From The Horses Mouth at
Jacobs Pillow July 2012-Photo © Miguel Anaya
Robert Swinston: It’s hard to pick one, because everybody is so unique. It is fascinating to see what everybody does. I have to say that the young tapper Cartier Williams compels me, because he can’t stop tapping his feet on or off the stage. And then to see Jason Samuels Smith as a mature version of that, is mesmerizing. The kind of thing that male dancers do is incredible. So I really enjoy what everybody is doing. I can’t really pick one.
Lar Lubovitch: I’m extremely moved by any dancer that I see dancing. The spirit of this event is that people are really revealing themselves on a personal level. The beauty lies in the sharing of their personal and physical story, and this is surely the case at the From the Horse’s Mouth performances.
TDE - What’s next for you?
Gus Solomons Jr.: On July 30th I sing in the musical Chess. It’s a benefit concert reading to benefit the Actor’s Fund. Chris Martin is putting it together. On the 8th of August I go in for spinal surgery. That will take me to the middle of the Fall, then I go back to teach for a half a semester at NYU Tisch. Then I go on sabbatical for the Spring semester, and then I retire. I’m considering going back as an adjunct professor to teach the freshmen compositional class.
Arthur Mitchell: I just came back from Russia, where I was asked to teach and lecture. It just turned out that I had danced there fifty years ago this coming September. I also went back to set up a fifty year anniversary of my tour to Russia.
|Jason Samuels Smith shares his story as Emanuel Abruzzo dances in the background at The Men Dancers: From The Horses Mouth at
Jacobs Pillow July 2012-Photo © Miguel Anaya
Lar Lubovitch: In September I start again with my company. I’m in the midst of creating a new work, which will premiere this November at John Jay College in New York a week before Thanksgiving. I’m also the curator of the Chicago Dance Festival, which is going into its sixth season. This festival has an audience of about twenty thousand people. This will happen in four different theaters in Chicago, and starts in the third week of August.
Robert Swinston: The Merce Cunningham Trust has moved from Westbeth to New York City Center, and we just finished that. I also have just completed seven weeks of workshops with former company members assisting them in the process of staging a Cunningham work. I have another workshop coming up in August. About three weeks after that I go to Paris for six weeks to stage Merce’s work on the Paris Opera.
Then I will move to Angers, France where I will be there Director of the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine, and start a new life. I will be able to take the Cunningham work with me license-free, and start a small company that will do Merce’s work as well as work by other choreographers.
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