After an evening of tributes to him, Charlie came up to the stage and ripped up his planned comments right at the mike. “Those were all the stories you’ve already heard,” he said. Then he quipped, “All this talk about Reinhart—thank god there was some dancing!” He thanked the list of his mentors who have passed on, and a second list of living mentors, helpers, and board members of American Dance Festival, which he has headed since 1969. He appealed to those on the second list to not be too eager to join the first list.
That’s Charlie: Fun, loving, and passionate about dance.
While so many other festivals are trying to hit all the bases—ballet, modern, tap, hip hop, and flamenco—ADF has put all its eggs in the basket of modern dance. He loves and has helped build the careers of Paul Taylor, Eiko & Koma, Pilobolus, and Shen Wei, who all paid tribute by performing last night at BAM. And many others wrote notes of gratitude in the program: Bill T. Jones, Anna Halprin, Twyla Tharp, Ohad Naharin, Mark Morris, Chuck Davis, Trisha Brown and many more.
His daughter Ariane narrated a delightful and witty documentary about his life that was put together by Ted Steeg. In the film, Charlie told the story about having to perform a rain dance as a child, and sure enough, a rain cloud floated overhead and rained on the children. “This dance thing is pretty powerful stuff,” he concluded.
Charlie did many things, including serving in the Korean War and getting work as a typist. But ever since he took a job assisting Isadora Bennett, the first real dance publicist, he gave his heart and energy to dance. He was wowed by Paul Taylor's work and managed Taylor's company for years. When he took over ADF in 1968, he brought a breath of fresh air by commissioning artists like Meredith Monk, Twyla Tharp, and Trisha Brown. Eventually, he and Stephanie (he beloved wife and ADF partner who passed away in 2002) brought modern dance to 20 other countries including Russia and China. (Click here to read our story about ADF at 75.)
His tastes are wide, but the best part is how excited he gets. You can see it in his face and feel it when he talks about dance. (He serves on the Dance Magazine Award committee with me.) He just adores a huge variety of top-notch dance artists
—and they are all in the modern dance field. It’s a real commitment. Without Charlie, who knows where modern dance would be today? It certainly wouldn’t be as international.
The performances at this 80th birthday party gave a glimpse of the diversity of artists he’s given opportunities to. Eiko & Koma blew me away once again for the intensity of their concentration in Duet (2004). They got the least applause, being so quiet and slow moving, but their images were indelible. They inch toward each other and suddenly there’s an arrow in her heart. Has he thrust it there or is he trying to remove it? They are together yet struggling to separate. She cradles his head but then their almost-kiss sends them apart. As the lights dim they are squatting in surrender, their heads almost touching.
At the end of his talk, Charlie (who received a Dance Magazine Award in 2003) called for a national strategy to strengthen arts education and a repertory company to maintain the great modern dance works. As part of his thank yous, humbled, he said, “And of course I’m so honored that Martha Graham appeared here tonight.” Well…Graham, who died in 1991, was channeled by Mark Dendy. He's got her throaty, unctuous voice down to a T; even the way he tossed his head ever-so-slightly back captured her tortured hubris. (Richard Move has made a career of impersonating Graham and he’s brilliant, but I think he learned a lot from Mark.)
Charlie’s co-director, Jodee Nimerichter, spoke about him with great affection. In anticipation of stepping into his shoes, she said, “I promise to not assume anything.”
I find that a pretty good rule of thumb in the arts.