A Look Back: Gus Solomons jr
Today, we know Gus Solomons jr as a legendary dancer, distinguished professor, trusted dance critic, compelling choreographer, pioneering company director—the list could go on. But in June 1964, his story was just beginning.
That month, Solomons was highlighted in Dance Magazine's "Brief Biographies," which, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, was "a monthly series about the dancers you should know." (Other figures in the early years included icons such as Edward Villella, Bonnie Mathis, Yuriko, and Patricia Wilde, among many others.) Solomons had recently moved to New York from Boston, where he grew up. I love how biographer Saul Goodman opens the piece:
"Gus Solomons, Jr.'s instinct for performing first asserted itself during a Sunday school class in Boston when he was four. Responding to a hymn, he stepped into the aisle and did a jig. The impromptu debut earned him a spanking. Today, some twenty years later, the same individual, grown to six feet, four inches, is praised for his performing."
Solomons in Dance Magazine, June 1964
Photo by Zachary Freyman, DM Archives
At the time, the M.I.T. alum—he was an architecture major—was garnering critical acclaim for his performances with Donald McKayle, Pearl Lang, Joyce Trisler and Martha Graham. He was studying dance at the Graham School, and as Goodman writes, had just began taking classes with Merce Cunningham, "whose pure movement creations fascinate him and whose company he would like to appear with." Of course, we know that dream was realized—he performed with Cunningham from 1965–1968. Take a look at this video from the Mondays with Merce series, in which Solomons talks about joining Cunningham's company. You'll also see some amazing and rare archival footage of the two of them in rehearsal and performance.
Goodman also records Solomons' early interest in dance education: "Teaching is particularly valuable, Gus believes. He learns from it and at the same time it provides him with opportunities to experiment with choreographic ideas. So much the better that next month he will be teaching at the University of Colorado; in July at the University of California." Fast-forward forty years: Solomons received the prestigious American Dance Festival’s Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching in 2004.
PARADIGM's Gus Solomons jr, Dudley Williams and Carmen deLavallade in A Thin Frost
Photo by TomCaravaglia in 1999, DM Archives
Close to fifty years later, Solomons continues to be a force in the field, choreographing and performing with PARADIGM, the company he founded in 1996 with Dudley Williams and Carmen deLavallade. (In fact, deLavallade was mentioned in Solomons' bio as a partner in McKayle's Reflections in the Park—it's been quite the professional partnership.) Earlier this month, Solomons co-hosted the 2013 Bessie Awards, also performing Paul Taylor's tableau Duet alongside Martine Van Hamel. And just this week, it was announced that Solomons is the latest dancer to take part in Keigwin + Company's #ShareTheMattress video campaign. It's quite the witty composition, check it out below:
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