In Memoriam #5
by John Sefakis
Dancer, choreographer and teacher Walter Nicks died in Brooklyn April 7th after a long career in Modern Dance and working on the Broadway stage. Mr. Nick’s credits include working with Jack Cole on Jamaica, featuring a young Alvin Ailey, and Assistant Choreographer on House of Flowers and Carmen Jones. I knew him as a teacher, who came to my college (Debbie Allen & Walter Nicks pictured) to teach a Dunham tech-nique at a school that taught virtually nothing but Graham (Debbie Allen & Walter Nicks pictured).
It was thrilling to me, since I was a theater major and not enamored of Graham. He not only taught us technique, but how to visualize the space around us, and how to understand our bodies’ capabilities. He eventually brought his fellow Dunham member, Vanoye Aikens to the university, and they, in turn, brought Ms. Dunham down to watch us perform. We were all in awe of her, and that was back in 1970!! For a campus with a distinct lack of diversity (at the time – that has changed since!) it was a breath of fresh air to me.
Mr. Nicks danced with the Benny Goodman Jazz Revue in 1948 went on to choreograph on many stages and landed on television choreographing for Harry Belefonte’s TV specials from ’59 to ’63. He had collaborated, choreographed for and danced with all the great black performers of the 50s and 60s and continued to dance and teach – and work with new dance black dance artists like Debbie Allen (above).
The American Dance Festival honored him for his teaching in 2000, and he was also lauded by the International Association of Blacks in Dance for his contribution to the dance world.
Belinda Wright, who danced at the wedding of Prince Rainer of Monaco and Grace Kelly, died in April. She was 78.
She began dancing in London in 1946 with what became the English National Ballet (Belinda Wright & John Gilpin pictured) . Her greatest and most acclaimed role was as Giselle, which she continued to perform until 1977 (in a farewell performance for a Japanese ballet company in Tokyo). Taught ballet and continued to coach until 2000. She is survived by her husband, Jelko Yuresha with whom she enjoyed a long professional and personal partnership, a daughter Anabelle and a son Christopher from her first marriage to Swiss dancer Wolfgang Brunner.
by Gregg Meyer
The British dance world has recently lost a very valuable Dance Educator and friend: Vivien Gear died on March 17, just short of her 67th birthday.
An early member of my dance company from the 60's, Vivien had graduated with an MA from the University of London, followed by a supplementary year at the Laban Studio and a Certification of Education from Bishop Otter College in Chichester. She was a loyal member of the company for our lec-dems all over Britain, in non-heated British Rail trains, performing in non-heated venues.
My company was the first Contemporary Dance company in the UK and Jamie Cunningham, who was also in the ensemble, left to become very well-known in the NY post-modern world of the late 60's and throughout the 70's with his Acme Dance Co. Vivien and Jamie were the cornerstone of the company's early days, along with members of the Royal Ballet faculty and London Contemporary Dance company and others (Vivian and Gregg pictured at left).
Viv went on to be a lecturer in Dance at Bishop Otter, and in several London colleges as well as an external examiner for Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Her tenure at Bedford College of Higher Education from 1979-89 left a long-lasting impression on hundreds of dancers now running their own departments from Goucher College in Baltimore, to many colleges in the UK.
During the 70's, I taught Dance as a professor at Washington University, St.Louis. On two separate occasions, I brought Vivien over as artist-in-residence and we ran classes, workshops and presented original works in performance. She helped me teach the kids weekend classes as well as the university students. Then in 1976, she invited me to be guest artist in a small company she created with designer Mike Becket from Covent Garden and musician John Atkins. I performed in several works at their summer season at the Little Theatre in St.Martin's Lane and that was the last time either of us performed together. I retired from dancing in '78.
I am grateful to have had those wonderful decades with my very dear friend, with whom I visited every year; I was about to celebrate her birthday with her next month in Europe and instead am helping to organise the funeral, tributes and memorials. If any of her many former colleagues or students read this article, please do contact me and I'd be happy to talk with you.
(Advisory Board Member)
by John Sefakis
Dance writer and historian Ann Barzel died Feb 12 th in Chicago. She was 101.
Her career began as a dancer, but she soon found other outlets that satisfied her creativity in a more effective way. Ann went on to write and review dance for Dance Magazine and the Chicago Times and shot films of touring ballet companies. She said you could learn much more from watching a company perform from the wings than reading a book about the artist or dance company.
The highly successful 2005 documentary, “Ballet Russes” owes much Ms. Barzel’s films and writing. She shot ABT and its star of the day Violette Verdy, who credited her with her career, as she used a film Ms. Barzel shot as her audition tape to join the company.
Ann donated her dance collection, photos and writing, to the Newberry Library in Chicago in 1996. Most of her dance memorabilia was ballet, and she did not hide her preference. She did, however, have materials on modern dance and other dance forms of the day.
Ms. Barzel left no immediate survivors. Her death was confirmed by dance historian and friend George Dorris.
I wrote my first letter to the New York Times a few weeks ago. Not to argue the right or wrong of war, or to complain about too much Britney coverage, but to right an egregious wrong. The author of one of the best theater how-to books had just died, and they lead off the obituary using that fact, but attributing the book to the wrong publisher. It was the first time I was able to say, “Whoa! I was there! I was a teensy bit responsible for this book being published! Let’s give credit to the correct company! “(Walker and Co. Publishers).
It was a small family book publishing company that allowed me the flexibility to work part time (as juvenile publicity director) and continue my directing and dance careers. As it would happen, I was taking Michael Shurtleff’s AUDITION course as a director, which allowed me to listen to this brilliant man on a regular basis without paying a dime! I just had to direct the actors that were paying him! (Thanks go to Michael Bershad and Verna Pierce…)
Michael Shurtleff was way beyond big in the theatrical community. I could never cover his career as a casting director in full – or objectively – here, but he was responsible for casting the original Broadway shows PIPPIN, CHICAGO, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and movies THE GRADUATE and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, to name a few. He was funny, brutally honest, and truly loved the actors whom he was instructing. And because he cast so many musicals, especially with Bob Fosse, he got to know dancers and cast “triple threats,” a species that was unknown before the ‘70s.
Michael was very appreciative of my support of him – and his book – and we kept in contact for a while once he moved to California. But we all move on, and we lost touch over the years. It’s an honor for me to be able to write about the man, about the time in theater when he – dance -- were king (the ‘70s) and to have Dancers Over 40 here to salute him.
Popular choreographer Glen Tetley died in Florida January 26 at the age of 80. One of the early "cross-over" dancer/ choreographers, Tetley juggled a career in modern dance and ballet. Long criticized by purists for introducing ballet positions in his early pieces, he was also instrumental in fusing modern dance vocabulary with the ballet works of his day.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Tetley had been a pre-med student at Franklin and Marshall College before studying modern and classical dance with such luminaries as Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Antony Tudor and Margaret Craske. He went on to assist Holm in her staging of Kiss Me Kate as well as performing an acclaimed solo by Agnes de Mille in the Broadway musical, Juno.
But the familiarity that dancers (and dance audiences) today enjoy with the fusion of the various idioms was foreign and somewhat threatening in the 50's and 60's. I remember his piece, "Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain," which had a T'ai Ch'i and Zen-influenced premise. Even Tetley's use of Schoenberg's song cycle "Pierrot Lunaire" seemed avant-garde in its day (though today that work has become a repertory standard). It was indeed an uphill battle for many decades, especially for those of us choreographing and performing in America and abroad. Tetley told his critics, "I am just using the vocabulary of dance," and Graham was explaining that there was only Good Dance and Bad Dance.
When I was introducing American Modern Dance to Britain in the very early 60's, I was told that my technique was nothing more than "barefoot ballet." But when I taught it with the Benesh Notation School of Choreology (for the Royal Ballet School and other prestigious institutions), it became more respectable! Tetley, too, found more acceptance in Europe and ultimately became director of the Stutt-gart Ballet and also the innovative Nederlands Dans Theatre, at a time when those companies were the leaders in contemporary dance as we now know it.
One of the original members of the Joffrey Ballet, he also performed with Graham's company, Ballet Theatre and Jerome Robbins Ballets:USA. Long associated with John Butler, Tetley also worked with Jose Limon and Pearl Lang.
Most of "our" generation remember Tetley from the late 50's and early 60's, performing with his small group of dancers, here in New York and on tour. His Pierrot Lunaire is still considered a classic as are such other pieces as Contredances, Gemini, Sargasso, Sphinx and Voluntaries.
Tetley's last artistic post was as Artistic Associate to the National Ballet of Canada, where he remained until 1989. He is survivied by his companion, Raffiele Ravaioli.