Jack Quinn

Victor Gluck

Chip Deffaa

The Men Dancers: From the Horse's Mouth
By: Joel Benjamin
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Trent Kowalik and Chet Walker as they appeared
in “From the Horse’s Mouth”
(Photo credit: Christopher Duggan)

A combination of entertainment and education, “From the Horse’s Mouth” is a scintillating infomercial for the wonderful world of dance, at least the testosterone-infused side. Tina Croll and Jamie Cunningham, respected veteran dance teachers and performers, had the brilliant idea of asking dancers to bare their souls on stage fourteen years ago and called it “From the Horse’s Mouth.” This time, they decided to focus on the lives of male dancers with a vibrant cast ranging in age from 18 to mid-80s and representing everything from Irish Step dancers to classical ballet danseurs.

In a nod to the father of modern dance, Ted Shawn, who, over eighty years ago formed an all-male modern dance troupe at his embryonic Jacob’s Pillow, vintage films of his troupe were shown. In front of the film, first one, then two dancers appeared to improvise, occasionally riffing on the on-screen choreographic images. Then Todd Allen entered, sat down and spoke about, amongst other things, Martha Graham at some sort of tree planting ceremony. He then got up and joined the other men moving around in the semi-darkness, only to be replaced by Joshua Beamish who, after very little dance experience managed to choreograph a work for 35 dancers! He then joined the background group. This established the format: some videos, some chatting and some dancing to accompany the speaker. A few of the dancers exhibited smooth, sensual techniques; one or two could barely walk, but still had sufficient artistic resources to prove their professional expertise.

Gus Solomons, Jr. as he appeared in
From the Horse’s Mouth
(Photo credit: Christopher Duggan)

Chris Caines was witness to a wardrobe malfunction that led to his fascination with dance and an association with Hanya Holm, the early modern dance legend. Trent Kowalik, the youngest participant, was a wide-eyed 12-year old, when he auditioned for Billy Eliot, the Broadway-bound musical for which he wound up winning a Tony Award. He energized the proceedings with his wide-eyed youthfulness. John Heginbotham of the Mark Morris Dance Company told the moving story of teaching children in China while on tour there and being rewarded with a sweetly mimed “thank you.” David Vaughan’s stories about being involved with the Merce Cunningham Company from its inception were stirring. Gus Solomons, Jr. inadvertently continued the Merce Cunningham theme with a strangely impersonal reading of excerpts from John Cage’s diaries. A suave, smartly dressed Chet Walker spoke of Bob Fosse and his influence on his life, while Charles Askegard’s stories about Agnes De Mille made this dance giant live again for a few minutes.

There were a few non-dancers speaking, too. Ralph Lee, the puppet and mask maker, provided some bizarrely witty costumes for the wandering dancers, including a couple of hairy monsters who shook things up a bit. His vignettes about Erick Hawkins gave life to this pioneering modern dance choreographer. Jack Anderson and his companion George Dorris told of their meeting and moved everyone to tears as they revealed they had married after more than forty years of being together.

Some spoke with assurance, some with timidity, but all spoke from the heart. Repeated themes were: Ted Shawn and his influence on subsequent generations of male dancers; growing up in culture-starved communities; growing up gay and finding love; mentors who inspired them; and their utter devotion to the art of dance.

Lar Lubovitch as he appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth
(Photo credit: Christopher Duggan)

Some of the other participants were Emanuel Abruzzo, known for his Trockadero en travesti experience; Jamie Cunningham singing a slightly scary children’s song; Pascal Rekoert, a Dutch native, who was a naughty child tamed by music and dance; Norton Owen, the Jacob’s Pillow administrator who spoke of Ted Shawn’s pioneering efforts in make dance a legitimate profession for men; Lar Lubovich whose na´ve childhood led eventually to running a renowned modern dance troupe for more than forty years; Alberto Del Saz who keeps the Nikolais/Louis legacy alive; Steven Melendez who went from homelessness to a promising career as a classical ballet dancer; Arthur Aviles who sang a silly version of “Over the Rainbow,” bending it a bit to make it all about food; and the would-be superhero Chad Michael Hall who left small town Pennsylvania for sexual and artistic satisfaction.

“From the Horse’s Mouth” in all its incarnations has given audiences all over the country a sense of what it is to be a dancer in contemporary society, with all its tribulations and triumphs. It is a moving celebration of dedication and delight.

The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth (January 10th-13th, 2013)
Theater at the 14th St. Y, 344 E. 14th Street, between 1st & 2nd Avenues, in Manhattan
More Information: call 212-627-9407 or 917-664-3817 or visit www.horsesmouth.org

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