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From the Horse’s Mouth Celebrates Gus Solomons jr

A tribute to a modern dance icon, mentor to several generations of dancers.

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Gus Solomons Jr

Gus Solomons jr

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The From the Horse’s Mouth shows—the brainchild of Tina Croll and Jamie Cunningham—evoke many emotions.  First, there is the happiness flowing from the celebration of unique artists’ lives.  Then there is the bittersweet realization that, active as they all may be, we are witnessing the physical and creative twilight of these very full—and hopefully satisfying—lives.    These feelings also attach to the witnesses who are also, with a few exceptions, looking back at how their lives, professional and otherwise, intertwined with the honorees.  This makes their tributes doubly moving—and bittersweet.

However, these are merely passing thoughts.  In the final analysis, the mood is usually overwhelmingly uplifting, happy and, occasionally, zany.

All this was true for the Horse’s Mouth tribute to the venerable and beloved dancer, writer, choreographer, teacher and mentor Gus Solomons jr.  Solomons is, arguably, most famous for his physique.  His still slender body extends out into probably the longest and most eloquent arms and legs in modern dance.  He was a performer during a particularly creative period in dance and music which took him to the companies of legends like Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham and his own Paradigm which saluted the power of older dancers.  He went on to teach on the faculties of the California Institute of the Arts and New York University.

Gus Solomon Jr in rehearsal for From the Horse’s Mouth Celebrates Gus Solomons Jr

Gus Solomon jr in rehearsal for From the Horse’s Mouth Celebrates Gus Solomons jr

From the Horse’s Mouth has perfected a certain ritualistic presentation.  One by one, speakers enter and sit dead center, relating an anecdote or an observation about the honoree while several dancers move about in an improvisatory style, performing bits and pieces of oddball choreography.  Then the guests get up and join the others with no regard to physical or stylistic limitations. Three or four times during the show, a surreal, Fellini-esque parade of dancers, usually fabulously costumed, dance down a diagonal on a dreamy, nebulous journey.   (The Fellini reference is entirely apt since Nino Rota’s unforgettable music from the film accompanies the grab-bag finale.)

Nearly thirty speakers glorified Solomons, but none quite as well as himself who appeared in three  bits that deftly paid tribute to—and simultaneously gently poked fun at—his two choreographic mentors.  Watching Solomons’ Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham hand puppets debating their individual philosophies of the art of dance, while getting their personality foibles down perfectly, was the highlight of the program.  This was the rare Horse’s Mouth in which the object of the show performed.

Meredith Monk, John Heginbotham, Dianne McIntyre and Wally Cardona spoke in videos.  Alice Teirstein remembered the exultation of being held aloft in a Solomons’ ballet.  Esteemed critic Deborah Jowitt ironically brought up a disastrous review that she, John Wilson and Solomons got in the early sixties from the important reviewer, Walter Sorell.  Yoshiko Chuma tiny and still girlish, gushed about her infatuation with Solomons, stating flat out that she was going to give him one more chance!

Gus Solomons Jr, 1980

Gus Solomons jr, 1980

Michael Blake described Solomons’ serenely powerful work in the famous Donald Byrd Harlem Nutcracker.  jouglas Nielsen took us back to a master class where he was told to “expect the unexpected.”  Wendy Perron stirred up fond memories of the infancy of the Dance Theater Workshop (now called New York Live Arts) while Norton Owen, official historian for Jacobs Pillow, had a funny story about a long-ago revival of Ted Shawn’s all-male Kinetic Molpai.  Judith Ren-Lay ecounted how she moved to California to dance with Solomons’ troupe.  The former American Ballet Theatre ballerina, Martine Van Hamel, a member of Paradigm, extolled his choreography and David Vaughan reminisced about the exciting old days when he and Solomons worked with Merce Cunningham.

The other speakers were Santa Aloi, Patricia Beaman, Mary Kate Hartung, Jonathan Matthews, Christina Noel Reaves, Pascal Rekoert and Susanna Weiss, all of whom provided peeks into Solomons’ creative and personal life.

Watching the still dynamic and charismatic Solomons exultingly take the stage amongst his peers, students and friends made it clear that this artist richly deserved these accolades.

From the Horse’s Mouth Celebrates Gus Solomons jr  (April 1-3, 2016)

Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 646-395-4310 or visit http://www.14street.org

For more information, visit http://www.horsesmouth.org

Running time:  75 minutes with no intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (362 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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