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Memoriam Archive 5

Cyd Charisse - 86

by Gregg Mayer

Who amongst us doesn't remember the amazingly sexy married couple and duo: Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin? Amazing to think of Cyd Charisse dying at 86 and it is wonderful to know that her work will live on forever on film.

Whether she was dancing with Astaire or Kelly or doing a song and dance routine with her husband, Charisse was that long-legged ballet, ballroom, musical theatre performer whom everyone wanted to emulate.

Making her film debut in 1942 as Lily Norwood, she appeared in "Something to Shout About," with Janet Blair and Don Ameche. Then came several years performing in small and often anonymous roles until "Singin' in the Rain" came out in 1952.

As Dancers (well) Over 40, many of us remember the first time we saw that extraordinary film, even what grade we were in and with whom we went that day to the cinema. It was one of those magical Comden & Green efforts, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and it certainly was the boost that Charisse needed to bring her to the top. And this, considering she was only in one of the dance sequences. Then a year later, Vincente Minnelli gave her her first leading role, in "The Band Wagon," starring Fred Astaire. Minelli went on to direct her in "Brigadoon" in 1954 in which Kelly and Van Johnson starred. Kelly danced with Charisse to "The Heather on the Hill."

It is unclear whether Cyd Charisse was born in 1921 or 1922, but she was born Tula Ellice Finklea in Texas and took dance lessons as a young girl. As a teenager, she was sent to California for professional dance training and joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, in which she performed as Felia Sidorova. During a European tour she met Nico Charisse, another young dancer. They wed in Paris when she was 18, and had a son, Nicky in 1942.

During the 40's, the studios began taking an interest in her, or in "Lily Norwood." When she was cast in "Ziegfeld Follies," the producer preferred the name Charisse to Norwood and that became her stage name forever. In "The Unfinished Dance," Charisse played a ballerina again with child star Margaret O'Brien as a dance student. Then in 1955, she and Kelly performed in the Comden & Green musical, "It's Always Fair Weather," followed by "Silk Stockings" with Astaire in 1957.

Charisse divorced Nico in 1947 and married Tony Martin the following year. He survives her, as does their son Tony Jr. and her son Nicky by her first marriage. Her last film was an Italian drama, "Private Screenings" in 1989 and her belated Broadway debut took place in 1992 in "Grand Hotel," when she replaced Liliane Montevecchi in the leading role of an aging ballerina.

In November 2006, Cyd Charisse was one of the recipients of the National Medal of Arts.

Clive Barnes - 81

Clive BarnesThe ubiquitous dance and theater critic, Clive Barnes, has died in NYC at 81, from complications of cancer. A familiar figure to all theatre goers both here and in London, Barnes was not a dance critic till 1961, when he was hired for the Times of London and The Spectator. But he and John Percival edited and ran the very important and popular review, Dance and Dancers, throughout the 60s when I was at the height of my career in the UK.  Having created England's first contemporary dance company, I worked with Clive frequently, asking for his help when I'd bring in such unknowns (to the British) as pioneers Charles Weidman, amongst many others. He'd always check with me when an American dancer was breezing through London, as though to check on their credentials, and in fact, was instrumental in keeping my career afloat with supportive reviews and reinforcement: I actually wrote reviews for their publication during the 60's as well.
In 1966 when Merce Cunningham had his astounding and mind-blowing season in London's West End, Clive and I often sat near each other at the performances, which rocked London's dance scene to the hilt. He was quoted as understanding from the beginning, that Cunningham was not interested in specific meaning but rather was an artist "who brings something to our attention to make of it just what we will."
Way ahead of his time!
Married at the time to Trish  Winckley, with whom he had two children, Christopher and Maya, Clive and I had family in Putney/Southfields, London, so we saw a fair bit of each other during that period.   When Clive came to NY, we remained in touch and we ran into each other both here and in London frequently. He was always full of enthusiasm and excitement over all the wonderful American Modern Dance he had discovered in the Swinging 60s of London, and now was reporting on here.
Once ensconced in New York in 1965, he wrote about theatre, opera, musicals  and television but his great passion was for the dance. Writing for the New York Post for the past 30 years, he was known for his extreme point of view, from the scathing to the sublime.  David Merrick, the rather over-the-top Broadway producer, once sent him an angry telegram, to which Barnes replied, "didn't know we were married. Didn't know you were that kind of boy."
As well as his marriage to Ms Winckley, Barnes was married to and divorced from Joyce Tolman and Amy Pagnozzi. He is survived by his wife Valerie Taylor, a former Royal Ballet soloist, whom he married in 2004, as well as his two children

DO40 Remembers Jimmy Slyde

One of the last hoofers of the big-band era, Jimmy Slyde, passed away May 16 at the age of 80. Known as "the tap dancer with silken moves", Slyde enjoyed a career that stretched from swing and bebop to Broadway and film. With an engaging style and a gift for words, he was considered one of the giants of rhythm tap. Critics often complemented him for his ability to glide across the stage effortlessly.

Although he was connected with some of the jazz greats such as Basie, Ellington and Armstrong, his penchant was for bebop. The renowned pianst, Barry Harris, was a close associate of Slyde's and many of the great tap dancers either had studied with him or worshipped him from afar.

He was born James Titus Godbolt in 1927 and began his tap dance lessons as a child in New England. After meeting tap great Bill (Bojangles) Robinson and others, he was hooked and began his performing career with Jimmy Mitchell, who had dubbed himself "Sir Slyde." Known as the Slyde Brothers, they performed in clubs and as an attraction for the major big bands.

By the 1970's, the now re-named Jimmy Slyde has moved to Paris and helped introduce rhythm tap with one of the leading women tap dancers of the time, Sarah Petronio. During this period, he appeard in the Parisian production of the revue "Black and Blue" and also in its Broadway production, which won many Tony nominations and three awards, opening the door for a resurgence of interest in tap in this country.

Slyde appeared in the film "Tap" with Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines as well as performing in "The Cotton Club," and Tavernier's highly acclaimed "Round Midnight." He was honored with a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1999, a Guggenheim fellowship in 2003 and a Dance Magazine award in 2005.

During the 1990's, Slyde was one of several tap elders who presided over now legendary jam sessions at La Cave, a nightclub in Manhattan. Some of the illustrious and international roster of dancers also there included Savion Glover, Tamango, Max Pollak and Roxane Butterfly. Many of today's tap dancers have been paying homage to him in the media this weekend, including Jane Goldberg, who was quoted in the NY Times as saying, "his timing was impeccable. He was a real purist."

Slyde is survived by his wife, Donna and a son, Daryl.

Peter Howard

Peter Howard, the arranger, musical director, composer, conductor and performer, died on April 18 in Englewood, NJ. Born Howard Weiss in 1927, he attended Juilliard and wrote a ballet on Broadway in 1956 for "All is Love" -a short-lived show- following that with the role of asst. production director in the successful "My Fair Lady" from 1956 to 1962. Many more shows followed, from the Comden & Green revue, where he was the pianist, and "Carnival" where he did the dance arrangements, through "Hello, Dolly!", with dance and incidental music arrangements. He was assistant conductor on the original "The Sound of Music," and by the late 60's he had graduated to such shows as "Chicago," "Annie," and "1776." As late as the 80's, Howard worked as musical director for "Barnum," "Harrigan 'n' Hat," "Baby," and "Stepping Out."

Once familiar with a show, Howard tended to remain faithful to it, thus he was called on to work the revivals of "Hello, Dolly!" (twice!), the 1997 revival of "1776," and the 1996 revival of "Chiago," reprising his original tasks from the original shows. He worked on the movie versions of several of these and in later years, Howard toured with a show called "Peter Howard's Broadway". His final Broadway credit was the dance arrangements for Minnelli on Minnelli in 1999.

Reuben Schafer - 93

One of the original DO40 members, Reuben Schafer has died on April 10 at 93. He was born on the Lower East Side and lived in Manhattan for most of his life. According to his daughter Phyllis Rodriguez, he combined the Theater with his commitment to social activism. As a member and councilman of Actors Equity, he fought for pension portability and for changing requirements that had to be met in order for union members to collect benefits.

Other issues of concern to Schafer were non-traditional casting, and honoring worthy people with the annual Paul Robeson award. As an actor, he was in the play of Yentl and the original Fiddler on the Roof, as well as many films in the 60's and 70's.

Gerald Arpino - 85

Gerald ArpinoThe renowned choreographer, dancer and co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet, died on October 29, 2008 of prostate cancer;  with him go so many memories with those of us who worked with Bob Joffrey,  Johnny Leech (Jonathan Watts at NYCB) and Gerry at their studio/apt. in the Village. We all knew them from our time at the HS Performing Arts, and from May O'Donnell's troupe, where Bob was actually a modern dancer when we first knew them. All this more than five decades ago...sigh...
Arpino became the Joffrey Ballet's artistic director after Bob's death in 1988 and oversaw its move from NYC to Chicago.Though he lied about his age for quite some time, it is pretty much certain that he was born Gennaro Peter Arpino in January, 1923 in Staten Island. The youngest of 9 children of Italian immigrants, he helped support his family after his father died early in Gerry's youth. It was not until he joined the Coast Guard during WWII, that he was exposed to dance when Russian sailors who'd boarded his ship, began dancing and well, the rest is history.
Meeting Joffrey in Seattle through an introduction by their Italian mothers, he went on to study with Mary Ann Wells and later at the SAB and at the above-mentioned studio after 1953 (that's when my classmates and I met him). When I did graduate work with Twyla Tharp at Wolf Trap 20 years later, we learned and performed "Deuce Coupe" and were thrilled to see it on the Joffrey Ballet soon after. By merging classical and contemporary idioms, the Joffrey, as it was affectionately known, became world-famous. Arpino's legacy alone comprises some 40 ballets and two segments of "The Nutcracker." Equally loved and feared, Arpino was known for his strong opinions, emotional outbursts,  eccentric styles and, yes, his awful toupee.
Sensualism, inner worlds, Christian imagery and socio-political issues were all subjects and inspiration for Arpino's work and Time Magazine called him a "choreographic virtuoso." His vast body of work included Ropes, Light Rain, Trinity, I/DNA, Secret Places, Viva Vivaldi, The Clowns and Kettentanz, as well as Round of Angels, an early artistic response to AIDS.
Arpino is survived by a cousin and great-grandnephew, both of Staten Island, NY. Donations in his name can be sent to: The Joffrey Ballet, Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL  60601

Daniel Nagrin - 91

by Gregg Mayer

The remarkable, intense and dramatic dancer, Daniel Nagrin, died in Tempe, Arizona on December 29. He was 91 and was survived by his wife, Phyllis Steele Nagrin.

Danny, as he was familiarly known, was a permanent fixture of the early WPA days, with his former wife, Helen Tamiris. His work was not only innovative but had a huge impact on many generations of dancers, from the 40's right through the past decade. His style, which was rooted in gesture, became a technique that dancers endeavored to imitate. Political, powerful and constantly finding new ways to develop his style, Nagrin became fascinated with video and sound design early on. He also was very influenced by the jazz movement and flamenco.

Even though I taught about Nagrin, Tamiris et al in my Dance History university courses, I never met him until 1967 when we brought him to St.Louis as guest artist. His use of space and sound, along with his strong, totally personal style of movement, was probably a bit too much for our rather tame audiences of the time. But we were enchanted with his unique approach to the idiom, and his ability to move with the many changes in the profession. As mentor to countless dancers (both the renowned and the under-appreciated), Nagrin made an indelible impression and is highly regarded by dancers of many generations.

His essay on Broadway included a showstopping role as an Indian chief in "Annie Get Your Gun", which was choreographed by Tamiris (also an extraordinary pioneer of the time, having changed her name to this Egyptian goddess and creating a legendary name for herself for years to come). Together, they founded the Tamiris-Nagrin Dance Company, which became the inspiration for many future terpsichores. As a solo dancer, Nagrin presented his first full program at the age of 40, helping dozens of male dancers and older performers move forward with their careers. His influence will be felt for decades to come.



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