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A Postcard from Famed Martha Graham Dancer Stuart Hodes on Choreographing for Naomi Haas Goldberg's Dances for a Variable Population

A Postcard from Famed Martha Graham Dancer Stuart Hodes on Choreographing for Naomi Haas Goldberg's Dances for a Variable Population

Published on June 12, 2017
Stuart Hodes with Dances for a Variable Population dancers

“America is about the Frontier,” said Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale. Martha Graham spent her life extending the dance frontier, and after the dance world had absorbed her discoveries, it began begin venturing beyond, into hip-hop, street dancing, different body types, different ages, etc. Yet, we are far from a culture in which everyone dances and always will be unless the vision of Naomi Haas Goldberg and her DVP, Dances for a Variable Population, prevails.

Watch highlights from past Dances for a Variable Population performances
 

Naomi showed up in my living room about a year ago, asked me to join her group. I explained that I no longer dance, except for 15 minutes of moves done daily to hold my peripheral neuropathy at bay. After seeing the moves, she had me lead her group, which became a dance titled, Balancing Act, performed in several of her venues, each time inducing audience members to rise up and dance with us.

Now I’m making a dance for her seniors, part of Naomi’s thrust into yet another frontier. The dancers are from her weekly class in the George Bruce Public Library on West 125th Street. I began by explaining that “a dance is an 'event,'” (Merce Cunningham’s word for some of his dances), and when you do it, both you and the watchers (Erick Hawkins’s word for audience) know something special is happening. “That’s what I hope we can achieve.” What followed is now titled In the Public Square.


To see In the Public Square attend: Open FREE Dress Rehearsal

June 14, 5:00PM, Grant’s Tomb, Manhattan

FREE Public Performances June 17, 5:00PM and 6:30 PM, Grant’s Tomb, Manhattan

June 24, 6:00PM, Abraham Lincoln Statue, Prospect Park, Brooklyn


Two young women lift a more mature woman who wears a white tank top in a performance. The lifted dancer outstretches her right hand.
Dances for a Variable Population

An elderly couple, aided by canes, walk slowly upstage followed by a group. The pair take chairs, and the others proceed through a series of walks, gestures, circles, confrontations, do-si-dos, finally facing the first couple, who rise and join, then all exit together. A dance? I leave that to the watchers and also critics, if one should happen to attend.

What I do know is that I no longer separate dancers so completely from other people. Lincoln Kirstein, who declared that all the New York City Ballet dancers have “one body,” would not deem it a dance. Or would Martha Graham, maybe not even Bill T. Jones. Rehearsals were not like any other. People would drop out and return. One elderly man was never on the beat, yet radiated joy being there. Three women are young and bristling with energy, yet not out of place, any more than a family portrait with babies, teens, parents, and grandparents are out of place together. Will an audience of strangers accept In the Public Square? Haven’t a clue. I only know that in its making, I was transported beyond a personal dance frontier, and that was exhilarating.

A group of senior dancers huddle together and raise their arms up the sunny sky
Dances for a Variable Population

In the Public Square is part of REVIVAL, a celebration and renewal of great 20th Century modern dance, developed with the legendary dancers who helped create it and interpreted and performed by those artists and groups of non-professional senior dancers

To see In the Public Square attend:

Open FREE Dress Rehearsal

June 14, 5:00PM, Grant’s Tomb, Manhattan

FREE Public Performances

June 17, 5:00PM and 6:30 PM, Grant’s Tomb, Manhattan

June 24, 6:00PM, Abraham Lincoln Statue, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

To learn more about Dances for a Variable Population, go to the organization's website


  • The Dance Enthusiast Encourages Artists, their Friends and Representatives to Share Stories and Create Conversation by Sending Postcards. Find more Postcards here.

  • Read More and Enjoy A short video interview with Naomi Goldberg the founder/artistic director of Dances for a Variable Population here
  • Read another  beautifully written 2012 essay about flying and dancing by Stuart Hodes, a frequent Dance Enthusiast contributor. http://www.dance-enthusiast.com/features/view/Special-Dance-Enthusiast-Feature-MUSCLE-MEMORIES-The-Third-Installment-in-series-of-short-essays-by-Stuart-Hodes-2010-01-12
  • How to Send The Dance Enthusiast a POSTCARD. We are delighted to get mail. Consider sending a digital POSTCARD to The Dance Enthusiast. Tell us what you are up to. Include your text ( not a press release) and three to five properly credited pictures, then send to info@dance-enthusiast.com. Or, send a video and a horizontally oriented photo along with your text.
  • Postcard Prompts -- What you might want to write about:Show and Tell i.e. introduce us a to day in your rehearsal process with text video and/or photosWhere  have you traveled/toured and how has it changed you as an artist and as a person?What exciting ideas are you exploring in the studio or outside of it?Who is performing in your space and why are you thrilled about it?Top 5 or 10 qualities that define you.Need more ideas? Contact Christine Jowers at info@dance-enthusiast.com

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