TBT: Gus Solomons jr on Being Both a Choreographer and a Critic
Gus Solomons jr has worn many hats in the course of his career. He began to study dance while a student at MIT; after earning a bachelor’s degree in architecture, he followed an invitation from Donald McKayle to go to New York City and audition for the musical Kicks & Co., which McKayle was choreographing. In short order, he was performing in works by Pearl Lang, Martha Graham and Joyce Trisler as well as McKayle (dancing the iconic Rainbow Round My Shoulder and creating a role in Storytime USA). In 1965, he became the first Black man to join the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Solomons was also a student in Robert Dunn’s famed dance composition class (a precursor to the formation of Judson Dance Theater, which Solomons worked adjacent to); he founded his eponymous company in 1972 and continued to choreograph even as he began professionally reviewing dance (for this publication and The Village Voice, among others) in the 1980s. “I don’t consider myself a critic,” he said in the April 1992 issue of Dance Magazine. “I consider myself a reviewer: I review what I see, place it in context, then register my opinion…. Many critics have a particular taste and look for particular things, so they can’t evaluate a dance on its own terms. I am not a judge of any kind. I tend to think of the review as a sounding board for the artist. He or she can read the piece and see what got across and why—in one person’s opinion. Choreographers can take that information and do what they like.”
Solomons received a NY Dance and Performance Award (“Bessie”) for Sustained Achievement in 2000, and a second Bessie in 2010 for PARADIGM, a troupe for performers over 50 that he cofounded in 1996 with Carmen de Lavallade and Dudley Williams. Also a beloved teacher, Solomons was awarded American Dance Festival’s 2004 Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching, and taught in the department of dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts until 2013. He still, on occasion, writes for Dance Magazine—most recently in 2022.