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Memoriam Archive 2


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.


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