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Memoriam Archive 3

Dancers Remembered

Gregg Mayer

by Gregg Mayer

DO40 Board Member Gregg Mayer (above)
shares her thoughts on dancers who have recently left us


Thommie Walsh

Thommie WalshThe Tony-winning choreographer Thommie Walsh has died at 57. Known for his collaborations with Tommy Tune, two of which garnered him Tony awards for choreography, Walsh also received other nominations for choreography and direction. In l975 he created the role of "Bobby" in the original Broadway production of "A Chorus Line" and followed that by co-writing a book about the musical, "On the Line." That show was the last of Walsh's performing career and his brilliant choreographic career took off soon after.

Born in 1950, Walsh studied dance with Irma Baker in upstate New York since aged 5 and by 1973 was performing in the chorus of Michael Bennett's "Seesaw," under the name Thomas J. Walsh. Some of the shows which he choreographed include: "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "1940's Radio Hour," "My Favorite Year", "Nine" and "Lucky Stiff;" he also staged musical numbers for Chita Rivera, Sandy Duncan, Whoopi Goldberg, Lorna Luft, Barbara Cook, Donna McKechnie and Joel Grey.

Walsh received the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for choreographing "A Day in Hollywood/A Night in The Ukraine" in 1980 -sharing the award with Tommy Tune - and again, in 1983, for "My One and Only" - starring Mr. Tune. He worked in regional theatre in more recent years and in 2001 he directed and choreographed the national tour of "Whorehouse", starring Ann-Margaret and Gary Sandy. Walsh died on Saturday, June 16 at his mother's home in Auburn, New York.

Claude Thompson

Claude Thompson dancer, teacher and choreographer, died recently in Los Angeles. He was in several Broadway shows, as a performer, from 1952-62, and appeared with Lena Horne in "Jamaica,” late '57-'59. He also performed in "Bravo Giovanni" in 1962; "Shinbone Alley" in early 1957; "Mr. Wonderful" from 1956- to early '57; and "My Darlin' Aida" from 1952-'53. He also taught at the June Taylor studio in the early ‘60's and in L.A. subsequently.

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton, longtime performer in Charles Weidman's company, died at 90 earlier this year. He was born in Trenton, NJ and lived with his partner, Don Liberto, for 62 years. My recollection of Peter Hamilton was his amazing elevation in jumps and leaps. When I was little and studied with Charles, (Doris) Humphrey, (Jose) Limon et. al. at the 92nd St. Y and elsewhere, we all aspired to leap as high as Peter did. My mother would often call out to me during classes or rehearsals the dancer version of "Sing Out Louise," and say "Jump like Peter Hamilton!"

Beautiful, blond, tall and stately, Hamilton started in the dance world in his 20's as a cleaner at Perry-Mansfield performing arts camp in Colorado. After dancing and acting there, he began to perform as lead dancer with Humphrey/Weidman from 1941-45, remaining with Weidman till 1960.

Apart from his modern dance work, he appeared as a soloist at Radio City Music Hall, Rainbow Room and in such Broadway shows as "Sing Out, Sweet Land!" which impressed this young aspiring dancer enormously.

Mark Ryder

Former Graham dancer, Mark Ryder died at 85 on July 13. Best remembered (by me, anyway) as half of the Dance Drama Duo with his first wife, Emily Frankel in the early 50's, they performed regularly at the Needle Trades High School in midtown, now under a different name. That was one of the few venues for modern dance, apart from the Kaufman Auditorium at the 92nd St. YMHA.

Ryder was on the faculty of the dance department of the University of Maryland for 14 years, also teaching at Goddard college in Vermont, where he apparently encouraged his student David Mamet to become a playwright. Having danced with Martha Graham for a decade, he eventually went on to create the Dance Drama Company, featuring works by himself and others.

Born Sasha Liebich in Chicago, he studied dance at the Neighborhood Playhouse where Graham taught and thus entered her company which was in residence annually at the renowned Bennington College summer school and dance festival, where so many of our dance pioneers got their start. He joined the Army, took part in the Normandy invasion and returned to dancing in New York. His marriage to Frankel was followed by marriages to Ann Dumaresq and, finally, to Mary Ratcliff.

Mary Day

One of this country's most distinguished teachers, Mary Day died in July at 96. She was the longtime artistic director of the Washington Ballet and was renowned for her work, with her own teacher, Lisa Gardiner, in creating and sustaining the Washington School of Ballet, starting in 1944. An internationally recognized teacher, Day remained with the Washington Ballet until her retirement in 1999. Among her many famous students were Kevin McKenzie, Shirley MacLaine, Amanda McKerrow, Patrick Corbin, Mimi Paul and Virginia Johnson – and many, many DO40 members!

Born in 1910, Day studied with Ms. Gardiner, who had danced with Pavlova's company. When Day and Gardiner began their small performing group, they called it the Washington Ballet, and that remained the name when the troupe was reorganized and Ms Gardiner became artistic adviser in 1956, dying in 1958.

Both Chelsea Clinton and Caroline Kennedy spent some time at the Washington School of Ballet and Ms. MacLaine was quoted at a benefit performance, as thanking her former teacher for recognizing her lack of talent and not encouraging her to go into ballet.

Melissa Hayden

The dynamic star of New York City Ballet in its hey day -and early days- of the late 40's, early 50's, Melissa Hayden died in August at 83. Known to all her fans as Milly, this Canadian dancer was known for her versatility and passion. My recollection of her is mainly of adoration from not so far. She had the locker above mine at SAB in the ten years I was at the school and I sometimes tried to stand near her at the barre, thinking maybe I'd get some of that star power, energy and sheer talent through osmosis! I also recall the way she brought out the best in her partners, such as Nicholas Magallanes, Francisco Moncion and Jacques D'Amboise.

Her many phenomenal roles included The Duel, Firebird, Cortege Hongrois and Allegro Brillante. As a teacher, Hayden headed the ballet department at Skidmore College and the School of Pacific Northwest ballet in Seattle. Since 1983, however, she had become a major faculty member at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where she taught till a month before her death.

Married to Donald Coleman, Hayden had two children, all of whom survive her, as well as five grandchildren.



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