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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:
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"