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Memoriam Archive 4

DO40 Remembers a Great "Boss"

by Gregg Mayer

The celebrated, legendary and extraordinary choreographer, dancer and director Michael Kidd died on Dec. 23 of cancer. He was 92 and was living in Los Angeles. Born Milton Greenwald, Kidd began dancing professionally with Lincoln Kirstein's "Ballet Caravan," and joined what was then Ballet Theatre in 1942, working as dancer as well as choreographer.  According to his nephew, Robert Greenwald, as quoted in the New York Times obituary, Kidd often gave his age as four years younger, but the family considers 92 to be official.

Kidd was born in NYC on the Lower East side, the son of an immigrant barber. He attended New Utrecht High School and became interested in modern dance during that period. He studied under the pioneer of dance therapy, the modern dancer and choreographer Blanche Evan. Kidd went on to study chemical engineering at the City College of New York before studying on scholarship at the School of American Ballet in 1937.

By 1947 he was choreographing for Broadway (Finian's Rainbow), for which he won his first Tony, followed by such brilliant shows as Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, L'il Abner and Destry Rides Again. As choreographer and/or director, he also worked on Subways Are for Sleeping, Skyscraper, The Rothschilds, Cyrano and The Goodbye Girl.

If your long-term memory is better than your short-term,  you'll have glorious memories of "Jubilation T Cornpone" from L'il Abner, with the magnificent Stubby Kaye, whom you'll also remember fondly in Guys & Dolls in his "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." These were some of Kidd's finest Broadway moments.

Next came Hollywood, inevitably, and he did either choreography or musical staging for such films as Where's Charley?, Guys and Dolls, BandWagon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Hello Dolly! and Movie Movie! He co-starred in the popular MGM musical, "It's Always Fair Weather," with Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey and Cyd Charisse. In later years, Kidd worked on television specials with such stars as Bernadette Peters, Julie Andrews and Mikahil Baryshnikov, as well as taking home an Honorary Oscar in 1997 for his film achievements (photo above).

Michael Kidd is survived by his second wife, Shelah Hackett and four children: Kristine, Susan, Amy and Matthew.

Kip Andrews

One of Broadway's original gypsies, dancer Kip Andrews, has died at the age of 75. Kip will be remembered as a dancer in Fiddler on the Roof, Anya, Silk Stockings, The Gay Life and Ben Franklin in Paris. On National tours, he performed in Pajama Gama, Fiorella and many others, adding television and the Radio City Music Hall to his resume. Kip also appeared at the 1964 World's Fair.

Making his debut in theater as a child actor in 1945, Kip spent the next 30 years as a mainstay of the NY theatre scene, moving on to dance with such ballet companies as Les Ballets Canadiens, The New York Ballet Club and New York City Festival Ballet. This career ended when he was injured during the Korean War.

He then went on to choreograph productions of Guys & Dolls, Finian's Rainbow, The Music Man, Pajama Game, Archie & Mehitabel and the film, "A Lovely Way to Die," starring Kirk Douglas. His wide range of experience, plus his work for Jerome Robbins as Dance Captain for "Fiddler" in New York, won him permission from Robbins to direct and choreograph West Side Story in Argentina and South Africa, where he met Carynne Thomas, whom he married. At that point, Kip realized that being a gypsy was not conducive to a happy marriage, so he retired from the theatre, working in various posts from Police Auxiliary to ABC Television Network, editing movies for television and then taking courses with the Power Squadron.

He and Carynne both joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 54 on City Island and loved the area so much they moved there in 1976. They were proud to patrol the Hudson River during the Bicentennial celebrations and to serve on board the Coast Guard Cutter, "Eagle." They spent many summers patrolling the waters of Long Island Sound and Kip said his proudest accomplishment was being a graduate of the Coat Guard Search and Rescue School at Governor's Island.

Kip Andrews is survived by his wife Carynne, two sisters, two nieces and three nephews.

Gus Giordano

The ubiquitous and renowned jazz dancer and choreographer, teacher and mentor Gus Giordano died recently at the age of 84. The cause was pneumona, according to his daughters, as printed in the New York Times. Giordano was one of the most important of the early popularizers of American jazz dance and is famous for organising the first Jazz Dance World Congress in 1990. His company, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, was founded in 1962 and based in Evanston,IL. The company, now directed by his daughter Nan Giordano, is considered the first dance company dedicating itself solely to jazz dance.

The troupe's programs featured pieces by Giordano and included dances by guests such as Mia Michaels and David Robertson. The performers were known for their careful technique, brilliant energy and precision. Since 1990 and the first Congress, many jazz dance companies got together for a week of master classes and performance in annual conventions, not only in this country but throughout the world. Giordano's books included the 1975 "Anthology of American Jazz Dance," and "Jazz Dance Class: Beginning through Advanced," published in 1992.

Gus Giordana was born in St.Louis (like so many well-known theatre and dance luminaries) and became interested in dance as a child. During WWII, he was a marine assigned to perform in shows at military bases. From there he performed on Broadway in musicals such as "Paint Your Wagon" and "On the Town." Moving to Chicago in 1953, his illustrious career took off and in 1980 he won an Emmy for the television special, "The Rehearsal."

He is survived by his daughters Nan and Amy and sons Patrick and Marc, as well as eight grandchildren, all of Chicago.

Marvin Gordon

A Rememberance - by Lois Silk

He was among the lesser known choreographers and today I am remembering him.

Marvin Gordon was one of the first choreographers I worked with as a young dancer. He came into the rehearsal studio knowing what he wanted and would go from the beginning to the end of a work in one session proclaiming, "Another masterpiece has hit the dust - on to the next!" His energy and good will was contagious and we worked with dedication to please the "master." Each year we did a show in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria to celebrate the history of the Jewish people.

One of the pieces depicted the Jewish people as slaves under Pharoah in Egypt. Marvin used a piece of music by Mussorgsky with a steady, unrelenting beat that we had to count it as 1234567, 2234567 up to 21234567 at which time there was an almost imperceptible break in the music to begin the next theme which Marvin called Lois's theme. At each rehearsal he called out "Lois's theme" and I led the group of 10 dancers into the next section of the dance. Just before our final rehearsal I asked Marvin if he was going to be in the wings to quietly cue me on the change. He replied, "No, I am going to be in the audience to enjoy the show." So I said, "Then please be quiet so that I can finally hear the change."

After many years of working with this illustrious choreographer, Marvin was in the hospital as he began his battle against Aids. I said to his Assistant Choreographer, Tony Masullo, that we should go visit Marvin at St. Vincent’s. Tony said that he felt uncomfortable about going and I assured him that I would be there to make it easier. Tony agreed saying that we would only stay a few minutes. We stayed an hour and a half reliving past memories of all the shows that we did together. We had Marvin laughing at all the mishaps, anxieties and fulfilling moments that we shared. It was a beautiful visit that I will always remember now that Marvin is gone.

Sallie Wilson

Sallie Wilson, the renowned dramatic ballerina from American Ballet Theater's hey-day, died at her home in Manhattan on April 27, at age 76. The cause was cancer.

Considered one of America's finest ballerina's in the 60's and 70's, Wilson had a strong stage presence and became particularly etched in America's ballet-going public with her interpretations of the work by Antony Tudor, George Balanchine and Alvin Ailey. In 1966, Wilson made dance history in the Tudor masterpiece, "Pillar of Fire," dancing the leading role of Hagar and becoming the fist dancer with "Ballet Theater" ( as it was then known) to do so since Nora Kaye originated the role in 1942.

Appearing subsequently in Tudor's other major ballets, such as "Jardin aux Lilas" and "Dark Elegies," she became known for her powerful interpretation of her roles and went on to supervise revivals of Tudor's ballets for the New York Theater Ballet, for whom she taught for many years.

Wilson was born in Texas in 1932 and studied dance in NY, joining Ballet Theater in 1949. But because she was lacking in stage experience, she was soon dismissed but had by then attracted the attention of the British choreographer Tudor, who at that time was in charge of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, affiliated as it was with Ballet Theater. So Wilson went on to dance at the Met from 1950 to 1955.

By 1956, Tudor had persuaded Ballet Theater to rehire her and in 1958, Wilson joined NYCity Ballet, where she won praise in "Episodes," a two-part production that also made history by being choreographed by Martha Graham and George Balanchine, to music by the (even then) avant-garde composer, Anton Webern.

In 1960, Wilson married the dancer Ali Pourfarrokh; they were subsequently divorced. At that time, she returned to Ballet Theater and gave her last performance with it in 1980. Occasionally choreographing for regional troupes, she created a production in Venice of Britten's "Prince of the Pagodas," starring Carla Fracci.

One bit of scandal emerged in the 70's, when Wilson, normally a quiet and reserved person, threw a glass of Scotch (single malt, presumably) at Clive Barnes, then the chief dance critic at the NY Times. He had written about the Stuttgart Ballet's production of De Mille's "Fall River Legend" and Wilson thought that Barnes had not recognised her own interpretative achievements in this work, for which she had become renowned. So it would appear that all told, Sallie Wilson had a good innings.

Alvin Colt

Alvin Colt, a popular local figure for most of his nine decades, passed away on May 4 at 91. One of Broadway's most prolific costume designers, Alvin, as everyone called him by his first name, was a backstage familiar face, especially at Forbidden Broadway and elsewhere in the theatre world. Known for his amazing wit and positive attitude, he exuded such good nature and kindness, that people are realizing how much he is already missed, just days later.

Alvin won a Tony Award for his designs for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "Pipe Dream," and was also nominated for "Greenwillow," "The Sleeping Prince, " "L'il Abner" (who can forget those folks in Dogpatch?) and several other shows.

Other Broadway credits include the original productions of "Guys and Dolls", "Fanny" (who can forget Walter Slezak in that one?!), " The Golden Apple," "Sugar" and "Jerome Robbins' Broadway". In addition, he designed for some of theatre's great dramas, such as "The Seagull," "The Crucible" and " Six Characters in Search of an Author."

All told, Alvin designed over 50 Broadway shows, was nominated for three Tony Awards just in 1956 alone, and two in 1957 and one in 1960. He remained the designer for the popular, long-running Off-Broadway revue, "Forbidden Broadway," up until his death. Last year, the Museum of the City of New York hosted a small exhibition of his work, which included some of the 3000 sketches he donated to the museum.

Rosella Hightower - 85

Rosella HightowerThe renowned dancer Rosella Hightower died November 3 at her home in Cannes, after suffering several strokes. She was 88, and, like Maria Tallchief, was one of the four illustrious Native American dancers from Oklahoma to reach international stardom. The others were Moscelyne Larkin and Yvonne Chouteau.
Born in 1920, Hightower studied with Dorothy Perkins in Kansas City and was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where she danced from 1928-41, followed by Ballet Theatre 1941-45 and Massine's Ballet Russe Highlights Co. 1945-46. Her repertory included all the classics and many of us were thrilled to see her in Black Swan Pas de Deux with Rudolf Nureyev in his London debut in 1961 (as an aside, I happened to be in the audience in Paris for Rudi's one night performance at the Theatre des Champs Elysees, with all the Gendarmes there to protect him, the night before he continued to his now legendary career in London).
This performance was with the company of  the Chilean-born patron of the arts, Marquis George de Cuevas, whose company Hightower joined in 1947. As their prima ballerina, she worked under her mentor, Mme. Nijinska, who choreographed the virtuosic piece, "Rondo Capriccioso"  especially for her. The company toured the world for fifteen years, always with brilliant reviews. It was certainly a highlight of my early European years. And Hightower did indeed tower, amongst many other giants. De Cuevas renamed his troupe many times but it will always be remembered as the "de Cuevas Balle" and luckily for us old timers, we went to his seasons in Paris in the late 50's and very early 60's, always impressed by Hightower's performances and what she was doing in Cannes with her school.  When de Cuevas died in 1961 and the company disbanded, that was when the ballerina opened her Centre de Danse Classique, soon recognized as one of the world's leading ballet schools.
Considered one of her greatest challenges, she took on the post of director of the Paris Opera Ballet (1980-83), an enormous company known for its unique style, bureaucratic red tape and, of course, its legendary history. But she successfully reorganized it before turning it over to her her former dance partner, Nureyev. In 1975, the French government named Hightower a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.
In 1952, Rosella Hightower married the French designer and artist Jean Robier. Their only child, Dominique Robier was born in 1955. Also a dancer, Ms Robier has performed with Maurice Benjar and several modern dance groups as well. The French experimental choreographer Francois Verret made a documentary film in home to the dancer in 1991, entitled, "Rosella Hightower." It would be lovely if the Dance on Film folks would bring that back, in the circumstances. It's been a long time since most of us have enjoyed watching Madame dance.


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