This section of the Estate Project's Web site was inaugurated on December 1, 2004 with a set of testimonials, or "love letters," written by critics, choreographers and dancers in New York and San Francisco and organized by David Gere.
Friends, colleagues and family members are invited to contribute brief testimonials to members of the dance community lost to AIDS. The dance community includes the choreographers in the Estate Project's Dance Archive, but also dancers, critics, musicians and administrators all the people who make the enterprise of dance possible. If you would like to add your own tribute, please send a letter of no more than 300 words to email@example.com. Be sure to include the full name of the individual to whom you are addressing the tribute, his or her dates of birth and death (if known), and your own full name.
Arthur Armijo by Andrew Boynton
Arthur Armijo by Susan Marshall
Joshua Cabot, Leon Evans, Jeffrey Groff, Douglas James, Gene Hill
Sagan and Billy Wilson by Brenda Dixon Gottschild
Ernest David Cohen by George Dorris
John Curry by Mindy Aloff
Vernon Fuquay by Joe Goode
Vicente García-Márquez by Lynn Garafola
Dale Harris by John Rockwell
Oleg Kerensky by George Dorris
Barry Laine by Jane Goldberg
Nala Najan by Uttara Coorlawalla
Bill Partlow by Chris Dohse
Harry Whittaker Sheppard by Wendy Perron
John Wilson by Deborah Jowitt
John Henry by Margaret Jenkins
Peter Kadyk by Paul Timothy Diaz
Joah Lowe by Keith Hennessy
Ed Mock by Wayne Hazzard
Tracy Rhoades by Della Davidson
Jim Tyler by Rachel Kaplan
» Arthur Armijo by Andrew Boynton
Arthur Armijo was known to me long before I met him. I had seen him in Susan Marshall's work, and knew that the stage changed when he was on it. The reasons for this were unclear to me. In 1985, our lives intersected for what would be eight years of work together in Susan's company.
Arthur had an uncommon view of the world, encompassing languages, colors, and senses that have yet to be documented. He could get lost in music, animation, food, but he wouldn't try to describe what he was experiencing. The closest he would come to that was when he recounted his dreamsdramas of movement and flight, joy and pain. They were perhaps small windows onto his universe. One could only observe, and marvel at the attention he gave to each moment of his life, the truths he sought, the connections he made.
Dancing with Arthur, in rehearsal or in performance, was an adventure. He was never just dancing with you; he was dealing with you, he was telling you something, advancing the conversation, conveying those truths and connections. And you were being made better in the process. But this wasn't a dry and solemn state. At times in performance, Arthur seemed on the verge of jumping out of his skin, of letting out a ringing laugh and carrying you along with him. Seeing Arthur laugh was probably the most satisfying thing in the world.
That, and feeling his touchthe way he would touch my neck before we walked onstage, the hug he'd give after time apart. Arthur's was a world wrapped in grace and mystery; the shivers and warmth that resulted from his touch seemed to attest to that, as though there were valuable information in those fingertips, news of his world, messages of delight or despair, or simple greeting. And he wanted you to greet him back.
» Arthur Armijo by Susan Marshall
I first worked with Arthur Armijo in the summer of 1982 in a dance I made at The Yard. That was the first dance that I recognize as my own, as having my voice. Arthur was an intermediary in my connection to myself. It is a strange and beautiful gift to find your voice in the body of another.
As a dancer, Arthur was utterly grounded. His barrel chest rose like a vase above his narrow hips and his long arms extended wing-like from his absurdly flexible shoulders. He moved with a snaky fluidityexcept when he chose not toand then he would intentionally startle you and enjoy a chuckle at your reaction. His face when he was performing was both translucently legible and inscrutable. Artie was one of the founding dancers of Susan Marshall & Company and performed with us for 11 yearsand, as I write this, it has been 11 years since he has left us.
Artie seemed to inhabit more planes of existence than other people. In particular, he appeared to be both more connected to the life of the body and also to some airy life of the mind. The rest of us just lived in a more mundane middle ground which Arthur, at times, had a hard time investing in fully. He seemed to enjoy meat times, to tolerate mefrom a place that was slightly detached. I deeply loved Artie, but I can't say that I ever really understood himexcept in our work. There, I believe we shared a wordless and complete comprehension. Humor, truth and deep emotion leapt right out of the movement he created and we would often laugh outright at his discoveriesno explanation was necessary. When Arthur performed, something let go in him and you could feel his energy tangibly expand. It was as though all of the different aspects of his personality suddenly added up to more than the sum of their parts. It raised the hair on your skin to be beside him in performance and it enlarged your soul. He opened a door to those hidden depths of his and, if you let him lead you, he would take you on a ride in a place that was like a parallel world. To many of us in the company, Arthur was a kind of mysterious leader, always out in front of us, and a little to the sidewe only had to watch carefully and hang on. And we did hang on, and we wanted to keep him here with usbut, he went on ahead.
» Joshua Cabot, Leon Evans, Jeffrey Groff, Douglas James, Gene Hill Sagan and Billy Wilson by Brenda Dixon Gottschild
"Love letters straight from the heart
Keep us so near, while apart..."
So say the words of the song. This one is for Billy and Gene, Doug and Leon, Joshua and Jeffsix men felled by what Chuck Davis calls "the plague": three black, three white, all greatly missed. I knew none of them personally, privately, but I carry somatic snapshots of who they are, and I speak of them in the present tense.
Billy Wilsonsuave, physically gorgeous, self-assured. He is almost chivalrous upon meeting me in the lush lounge of a Philadelphia hotel around 1986. (My interviews with Wilson and Gene Hill Sagan were arranged by Joan Myers Brown, founder and director of the Philadelphia Dance CompanyPhiladanco). He makes me feel valued for who I am and what I am doing, and I suspect that the dancers he works with get the same treatment. As we talk about his time studying dance in Philadelphia with Anthony Tudor, Wilson is disarmingly frank, with little bitterness about the entrenched racism that prevented him and Brown from pursuing ballet careers. He has a full, rich life that includes parenthood (he has brought his pre-teen son to the interview), marriage, and a successful career, in spite of the odds.
Gene Hill Saganquiet, reserved (at least, with me), intense, he is Philadanco's resident choreographer, and his demanding works fit this company like a glove. The aura of protection and guardianship offered by Brown's school and company seem to nurture his choreographic talents, and dances like La Valse, one of his signature works, are alive and well in Danco's repertory.
Jeffrey Groffa lovely young dancer with Ann Vachon's Dance Conduit, he is tall, thin, and sweet-tempered. I remember him telling pre-postmodern jokes: not ironic or cruel or risqué, but ones that tickle our sophmoric rib. He is in his early twenties: his whole life is ahead of him...
Douglas Jamesundergraduate dance major at Temple University, Doug is wiry, black Irish, intense in a city-smart way: he's been around. The last time I see him is at a noonday mass at a church in midtown Philly. He looks fit and strong, is doing AIDS advocacy work: I think to myself, "he's recovering"...
Joshua Cabotfull of energy and enthusiasm, for years he has been a full-time faculty member at a New Jersey college while performing with Dance Conduit and pursuing a doctorate degree at Temple University. Josh has a light but persistent touch, a quick, flickering energy that shone in his dancing and in his approach to research. He has an abiding interest in dance history and preservation and has collected a voluminous archive of 35mm dance slides. One person he inspires is Mary Edsall, his former student and founder-curator of the Philadelphia Dance Archives.
Leon Evansto be young, gifted, and blackLeon had a dream for grassroots black Philadelphia youth: a dance-theater company that would frame their talents for the concert stage. With Jaye Allison, her formed the Leja Dance Company that celebrates and affirms the nurturing power of African American culture.
It helps to think of these people in the present tense, to keep their beingness alive.
» Ernest David Cohen by George Dorris
Ernest Cohen isn't a name you will recognize, but he is one of the unsung early heros of the gay movement. He was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and when that fell apart, of GAAbut somehow his name never turns up in "the literature." I met him when my partner, Jack Anderson, joined GAA in late 1971 and served on the Newsletter Committee, headed by Ernest. They put out a good publication and in 1974 it gave Ernest the idea of starting a serious gay monthly, basically staffed by veterans of the GAA Newsletter, to be called Out. The attractive second issue was blindsided when the cover girl, Susan Sontag, decided at the last minute that any references to her being lesbian in the feature interview had to be cut out. Then the third issue was already printed when the distributor decided not to handle it and that was the end. So Ernest went back to typesetting for a living, yet for a year or two, he said, he still got subscription checks. I wonder if the present magazine called Out has ever acknowledged its pioneering predecessor.
Earlier, though, in his late teens, he had developed a passion for ballet and studied seriously at Ballet Arts with Lisan Kay, among others, and even gave classes to enthusiastic friends. He was tall, slender, and dark, but after a few performances here and there, and some physical problems, he gave up. His other passion was opera and he even supered at the Met for several years. At one time he had worked for a classical music publicist, so he loved to tell stores of her clients, especially Richard Tucker. Elizabeth Schwarzkoff became his great love, attending her performances and masterclasses wherever he could. Somehow I still collect Schwarzkoff recitals on CD for Ernest!
Jack and I lived protected lives in the 80s and Ernest was the first close friend to develop AIDS. As he became sick, he still went to performances and loved to invite friends to dinner, especially on New Year's Eve. Then it was overfortunately, very quickly.
But I would hate for him to be forgotten. He was the dance lover who did something about it, even if all of those classes didn't lead to a career, the opera fan who had worked backstage. And he was the activist who helped all of us raise our heads and our voices in pride. Ernest, this is my love letter to you.
» John Curry by Mindy Aloff
John Curry, as many readers will know, loved the ballet, studied it, and incorporated it into his choreography for the ice. But his contribution to figure skating was greater than that. He also loved what were once called "School Figures"geometric shapes that the skater would trace in the ice to demonstrate the perfection of his control over the edges of his blades. Skating now is obsessed with jumping, the acrobatic passages where the skater leaves the surface. John Curry was concerned with the kind of skating that kept in close contact with the ice, with footwork and what, in ballet, would be called terre à terre dancing. Jumps don't convey line: footwork conveys line. In his company of skaters, Mr. Curry developed a warm-up sequence that brought together sailing and terre à terre dancing, and he built his lovely, delicate skaters' dances from that technical convergence. It was a tremendous loss for the theater when his company had to disband, owing, as I understood it, to economic pressures. I did what I could to help save it. At someone's behest (I no longer remember whose), I wrote on Mr. Curry's behalf in his application for a green card, which would have helped him to work and raise funds in the U.S. I also nominated him for several awards and fellowships, none of which, I'm sad to say, were awarded to him.
I first saw John Curry skate on television, in the 1976 Olympics. What a handsome, elegant, poet's figure Mr. Curry cut: a Keats, introspective, and profoundly yet unemphatically musical. Later, I saw Mr. Curry skate live with his company at the Met, the beautiful and similarly elegant JoJo Starbuck as his partner. The last time I saw Mr. Curry skate was in the early 90's, in the old Skyrink on 33rd Street. He performed to an aria from an opera, and, in the course of it, he fell, as in a dream, and slid on his fully outstretched body halfway across the ice. It was a time when many skaters, following the leads of Torville and Dean, were falling as part of the choreography of their numbers, and I never learned whether this fall was an accident or intentional. Other skaters I asked didn't know themselves. But it was completely musical, right for the cantilena of the aria. We all went out feeling that we had seen something iconoclastic, intimate, and unrepeatable.
In 1976, before the Winter Olympics, John Curry, with characteristic candor, became one of the first male skating stars to announce publicly that he was gay. Despite fears that he would destroy his career by doing so, he went on to win a Gold Medal and to inspire love for figure skating in people of all ages and backgrounds.
» Vernon Fuquay by Joe Goode
Vernon Fuquay had a dirty mouth. This was one of the things I loved about him. He was a lower middle class Southern boy, like myself, and he would scoff at the art world when it became too pompous or gazed too deeply at its own navel. He would say it was "booolsheeut" in his dark southern drawl. At a gathering like this, Vernon would be off in a corner somewhere making comments under his breath. He wasn't one much for ceremonial occasions. He felt, I think, that we artists spent way too much time congratulating ourselves or worrying about how we were being seen in the world. Self reflection was not really his cup of tea, and the idea of a room full of people reflecting "on" him probably wouldn't sit very well. So, sorry Vernon, but here's a recollection that maybe you can stomach:
Vernon, at a concert he had produced or curated, standing in the back corner of Footwork, (he rarely deigned to sit down in the theater), and every time I would look over at him he would cross his eyes or stick his finger up his nose or feign a big theatrical yawn. This didn't mean the program was bad necessarily, it just meant that it wasn't stepping out of itself and really doing something. As far as he was concerned, most of what he saw was just showing off its skill. It wasnąt wrangling with anything or risking being indiscreet or bold in a way that Vernon cherished. Even when I asked him to comment on one of my own pieces, he would name one of the moments that somehow spoke to him, stood out as being bold or truthful or unexpected. This would usually be only one tiny instant of a forty-five or fifty minute opus. And when I asked him, "Well, what about this part, or this, or this?" He would shrug and wrinkle up his nose and say, "You can do that if you want to, I don't care." Not exactly a resounding endorsement, and, needless to say I approached a rehearsal visit by Vernon with a dose of trepidation. Was he just making himself superior? I think I understand now that he was not. He felt that his taste was low and common and that most of what he saw was going over his head. He was just looking for that moment when there was a break in the bullshit so that people like him could be allowed in.
» Vicente García-Márquez by Lynn Garafola
I met Vicente García-Márquez in the early 1980s. He appeared one day at Parmenia Ekstrom's townhouse and in a wink charmed all of us who used her collection. He had beautiful manners and a passion for De Basil's "baby ballerinas." He adored all three of them, knew their stories and hidden stacks of pictures and the memories they carried with them like knapsacks. He was especially close to Tatiana Riabouchinska and once described her to me as more of a mother to him than his own mother. Vicente had come to New York to find a publisher for a book he wanted to write on the De Basil Ballet Russe. Parmenia introduced him to Bob Gottlieb. Bob had no great love of the company, but he signed Vicente up anyway, and many rewrites later published his wonderfully informedand beautifully illustratedfirst book, The Ballets Russes: Colonel Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, in 1990.
By then Vicente was deep in another project, a biography of the choreographer Léonide Massine. Friends had introduced them, and Vicente had spent time with the choreographer at his Italian island refuge. He believed that Massine had gotten a raw deal: not only had his best works vanished when the companies he choreographed them for had folded, but contemporary American critics persisted in reading his balletsincluding his all-important explorations of plotlessness inthrough the prism of Balanchine's work, as if the triumph of one depended upon the annihilation of the other. Bob demurred, put his feet up on his desk, and offered Vicente a second contract. Then, Vicente vanished, as he did periodically, to work and write.
Vicente was born in Cuba to a liberal family that initially supported the Revolution. His sister was the first to leave, and she arranged for Vicente to go to boarding school in Spain. From there he went to France, where he fell in love with ballet. Finally, he joined his parents and sister in Los Angeles, went to UCLA, and began taking classes with Riabouchinskawho opened the door to her De Basil past.
Traveling between Paris, Madrid, and Los Angeles, with stopovers in New York, Vicente seemed to live a charmed life. He always seemed to find a place to stay and money to get him where he needed to go. Parmenia could be very cagey about her collection, but Vicente persuaded her to lend dozens of objectsincluding a score of original Picasso drawingsto an exhibition in Granada that he had organized about the Ballets Russes in Spain. It was the first time a show on the subject had taken place in Spain, and everyone was amazed at the treasures that Vicente had unearthed.
The exhibition and accompanying symposium took a lot out of Vicente, and he vanished. He spent time in Paris and Los Angeles, but the stopovers in New York ended. From time to time he would call. We would talk about Massine and "la principessa," as he called my daughter; he told me about his friend Alexandre Vassiliev, whom I would meet years later in Perm, but never that he was sick. His illness gave him a new perspective on Massine. Where before he had glossed over his flaws, now he spoke with distaste of Massine's selfishness, the way he used women and ignored the needs of his children. The bonds that Massine had trampled on allowed Vicente to die at home with his family.
In 1995, two years after his death, Knopf published Vicente's biography of Massine. I don't know how many more books Vicente had in him, but I know for sure that Massine wouldn't have been his last.
» Dale Harris by John Rockwell
I think of you a lot. Every time I drive up Tenth Avenue and see Roosevelt Hospital. Every time I drive down Fifth Avenue past your building and remember the astonishing floating salon that attended your last weeks.
I still feel your sharp wit, your erudition, and underneath your sometimes caustic exterior, your kindness. I wish very much you were still with us to make all that more than a memory.
But I've been thinking of you lately for another reason. I know that one reason I've accepted my latest job is to honor you. We met over opera, but from the first you also tutored me in dance. You supported me as a dance critic in Oakland and Los Angeles. When I arrived in New York, you brought me into the dance community here, and of course into the dance-critic community.
I didn't always agree with you, about opera or ballet: a little too angry in your later years, thought I. There has to be more to dance than just Balanchine and Ashton and Merce and Mark. Doesn't there?
But you still were and are my mentor, and I miss you very much.
» Oleg Kerensky by George Dorris
(Jan 8, 1930-July 9, 1993)
Oleg Kerensky was larger than life. He was physically big and his appetites were big, whether for arts, food, or boys. No wonder Oleg had friends around the world to whom he is still present tense, although he died on AIDS in the summer of 1993.
Oleg's large frame and large appetites came from his Russian heritage more than his British upbringing. His grandmother, the wife of Alexander Kerensky the last premier of Russia before Lenin fled to England following the Revolution and Oleg's father (also named Oleg) became a successful engineer, building bridges around the world. So Oleg had a privileged upbringing. He had already been taken to the theatre, but it was during the war that he discovered ballet, and both became addictions. At Oxford, among other devotees at the Oxford Ballet Club, he met his lifelong friends Clive Barnes and John Percival and after graduation they began to make their names as critics, eventually transforming the London old-guard establishment by ensuring that publications of all sorts had a reasonably qualified dance critic. It didn't matter that Clive and John were notorious heterosexuals. So were many of Oleg's friends!
Clive likes to tell a story about Oleg and John, who remained slightly put off by Oleg until the two of them went to Stuttgart for a ballet and working-class John wanted to stay at a much fancier hotel than Oleg ordinarily would. They checked in and later John asked "Now, isn't this nice?" "Yes," Oleg enthusiastically agreed, "I rang for a waiter, I had a waiter." They were great friends from then on.
At meals Oleg's favorite courses were starters and desserts, but his appetite for theatre was even greater than for cakes. A day without at least one ballet, play, opera, concert or film (and often several) was wasted. He wrote for a wide variety of publications and also for some years reviewed films for WBAI in New York, astonishing the staff by arriving with only a few notes and delivering an organized rounded critique, making his points succinctly and often wittily. This clearly was the result of years spent as a diplomatic correspondent on the international service of the BBC, working the night shift so work wouldn't get in the way of his theatre going.
There is also much I haven't mentioned, including his three books on dance and The New British Drama, in all of which you feel his desire to communicate pleasure in things he enjoyed. Classical ballet was perhaps his greatest passion, but while he claimed to have little interest in modern dance, he had a shrewd eye for quality there as well.
Oleg's generosity was legendary among his vast circle of friends. When Jack Anderson and I said we were going to London in 1970-71 for my sabbatical, it was Oleg who went to an agent and found us a charming and very reasonable flat in Chalk Farm, near Hampstead. As his deputy on the Daily Mail was leaving, he gave that job to Jack, thus easing our introduction into the London dance scene and then recommended Jack to the BBC. That was Oleg.
By the early 80s, Oleg was spending more time in New York and eventually moved here to become managing editor of a theatre magazine with Clive as editor, but funding collapsed at the last minute. Although without a Green Card, he stayed on, moving into an apartment on Bank Street, just around the corner from me, teaching and lecturing off the books (as long as that was possible), going to performances, and visiting 8th Avenue strip clubs. Vacations were in Europe for festivals and to Puerto Rico or Mexico for boys. The only place he was afraid to visit was Russia, fearing that even then his name would lead to being somehow blackmailed or arrested. But he did play his grandfather in the film Reds at Warren Beattie's invitation.
When the dark days came, things went quickly. Naively, I didn't believe that it was AIDS wouldn't he have told us? until he died in July 1993 and our friend Joel (whose lover had already died with it) said "Oleg knew that you would worry." When he came back from the hospital, because he didn't want to die there, it wasn't too many days before I got an early morning call from the nurse that he was gone and soon the apartment was cleared I still drink my coffee from Oleg's Japanese mug. A few weeks later some of us got together for a big party at Clive's. There was lots of wine, cheese and paté. It was a wonderful party and we knew that Oleg would have loved it even if there wasn't a cake! Yes, Oleg, we loved you.
» Barry Laine by Jane Goldberg
As I am about to go to a book signing by Stan Mack, the Village Voice cartoonist of Real Life Funnies once upon a time, I write this to Barry Laine, my old dance writer friend. Stan has written and drawn a book about his partner's bout with breast cancer that ended in her death in 2000. Somehow the breast cancer epidemic followed quickly in the path of the AIDS epidemic, and while not overshadowing it in tragedy and importance, definitely left me with a lot of early grieving.
Back when Barry died in the early 1980s', not a ton was known about AIDS. He was certainly one of the first up close and personal people I knew who had it. I got to know him after he came to my apartment to interview me about the tap revival of the 1970's for an article he was doing for The New York Times. His subject was white women in a black male art form. He himself got so enthusiastic about tap, he even went out and bought himself a pair of black tap shoes.
Another time I saw him was when he and Stephen, his partner, were writing and running Stage Bill. I never quite knew at the time the difference between that and PlayBill but I knew it was their bread and butter and their office was near Carnegie Hall and I was very impressed visiting him in that neighborhood. The day I came, Barry was cutting out coupons and they weren't for his mother either.
I visited him in the hospital twice before he died. He was the first primary example I witnessed of the phenomenon called "denial" that huge word that became popular in the 1980's self help movement. Barry looked like he was dying as he mentioned not having as much time to go out and see dance, but he'd be able to watch a lot of it on videotapes. He asked me if I could bring him a falafel from Mamoun's the next time I came to visit.
This is how I know Barry Laine was a real friend even though I didn't know him well: After my first production of Sole Sisters, an all women's tap show, in 1985, Barry scolded me for my costume. I was in a blue vintage dress that I'd bought from a store on Lower Broadway and it made me feel like Ginger Rogers when I wore it. My weight was even down then, from taking shots of speed from a wacko doc who called them vitamin shots. Barry still thought I looked fat. He was really concerned! I took that as something very positive, though, like a good mother figure, rather than a bad role model, wanting me to look my best. I got rid of the dress when Barry died.
» Nala Najan by Uttara Coorlawalla
Nala Najan: June 28, 1932 January 7, 2002
After studying ballet in NYC, Nala Najan arrived in India in 1947 to study bharatanatyam, during a crucial time when this form when barely beginning to be recognized as an intricate and highly developed expression of 'Indianness' by a larger public. In his repertory he had some remarkable gems.
I first met Nala during my when he was teaching Bharatanatyam at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Wild! This little man taught warm-ups at the barre, up-two-three-four, dhaoon-two-three-four with a heavy Madras accent. "In India people say 'ji' but here you can call me 'uncle'" he had said.
How long has it been since I saw you last? Four? Five months?
Four, or five (since eyes, ears and lips have known you?)
The abhinaya (narrational technique) I just showed you was from "Nala Najan's version of a poem/padam by 17th century Telugu poet Kshetrayya. They say that Kshetrayya was a Krishna devotee who married a devadasi a temple dancer so his poems were sensitive to alterity. Uncle Nala's poetic sensibility was both his own and at the same very Khetrayya, and very American.
Uncle Nala, when your bones were barely disguised by skin wrap, you told me your body was deteriorating rapidly, but I could hear that your mind was clear, memory spotless and judgement sharp. During this time you wrote on the subject of abhinaya-:
"What a dark cloud obscuring true scholarship! ... All we have
inherited from our long past is a deeply flawed view of woman:
her essence, her potential, her poetry, her sense of being, seen
only from an elitist and erroneous male point of view... Where
is it? Where is women's understanding of their very selves?"
When 'Uncle Nala' choreographed, he was effusively out-there with his inner states. Nala taught me to honor the instants of slipping back and forth between perceptual modalities, between accessing past, (memories) and attending to present shapes of movement and time.
Perform: stringing flower garland as thoughts -drift--- and return
If on his return to the USA, Najan had performed to an ill-informed but admiring press and audience, at least in his last years Nala was valued, treasured by those who understand Indian dance both in Chennai and around the world. Nala Najan's sensitive writings on dance, reflected his subtle and scholarly insights into the profundity of Bharatanatyam as artistic expression, and were based on his ongoing perceptions of visible and veiled difference in daily social interactions... In September 2001, he was honoured with a Sruti award (See Sruti, Indian Classical Music and Dance Magazine, Madras, November 2001) for his insights about bharatanatyam and other Indian classical and new dance forms. (see Sruti 210 March 2002)
With a dual sensibility shaped by his vision of dance of two worlds. He saw himself as both American and wholly Hindu. Nala Najan, son of Ulpiano Palermo de Burgos wanted a Hindu cremation, but he was buried, ---as Roberto Rivera
in Valhalla, NY. In 2002.
na nomu phalamu - Do you miss me? No?! What is written in my forehead, that I must bear..."
» Bill Partlow by Chris Dohse
founder, AIDS Theatre Project
Bill and I lived together in an apartment near the university where we were both in acting school, Wright State University on the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio. Wright State's campus has a unique feature. The buildings are all connected by underground tunnels, so that in Ohio's frequently harsh winters students don't need to go outside between classes.
For Christmas in 1979 we both got roller skates. This was the height of the roller disco fad and we were obsessed with Cher's contribution to the genre, "Hell on Wheels."
A few nights after Christmas, Bill and I were draped on the couch of our apartment, bored. It was too cold to go to the bars so we thought it would be a great idea to break into the deserted tunnel system (the school was closed for the holidays) to try out our new skates. We got in somehow and began flitting around.
Outside the costume shop, on the basement level of the theatre building, we found a gigantic heap of clothes. Unwanted donations apparently. We began to try things on. We ended up in a couple of stale-smelling 1950s housedresses, the kind of things Aunt Bea might have worn. Then we found hats and purses to complete our transformations into frumpy 1950s housewives. On roller skates. We began to call each other by our mothers' names. I became Phyllis Elaine and Bill was Mary Ann.
So off we skated into the maze of tunnels to do a full lap of the campus in these outfits. In a snowbound Ohio landscape. In 1979. In the middle of the night.
As we clung to each other, bumped into walls (Bill wasn't so bad but my skating skills were atrocious) and shrieked with laughter, we'd sigh and say things to each other like, "Oh, Mary Ann, it's a trial on my soul." This had become one of our favorite things to say to each other. We also made frequent gestures like this [hand at neck], which we called "clutching our pearls," or this [hand on head], which we called "poofing" our hair.
Suddenly, we heard keys jangling at the end of a corridor. We were trapped in the center of a long straightaway, with no way to escape before being seen. I gasped, "Whatever shall we do?"
Bill grabbed me by my shoulders and manhandled me into a wild trajectory away from the approaching guard. Pursing his lips, he advised, "Phyllis Elaine, skate like a madwoman!"
This advice has proven endlessly sound again and again when I find myself in dead ends. Bill was an original. A spontaneous, generous, talented human being whose courage and compassion never wavered. His memory irrevocably shapes me.
As I skate like a madwoman through my life, I smile to think of Bill, clutching his pearls in Paradise.
» Harry Whittaker Sheppard by Wendy Perron
died 1992, born in 1947 (I believe)
You were the kindest person I knew. Each time you danced in a piece of mine, you helped me through. Remember when you played the doctor, all dressed in white? I wanted you to be a soothing presence, someone who could help the main character (me) out of a turmoil. We had a long improvised duet. In rehearsals, I couldn't do it more than once. I would take breaks and sit and "think about the piece." But you weren't ready to stop dancing. You just kept going. And instead of thinking about the piece, I would just watch you. Watching you improvise was like watching a fish in water.
In my Art on the Beach piece, I wanted you to be strange and sinister. So you decided to wear a black stocking over your head with streamers coming out of the top. You were definitely strange, but sweetly so, especially when carried over the dunes by a bunch of other dancers.
Do you remember Bartholomew and the Oobleck? That was the children's play we did at Belvedere Castle. You were the Royal Trumpeter, who blows his horn and find gooey oobleck coming out of it. You were so funny, you had all the kids screaming with laughter.
Do you remember how we first got to know each other freshman year staying up late at night, talking about dance and people? I was because were both in love with the same guy.
You always had intuitions about peoplealmost visions. You once said about Linda, "I can see her as a child hiding under a blanket." And you said to Risa, when she was mixing a salad with her fingers, "I can tell you're gonna be a good mother."
The summer I was teaching at Sainte Baume, you came to visit. You had just come from a nudist colony near Grenoble. For you it was normal, just something people do, and you weren't at all put off by our questions.
While traveling in France, you were always prepared. You had a baguette, a knife, and a jar of peanut butter in yr backpack. Anyone hanging out with you never had to look for a restaurant.
Once when I was having trouble choreographing, you said, "that's what I call making, making dances." Choreography was just part of life, both sacred and ordinary. What it wasn't, was something that one person could do and another couldn't.
Harry, there's something I feel bad about. It was around 1991, and you already had AIDS. I was feeling injured by someone we both knew, and I vented to you. You talked me thru it and made me feel better. Later I realized that I had completely forgotten your own impending medical disaster and maybe you did too. You were so willing to immerse yourself in my sob story. I hope I thanked you for that.
Around the same time, you performed with Yoshiko Chuma in Central Park. You started a solo by taking a drag on a cigarette and exhaling a long stream of smoke. Then you danced thru it, with that special Harry-type continuity that was somehow spiritual, and funky and funny too...disappearing thru the smoke rings of time.
Everyone loved your dancing. The year that you won the Bessie, I had been on the committee. Every person present voted for you in the final round. That has never happened before or since, that I know of.
But you never made claims for yourself either as a dancer or as a choreographer. It was just what you did. As you said, you learned to dance in your mother's arms. You showed us all a beautiful, low-key dignity, a visionary way of loving your friends. I don't know how to describe the essence of Harry, but I know I'll never find it again.
by Deborah Jowitt
» John Wilson
John Wilson: dancer, choreographer, singer, piano player, composer, writer. Comedian. Born 1927, died 1992, at 64--a grandfather.
We met in a Los Angeles modern dance class. I was 16, he was 22 and a recent graduate of Pomona College. Both of us spent several summers acting and dancing at Perry-Mansfield in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He sang, "Rocka My Soul," while I made an early and rickety appearance in a solo that was part of the repertory of Harriette Ann Gray's company until its demise in 1954. It was around then that John choreographed his outrageously absurd solo, Diary of a Fly.
Touring on the college circuit in three cars, we drove long distances without stopping for sleep. When I was John's keeper-awaker on a stretch between Seattle and LA (our relief team curled up on the back seat), he had me read him Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood by map light, and we played word games until our brains fried. The rest of us scolded him for standing around reading favorite literary passages aloud, while we unloaded the lighting equipment from the trailer, but no one could stay mad at him. He was too intellectually stimulating, too sweet, too considerate, too honest. And funny! Doing accents, suddenly appearing in outlandish disguises!
John danced in Robert Joffrey's first little company (where he met his wife, Brunilda Ruiz), advised Joffrey about music, played the piano for classes, and unloosed his fine baritone in Joffrey's ballet, Le Bal Masqué. In the late 1950s and early1960s, we worked together in concerts he shared with Joyce Trisler, in a performance he and I shared at the 92nd Street Y (it got reviews I'd rather forget), in Valerie Bettis's Dancers Studio, in Jeff Duncan's new little loft performance space on 20th Street: Dance Theater Workshop.
His comedic sense was responsible for some riotous works, like his Poe-pourri (Edgar Allen Poe would have been startled out of this shroud), as well as for some very bad jokes. For no one but John would I have consented to appear onstage reclining naked from the waist up, facing away from the audience, while Kei Takei crossed the stage carrying a placard that read, "Aren't you glad to see her back?" But the man who could have you in stitches could also bring tears to your eyes--for instance by the way he sang Charles Ives songs while others danced his choreography. Wonderful music always brought tears to his eyes.
John's talents were so many (oh, and he spoke very good French) that I often wonder what fame would have been his had he focused on just one (or maybe two) of them.
He came out as a gay man late in life. With gusto. A convert to Catholicism in college, he may have been struggling against his urges for some time. But his delayed emergence means that he had a longer life than many who were dying of AIDS around the same time. All who loved him can be grateful for the years he had to make us happier and wiser.
» John Henry by Margaret Jenkins
NO ONE BUT JOHN HENRY (WHITTINGTON)*
(John Henry danced with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company from 1974-79; he left to pursue his own work as well as work with young people across the country; he died in 1996)
John was impossible, mercurial, fantastical in the stories told, full of truths and half-truths. I was told not to take John into the companythat he would disappear, not stick around...be too contrary.
But, on the contraryhe gave generously, tenaciously, humorously, critically and warmly. While he was with MJDC he was FULLY present and all the contradictions that WERE John, informed the work and the working process.
His quick step, sharp energy, eager stare, and his constant demand for explanation, justification, were always followed by laughter and forgiveness, and these qualities I continue to miss.
His questions were worth trying to answer. I never could.
One December we went to Hawaii for vacation; John was there with his family. He took Leslie, my daughter, off to build sand castlesfull of excitement and anticipation about what they might invent.
John danced as he worked with sand. He did it as fully as he could for that fleeting moment when he felt aliveuntil the water washed the moment awaysmoothed out the creation. "There was always another day", he said.
I feel privileged to have watched him dance and to have danced with him and I am grateful for his presence in my work, in my life, in his work, in the sand of so many people's lives. What a waste he did NOT have more days.
*No One But Whittington was a work that John Henry collaborated on along with members of my company which premiered in 1978.
» Peter Kadyk by Paul Timothy Diaz
Hey Peter, I think the last time we were together was on December 1, 1998, when we performed at a benefit together. Can it have been that long?
I remember you and crew marched and drummed down to the show from your house on Oak Street, surprising the hell out of the audience. It doesn't seem like people do that kind of thing anymore in the city, though surely somewhere they must. Remember Death's Echo, the poem by Auden that I read to your beating drums? I chose it because over the time frame and overlapping of our life spans, I thought it had become a metaphor for us as dancers, or we had become a metaphor for it: both our enthusiasm for life and our equal disillusionment with humankind or something like that. Anyway. I can't remember if I ever had explained that to you so I am now! Here's a verse to jog your memory:
The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews
Not to be born is the best for man
The second best is a formal order
The dancer's pattern, dance while you can.
Dance, dance for the figure is easy
The tune is catching and will not stop
Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.
When you decided to dance "for a living" did you ever think that our years as dancers in the San Francisco community would be lived and defined alongside death, dying and the crying of an entire generation of artists? I still get bitter about that time.
Anyway, towards the end of the evening you went on to dance solo accompanied by Anah-K Coates. That's what I remember most from the evening and that's what sparked me to write you, though now I can't remember the point. Maybe it's Oak Street: the washroom, the HIV mindfuck, the cleaning marathons and Nazi dust control, the instability and disability of a once and ever professional dancer, working on tour in the woods of Golden Gate Park instead of Europe!
Some people are still angry that you refused the cocktail; that poison manufactured to feed fear; THE LEEDS DEVIL IS LOOSE haunting the brainwashed hospitals for all the healers burned for profit! Against the grain always! Wow, now it sounds like you're writing this letter. I don't blame you for not doing the cocktail though, somebody had to.
How about this: I found a poem that you wrote. You gave it to me without saying a word, which could have seemed weird coming from anyone else, but not from you Peter. I read it then, but haven't since, until now:
Shadowing The Scarecrow
-Peter M. O. Kadyk
...The story goes like this:
My body is what makes me animal
My mind makes me human
My spirit is what makes me universal
My tendancy is to rage and spite this world of BULLSHIT AND GREED.........
Face the facts? What facts? EARTHLY FACTS or human acts?
BORN TO BACKTRACK.......FOR WAYS OF OLD I WEEP IN WORDS UNTOLD
The deeper my breath, the further my crime. FREEDOM is voluntary
Currents, Breezes, Open Spaces, These are my teacher...
Thanks for the poem Peter, and for everything else.
Paul Timothy Diaz
» Joah Lowe by Keith Hennessy
Letter for Joah Lowe
Keith Hennessy, Nov 04
Dear listener, dear living dancer, dear dead dancer, dear Joah Lowe:
To write a love letter is to willingly open memory's door. To invite the images and sensations of yesterday to obliterate the distractions of today. But once the door is open everyone comes rushing through. There are so many half-told stories, half-choreographed dances. I'm writing for Joah but I want to write for everyone. For Tracy Rhodes and Peter Kadyk, for Ed Mock and Jim Tyler, for Wayne Corbitt and Arnie Zane, and for all the guys whose names I can't remember: the one who came to all my sex healing rituals for queer men, the one who gently confronted our Body Electric retreat about our fear of dying, the bedridden one whose voice was barely a whisper yet requested that I come and sing with him at the Hartford St. Zen Hospice.
I'm afraid to write to you. Your presence has become a complicated pattern in a fabric I wear like skin. I hesitate to unravel you individually for fear of my own unraveling. Who am I without you, here, now?
I remember dance class with Joah Lowe, over 20 years ago, in a studio (in this building) at 8th & Folsom. Joah was my first teacher in San Francisco. All the basics that would become Release and Releasing, he shared with us a decade earlier under the names of Aston Patterning, developmental movement, improvisation and whether or not he ever studied with Halprin or Laban, he taught us their rituals as well. Every good dance teacher transcends technique, copywrite, and culture. I've been lucky to be in the zone of the one dance, the prayer dance, the now dance, and Joah took me there. He wasn't the first or the last but because of it he's unforgettable, indivisible from my story, my dance.
Joah taught a weekly class, an introduction to contemporary dance that involved technique and improvisation. Open to beginners, his class gave me knowledge and confidence to graduate to Lucas Hoving's Mon-Wed-Fri technique classes, where I folded myself into dance history for the next three years following Lucas from Margie Jenkin's studio at 15th & Mission, to Footwork (aka Dancers' Group now Abada Capoeira), the Women's Building and Third Wave (now Dance Mission). I can't remember if Joah sent me to Lucas or Lucas sent me to Joah. I'm sure it's written in some journal that I'll never read again. I only remember that I refused to study technique with anyone that didn't also teach improvisation and that's how I chose them as teachers.
I remember Joah in Lucas' class and I remember Joah performing but these memories are cloudy, distant. I remember hanging off the ballet bar, learning to maximize the tilt in my pelvis. I remember Joah's hands on my hips and only later, years later, did I recognize this memory as sexual. Years later when I really learned to fuck, to release into being fucked, I knew what I had learned from Joah. I've thought about Joah and those pelvic rolls and tilts a million times, while warming up, studying Pilates or Klein technique, masturbating, fucking, even riding a bike or hanging below freeways, yelling to god (Saliva 88-89, Spell 04)
I remember asking Joah about his own history in dance. All I remember is an injury and some kind of betrayal, I think with Graham technique. I was a wannabe revolutionary pacifist anarchist feminist then and assumed that all orthodoxy caused pain so this out-of-context image became another brick for me to throw at the glass house of Dance. Now I'm one of those who occupy that house, only part-time. I show up to do repairs; to work on additions to the house so more folks can visit. There's always work to do.
I hope Joah is proud of me. He's the kind of ancestor from whom I want praise and recognition. I know it's supposed to go the other way, so I hope that this letter fulfills some of the debt I owe. Joah, thanks a lot. Thanks for welcoming me, for steering me into the future and away from the past. Thanks for paying just enough attention to me, which was not much, because I was not yet ready to be seen, to be revealed, even to myself. Maybe you knew that but probably you just sensed it. You were my first authentically intuitive man. The more I write this the more your body comes to mind, to body. I'm seeing your legs now. They're very strong. I could go on, but I'm getting nervous, now that your body has caught up to memory and all this presence, yours and mine, is alive, here, now. Thanks again. I bow to you.
With love, Keith
Just before printing this letter, I had a twinge of insecurity. Do I really remember? So I googled you. Yes I googled an ancestor. And there you were, noted teacher of Lessons in the Art of Flying, releasing your signature bowling ball to the sky, in a piece called Bowling Lesson #1 Letting Go of the Ball.
Dance. Lesson. Memory. Body. Letting Go. Love. Thanks.
» Ed Mock by Wayne Hazzard
November 14, 2004
I miss you. I have to say that first off, to try to get the missing you out of the way, so that my eyes and throat and lunges don't gush out oodles of water. I won't call them tears. More like very moist memories that can come flooding back full of longing that can make me ache and if I do start the tears I shake and shake and shake. Yet when I'm reminded, which is often, that I can't take your class or hear the exquisitely soulful music you would play for us, I feel empty. I cry and shake. I miss you,
As always, thinking about your class, your dancing, the music, makes me miss you even more. Like an addict, I long for another dance with you. Yet, whether I can physically dance with or not doesn't matter because in my mind the dance with you is always there. You see, and I know you know this; your spirit is in me- around me-about me-giving me the strength to continue.
It's odd to write to you because we shared so few words together. Our communication was the look. Yeah, you know what I mean. The look. Like the sultry one that said "I'm gonna get you boy" or the "what the hell are you trying to do dance black" look; or the look that had me rolling on the floor with laughter because you'd just transformed into, Sister GodFrieda. Now that was a look.
I miss you and the feelings swell. I always wonder what it would be like to have known you longer. Would we have been better friendsoversno I don't think so. Not because you weren't one hell-of-a sexy man. No our connection was in the studio: dancer and teacher; mover to mover; gay man to gay man. Ed, you will always be my dance teacher, the choreographer, the improviser, the artistic director of the wackily fantastical group calledEd Mock & Company.
I want to thank you for giving me something the last day I saw you. It was a grey, gloomy, day in San Francisco when I visited you at your home. Not one of our foggy days but real gloom. You were not feeling well and had lost so much weight that you weren't able to get out of bedI think that you were being given morphine to take away the pain. As I sat next to you, only one of your eyes was able to open and the look I saw was a look of such tenderness and one that said"damn you boy you better dance because I'm gonna kick your ass if you don't do thatyou hear me" and that look was full of love and fear and light and certainly death.
I will always cherish that you gave me that look and that I was able to carry your spirit into so many of my dance moments. Yes, I danced for you Ed and our friend Vernon and Aaron and Rodney and Joah and well, I could go on but I just want you to know that I miss you. Thanks for all the looks because they made me fly.
Love your friend and fellow dancer, Wayne
»Tracy Rhoades by Della Davidson
November 12, 2004
I miss you so much.
I was showing a video of Angels and Clay the other day and as usual everyone was "oohing" and "ahhing" during your glorious solo. It seems appropriate that you make regular appearances on this earth in a work entitled Angels.
I miss you so much. Hard to believe it has been ten years since you left this earth and I still can hear your laugh. Remember the time in rehearsal with Jane and the narcoleptic puppy? Have you ever laughed so hard? We spent way too much time laughing in rehearsal.
You always understood joy.
How was I so lucky to hang out with you for hours, exploring ideas, and creating dances...We explored the world together. I could not have asked for a more loving and inspired fellow traveler.
Thank you for your wicked humor and your big heart. Thank you for Spin Cycle and the Magnificat.
You taught me so many things. Remember when you were ill and I took you shopping? You were so thin and frail. I was very nervous. You turned to me in your quiet way and said "Della, your fear does not help me". I was so full of fear for you and you ended up helping me.
You were wise beyond your years.
I imagine you at play in the cosmos.
» Jim Tyler by Rachel Kaplan
Jim Tyler was one of my first dance teachers when I came to San
Francisco. He taught at the Mariposa Studio at Project Artaud a few
mornings a week. Dancing with him became part of the structure of my
days, and his way of teaching movement became part of the structure of
my dancing. When I first met him, it seemed he'd been teaching there a
long time. All I know is, he felt very much part of that place, and
what it stood forthe unfettered, practiced expression of the body in
movement. He was a beautiful, lanky man, with arms that seemed to
extend impossibly around his head and shoulders. His legs looked as if
they were connected by rubber bands to his hips, and the looseness in
his long limbs was enviable and extremely difficult to copy. He taught
Hawkins technique, and had been in the company many years before. He
was a dancer's dancer and a great teacherĐclear, precise, enthusiastic,
patient, and kind. I still do some of the stretches, warm-ups and
practices he taught us, nearly 15 years later.
When he fell ill, it was early in the epidemic, it couldn't have
been much later than 1989. One day he was there, and then one day he
was not. He went to visit with family, and I never saw him again, so I
never saw him ill although we heard that he suffered at the end. I
cannot remember if he went home to die, and never returned to San
Francisco at all, or if he was just out of sight of his students and in
the keeping of close friends. I remember John LeFan and Freddie Long's
sorrowthey had shared Mariposa Studio with him for many years, and
loved him as a great dancer, collaborator and friend. I remember
talking with a fellow student about Jim after he had died, and both of
us on the street corner missing him, remembering what he had taught us,
agreeing that it was somehow beyond comprehension that he was gone, and
that it was awful.