People – Personal Stories

This is a “story” page about some great and interesting people, people who have inspired me, helped me, challenged me and encouraged me over a long career as a dancer and choreographer. This page may not mean much to someone who does not know me or the dance company. I am including it to honor friends, artists and colleagues, to thank them and to remember them.

Dancing%20solves%20Everything

David McCorkle

Mentioned briefly on other pages of this website, David was a high end caterer in New York City. He lived and had his business in a large loft downtown near the Holland Tunnel. David was originally one of my apartment cleaning Lend-A-Hand clients. I stopped cleaning and became a prep-chef/bottle washer/waiter for his business. I often tell my students that New York is a kind of crap shoot. Two friends can move to the city together. One will be on Broadway within a month and the other equally talented artist can struggle away for years.  Meeting David was definitely the luck of the draw. Through him, I met wonderful people who would have a huge impact on me as an artist and dance company director. Vincent FitzGerald, listed below, was one of those people as well as Ward Bennett, a famous architect and furniture designer, Rolf Nelson, florist extraordinaire, Ed Bond, the owner of Lilac Chocolates in the Village and Edna Lewis, a very influential cook and author. David was a former broadway performer. He hired mostly actors, singers and dancers to work for the catering business. David often held wonderful “salon” evenings in his loft with singing, poetry and sometimes dancing. I vaguely remember performing in one of them – wonderful times, wonderful people.

Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis

I met Edna Lewis while working for David McCorkle. Her specialty was Virginia country cooking. Fancy catering is an unusual business. Fads and trends come and go. If I remember correctly, Edna was brought in as a specialty consultant when Southern food became very popular with clients. She was so calm and so beautiful with the most extraordinary smile. I love her cookbooks.

 

 

 

Frank Davis

Frank Davis moved into his one bedroom apartment on West 10th Street in the Village in New York City in 1968, the year before they got rid of rent control. He still lives there after 47 years. I am sworn to secrecy about how much rent he pays today. Whenever I have the good fortune to visit New York, I stay with him. We have known each other a long time and have shared lots of wonderful experiences.

Mr. Davis

I met Frank in Betsy Haug’s class. He had just severed his business relationship with David McCorkle. They had a very successful catering business. Frank was now an executive chef for CBS Radio. Before all of this he was a professional dancer in many Hollywood film musicals. He also danced in night cub acts with some infamous female stars, Talulah Bankhead was one. Frank was famously one of the “boyfriends” in Judy and Her Boyfriends at the Palace. That’s Judy Garland, by the way. Below are two photos of him in that production.

Frank and Judy

Judy and Frank

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank is most definitely a man of the theater. He has a huge heart and can do almost anything. At the start of the dance company, he made costumes, changed gels, doing whatever was needed to make the organization prosper and move forward. He was the first president of the Board. After retiring from CBS Radio, Frank worked at a gift shop on the Upper West Side, first on Columbus Avenue, Sherman & Mixon and then on Amsterdam Avenue, Aris Mixon and Company. The shop was owned by two close friends, John Sherman and Aris Mixon. Friends are very important to Frank. He would often take Les and I out to dinner at a great Mexican restaurant in Chelsea on Ninth Avenue called La Cascada. It was the best. We were all devastated when it closed. Frank now does volunteer work in New York for Dancers Over Forty.

Trevor F. Lewis II

Mr. Lewis

What can I say about Trevor? We have been friends for forty-eight years. He started at Bucknell one year after I did in 1967 and was a double major in Theater and Chemistry. We came out together, shared a dorm room together and have had an ever deepening friendship lasting to this day. Trevor’s is a multi-faceted and fascinating tale of a smart and talented young man trying to find the right place for himself in the world, a place where he can be personally fulfilled and make a difference – inspiring. He went to New York having been accepted in the Julliard School’s drama program. He left and became a teacher for a time. Trevor then became the manager of a very successful restaurant on the Upper West Side – Dobson’s, I think. He went back to school again, this time getting his MBA at Columbia. Wall Street and investment banking called him to the firm Drexel Burnham Lambert. Drexel was a major Wall Street investment banking firm forced into bankruptcy in 1990 due to illegal activities in the junk bond market, driven by Drexel employee Michael Milken. After separating from Drexel, Trevor spent time in Czechoslovakia helping to privatize the country. Afterwards his set up his own firm, Franco Lewis & Company. He again went back to school, this time getting his masters In social work NYU and is now a practicing psychologist working towards his PHD. He will most likely present his dissertation in the fall of 2015. What an interesting and exciting journey, a journey that in many ways mirrors my own – Bucknell to Philadelphia, to Winnipeg, then Memphis, New York, Switzerland, New York again, Minneapolis and now Dallas, Texas. We have a lot in common!

Vincent FitzGerald

Vincent

I met Vincent through David McCorkle. Vincent FitzGerald & Company was founded in 1980, publishing beautiful limited edition books, bringing together writers and visual artists. I met and collaborated with two of his visual artists, Mark Beard who created the stets and costumes for Rhapsody: The Skyscraper Observed and Susan Weil who created the sets for Ancestral Voices, later used for the Piazzolla Las Cuatro EstacionesSoulo, later used for On My Way and lastly the 1997 Library of Congress commission Among These Cares. Vincent also helped me develop an active board of directors. He was kind, insightful and challenging.

Lisa Booth & Deirdre Valente

Lisa Booth and Deirdre Valente began representing JAZZDANCE in January of 1985. It was a great match. Solid, visionary and trusted management was key at the time when there was still an abundance of performance venues for smaller and medium sized dance companies like mine. LBMI (Lisa Booth Management, Inc.) was all of that and more. One of the great things they did for me was keeping an accurate performance history for JAZZDANCE. I brought that history along when I interviewed them in the fall of 2014. After looking it over, they said, with great sadness, I thought, that most of the dance presenters on the list no longer existed.

Lisa and Deirdre did more than find the dance company touring dates. They also managed all of the Joyce Theater Seasons in New York, wrote multiple grants for creative support to the National Endowment for the Arts and helped develop long term relationships for JAZZDANCE with Jacob’s Pillow, the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont, the Florida Dance Festival and the Bates Dance Festival in Maine. We toured from one end of the country to the other. They were great negotiators, evidenced by a commission from the Library of Congress in 1997 to collaborate with jazz composer Sir Roland Hanna. This was only the library’s second dance commission. The other was Appalachian Spring with Martha Graham and Aaron Copland. They really knew how to explain what the company and the work was all about. I trusted them.

There was one small “issue” I would like to comment on. I spend a lot of time working on titles for my dances. I do lots of historical research, reconnect with poets I love and try and come up with something that is evocative and suggestive. After Among These Cares (the Library of Congress Commission) and Song Awakened (the Cesaria Evora work inspired by a trip to Cuba), I could tell they thought my titles were getting a little too poetic. When I collaborated with Philip Hamilton (Ezekiel’s Wheel) the second time, the subject matter was the human heart. They wanted me to call it BEAT and I did. This story makes me smile.

Mary Hansmeyer – The true spirit of creative collaboration.

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A woman of substance, for sure, a passionate and compassionate  human being – with an abundance of talent.

1992 was a big year. I was in the process of rebuilding a new concert jazz dance company, teaching as an adjunct  and sometimes rehearsing at the University of Minnesota. I had just hired a number of recent graduates from the UofM dance program. Mary graduated from their Theater Department in 1992 and was contracted to design all the dance productions.  Mathew Janczewski, a new company member thought Mary and I would be a great match. He asked for her business card. All she had was a deposit slip.

I can’t honestly say I had the best luck with costume designers  in New York. I’m sure it was a lack of communication skills on my part. I was not the best collaborator. Meeting Mary changed all that. The first dance I asked her to design was On My Way, the Mahalia Jackson work. We talked about the ideas. I gave her the music. Mary loved jazz and actually worked as a waitress in a great jazz club called The Dakota. She made a mockup and we met. It was absolutely the wrong direction. It was an “angel” costume with abstract “wings”, if I remember correctly. I took a deep breath and said so. Mary is a sensitive woman and I wanted the partnership to work. I clarified that the costumes should be humble, earthy and human. She went to the library and the picture file. I had no idea such a thing existed. It is an amazing resource of images. She came back with drawings by Thomas Hart Benton like the one pictured below. We were off! Mary designed beautifully individual costumes in deep reds, browns, blues and touches of gold. They were perfect for the dance.

HART BENTON

Mary loves research, texture and fabric and design and she has a deep love and respect for dancers. She created all the costumes for JAZZDANCE from 1992 until the company closed in 2005. I still have many of them in my garage and in my office at school. I just can’t give them away. Sometimes I will unpack a box – wonderful memories and breathtaking designs. She taught me so much about so many things. She taught me how to collaborate – a great gift. Mary was also a great cook and lover of good food – very important.

Jefferson James

Jeff #1

Jeff #2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jefferson James has been the Artistic Director of Contemporary Dance Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio for forty-seven years. Cincinnati is/was a ballet town. Jefferson, a graduate of Julliard, brought remarkably diverse and high quality modern dance to that city. There was a dance company and there were classes. That is where I come in. Jeff produced a summer dance festival that included performances and classes. They were held in The Dance Hall in an area of Cincinnati called Clifton.  In the summer of 1983, she was looking for “a jazz teacher with a modern sensibility”. I was recommended to her by Linda Tarnay, then director of the dance program at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Linda saw the company perform and me teach at the American Dance Festival in the summer of 1982. My artistic relationship with CDT began that summer and continued until JAZZDANCE closed its doors in 2005. It was rich and it was remarkable.  The classes I taught over many summers were profoundly rewarding. I always looked forward to it. The students were loyal, passionate and shared a love of jazz music. They learned from each other and I learned from them. It was a great mix of teen-agers, dance teachers, professional dancers and avocational students. It was a community.

I returned with the dance company in the summer of 1984. Between 1984 and 2003, JAZZDANCE was presented in Cincinnati seven times.

I always stayed with Jeff, husband Marty, daughter Rachel and many wonderful dogs, Airedales to be specific. The first and my favorite was Pippin. He was beautiful, strong, crazy and funny. We wrestled all the time. I would always return home with great scratches and bite marks – the best. This is Pippin.

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We were soul mates. In every picture taken of the two of us, we always had the same expression. Marty played bassoon with the Cincinnati Orchestra and had a remarkable knowledge and insightful take on music. He was a huge fan of jazz and had a great collection which he generously shared with me. The dance called Avalon, set to the music of Lionel Hampton started with a CD that Marty gave to me. Jeff and Marty both love to cook and graciously allowed me to take over their kitchen on occasion. They loved and still love tennis, playing it and watching it. Marty has great sense of humor, as does Jeff.  Over the years, I saw Rachel grow from a sweet young girl into an accomplished woman. She has two beautiful daughters. Dance is still a part of her life. These were and continue to be sustaining relationships on many levels.

 

Daniel NagrinDaniel Ngrin

Daniel Nagrin is often described as the great loner of American modern dance. His solos are legendary. He continues to inspire me. My jazz classes watch and write about Man of Action. His most famous solo, Strange Hero, is about the classic outsider, the American gangster. He also did Jazz, Three Ways. His jazz solos were vehicles to explore character. If Jack Cole was right and jazz is Urban Folk Dance, then Daniel Nagrin  epitomizes that art form.

Nagrin taught a legendary course at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina. It was about the “jazz lexicon” as he put it. Students would learn the classic dances, the Cakewalk, Charleston, Lindy Hop and Blues. There would be a huge dance party at the end of the summer with a true to life Cakewalk contest. In 1982 I  received a commission as part of a new ADF program, Choreographers and Composers In Residence. Over six weeks three choreographers collaborated with three composers to create new work. These works were then performed on a concert in the Reynold’s Theater. The entire company went. I was most excited about meeting Daniel Nagrin and getting permission from him to take his course. He agreed, on one condition – that I would take the entire course to the very end, even when the concert got close. I said of course. The collaboration was slow going and I had to drop out of Daniel’s course, the last two weeks, if I remember correctly. I apologized profusely and thought all was OK. A few days later, walking through the lunch line in the cafeteria, someone started yelling at me. It was Daniel, saying things like, “there’s the hot shot”, “big man who can’t keep his word”. It was humiliating. He was right. It was an intense summer.

In the mid-1980’s I was awarded a grant from the Harkness Foundation to commission Daniel to create a new work for the company. It was the first time I had invited a guest to choreograph. I had gotten to the point where I wanted to just dance and not be responsible for making the work as well. I explained this to him and he agreed. Daniel created amazing solos. I should have guessed how nervous he might be about making a group dance. I sat there for days. The dance he was creating was called Street. It wasn’t going too well and it was a tense atmosphere. When I finally got the  chance to work with Daniel, he told me I should make up my own material! Oh. well. The dance was never finished.

I had one more interaction with Daniel Nagrin. I taught advanced jazz technique and repertory as part of Jacob’s Pillow’s summer Modern Dance Workshop from 1992-95 and directed the summer Visions of Jazz workshop from 1996-98. In 1998, I invited Daniel to the Pillow to co-teach a parallel workshop, Choreographing Jazz.

IMG_1023[1] The Director, Sali Ann Kriegsman asked me what the field need. Without hesitation, I said more jazz choreographers. That was the genesis of the workshop. Amazingly, Daniel Nagrin had never been invited to Jacob’s Pillow to perform, teach or talk about his work and career. He was clearly moved by my advocacy for his visit. It was a wonderful time, very positive, very creative and very insightful. It was the most nurturing I had ever seen Daniel. The Pillow interviewed him for their archives and treated him with the respect he deserved.

All in all, an up and down roller coaster ride with Daniel Nagrin. In the end, it was worth every challenging moment. He was a great artist and a great advocate for authentic jazz dance – a man of ideas and substance. It was a privilege spending time with him.  Daniel Nagrin died in December, 2008.

J. Allen Collier – Dancers and Food! – and much, much more

Allen

I met Allen in 1988. He was the co-owner, co-artistic director and manager of  of  The Jeannette Neill Dance Studio in Boston’s Back Bay. The studio offered ballet and modern but its main focus was on jazz, musical theater and tap dance – glorious. He also ran production company in the same space, ACE Entertainment. That company provided creative talent – dancers and choreographers – for commercials and industrials. Allen was from Louisiana and was a phenomenal cook. It is interesting how cooking and good food has been a thread through many long lasting relationships and creative partnerships. I believe that Lynn Simonson recommended me to Allen. He was putting together a benefit concert in support of AIDS related support organizations in Boston. The concert was called Rhythms of Hope. I used the men’s raincoat dance and drum dance from Fission as a starting point and choreographed a new section to Dave Brubeck’s Forty Days. The new hybrid was called Three Days. The dancers in the trio were Jimmy, Christian Polos and my partner Les. I stayed with Jimmy and Allen in their apartment on Botolph Street. It was the beginning of a long standing and sustaining relationship. Whenever I came to Boston, I always stayed with them. They had a wonderful dog named Max, a Jack Russell Terrier. He was funny and sweet, spending lots of time staring at the fish in the aquarium. He gave permission to be dressed up as a reindeer during the holidays. This is Max.

Max

Allen and Jimmy moved to Park Drive near Fenway Park. The Jeannette Neill Dance Studio moved to Friend Street near the convention center. It was there in 1995 that the Boston Summer Dance Festival was born – thank you Allen. It lasted form 1995 – 2004 and was an extraordinary gathering of jazz, tap and musical theater lovers with a bit of ballet and modern thrown in. I met amazing people – Bayork Lee, Diane Walker, Kitty Daniels and Billy Siegenfeld to name a few. Once during each festival, Allen had the faculty over for dinner. It was a feast. How he did it in the midst of the festival is a miracle. Allen was all about hospitality and charm. He had the most beautiful smile and a twinkle in his eye. We often went to the beach on the weekend – Ogunquit, Maine – a beautiful resort town with water that even in July was a bit bracing. Here we are.

Ogunquit

That’s Jimmy in the foreground, Allen in middle and me in the back soaking up those rays. On the way back to Boston, toasty from the sun, we would often stop at a roadside stand and buy lobster, corn and quahogs and make a great meal to conclude the day. We lost Allen in April of 2014.

Linda Z. Andrews

Where do I begin? Linda is an extraordinary woman. We have had an intense, interesting and profoundly rewarding relationship over the years. That relationship began in 1987 and continues to this day. Linda is the founding artistic director of the Zenon Dance Company & School in Minneapolis. She started in 1979 with the Ozone Dance School. That school had two semi-professional dance companies, the Rezone Dancers (modern) and the Just Jazz Dancers. It is interesting to note that I was in New York in 1979 self-producing my first concert. Rezone and Just Jazz Dancers merged in 1983 and became Zenon. It is still going strong in 2015 and has made remarkable contributions to the cultural life of the Twin Cities.

My first visit to the Twin Cities was in 1986 at the invitation of Zoe Sealy, director of the Minnesota Jazz Dance Company. We collaborated on a concert called Body & Soul at the Ordway McKnight Theater in St. Paul. Linda came to the concert, spoke with me afterwards and invited me to create a work on Zenon. I said yes and made a dance called Tanguedia in 1987. It has a score by Astor Piazzolla and was a huge success. I also had a great time working with the dancers and staying with Linda, husband Bobby and daughter Laura in St. Louis Park. I also created a new work, Impending Bloom with music by Oregon in 1988, I think.

 

 

This page continues with photographs of dancers, choreographers and artists who have inspired me. Over the years, I have kept numerous notebooks, writing in them, pasting in articles and photographs of many I have admired. Most of these photos come from those notebooks. I love beautiful and interesting journals. I have an unused stack of about fifteen sitting on the bookshelf.

Lynne Seymour and Anthony Dowell

Seymour:DowellSeymour

Fred AstaireFred Astaire

Gene KellyGene

Doris HumphreyHumphreyDoris H

Jazz Dancer Extraordinaire – John Bubbles, I Believe

Jazz Dance #1Jazz Dance #2

 

John Curry (Ice Dancer Extraordinaire)

John Curry

 

Frank O’Hara (Poet Extraordinaire)

Frank Ohara

 

Sir Fredric Ashton (Choreographer Extraordinaire)

Ashton

Fred & Svetlana

Cinderella Fred

 

Anabelle GamsonAnabelle

Anais NinAnaiis Nin

 

Lar Lubovitch

Lar

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