Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.
My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.
Frank William Shawl, dance artist, educator and cofounder, along with the late Victor Anderson, of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California, died peacefully at his home on Friday, October 4, 2019 at the age of 87.
Born in New Jersey in 1931, Shawl was a beloved and revered teacher, dancer and choreographer in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 55 years. The Shawl-Anderson Dance Company was a renowned dance repertory group in the 1960s and '70s and spawned many of today's prominent dance artists.
Notable dancer and beloved teacher, Ross Parkes, 79, passed away on August 5, 2019 in New York City. He was a founding faculty member at Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan, where he taught from 1984 to 2006. Lin Hwai-min, artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, said: "He nurtured two generations of dancers in Taiwan, and his legacy will continue."
About his dancing, Tonia Shimin, professor emerita at UC Santa Barbara and producer of Mary Anthony: A Life in Modern Dance, said this: "He was an exquisite, eloquent dancer who inhabited his roles completely."
American Ballet Theatre mourns the passing of its dear friend and colleague Barbara Bilach. Barbara served as ABT's highly-esteemed company pianist for the past 22 years.
Prior to joining ABT in 1997, she served as company pianist for Cleveland Ballet (under artistic director Dennis Nahat) and Dance Theatre of Harlem. Her playing was joyful, virtuosic and personal. Her performance repertoire with ABT included Allegro Brillante, Baker's Dozen, Ballet Imperial, Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, Jane Eyre, Kaleidoscope, Piano Concerto No. 1, Remanso, Seven Sonatas and Symphonic Variations.
Barbara was an extraordinary talent whose light and life touched a generation of dancers at ABT. She was a beloved member of the ABT family and will be dearly missed.
The most important thing to say about Hal Prince, who died on July 31 at 91, is that he is responsible for West Side Story. Yes, Jerome Robbins had the idea, Leonard Bernstein wrote the music, Stephen Sondheim the lyrics, and Arthur Laurents the book. But if Prince had not gone out on a limb to produce it, dozens of shows we now consider classics would not exist, and today's Broadway would be a vastly different beast.
Irving Burton, a dancer, choreographer, teacher and actor passed away at 95 years of age in March. Irving studied with Martha Graham and performed with the New Dance Group, Charles Weidman, Pearl Lang, his niece Rosalind Newman, Claire Porter/PORTABLES and Susan Thomasson Works. He taught dance at the New Dance Group studios, Bennington College and The Irving Burton School of Dance. He performed on Broadway, off Broadway and was a featured member of The Paper Bag Players, a nationally and internationally known pioneer of children's theatre for 25 years. He performed with them throughout the United States as well as internationally and was seen on numerous television shows as well as in movies. He was Dance Audition Winner, 92nd St Y 1953 and won various fellowships for his productions. He continued to create and perform into his 90s.
Married for 60 years he leaves behind his wife, Maryan, whom he met as her dance teacher and who performed in his company, four children, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Irving Burton was a brilliant, creative mind, a beautiful and gifted dancer, a man who loved his family, his dogs, his friends and the dance community. He will be deeply missed.
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Lawrence Rhodes passed away on Wednesday, March 27, at age 80. Rhodes, best known as Larry, had a long and celebrated career as a dancer, teacher and director, most recently heading The Juilliard School's dance department.
I first met Rhodes in 2017, when we started work together on an autobiography charting his life and career. Over countless hours spent seated at the kitchen table of his Upper West Side apartment, Rhodes often reminded me that his dance career, both on and off stage, had spanned over 60 years; his passion for the work remained his driving force.
"At every possible opportunity, I hope to instill in children a love for the arts and for classical music," said Marcia Dale Weary, beloved teacher and founder of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. "Along with that, I hope to help them develop self-discipline, generosity and the ability to focus."
Weary passed away at the age of 82 on Monday, March 4, 2019.
Ohio State Dance emerita professor Lucy Venable died peacefully Tuesday morning, January 29, 2019. She is survived by her five nieces and their families. She was preceded in death by her brother and parents.
Lucy was born on October 28, 1926 in Charleston, West Virginia. She graduated with a BA from Wellesley College as a Spanish major and spent 20 years in New York City where she studied dance, primarily with José Limón, Doris Humphrey, Margaret Craske and Alfredo Corvino.
During this time, she became certified by the Dance Notation Bureau as a Labanotation teacher and Labanotator, and taught Labanotation and Limón technique at the Juilliard School and Connecticut College. Lucy performed with the José Limón Company (1957-1963), touring in the United States, Europe, Central and South America and the Far East. For five years, she was rehearsal director for the Merry-Go-Rounders, a dance company that performed for children. From 1961-1967 she directed the Dance Notation Bureau in New York City.
In 1968, she arrived at the Ohio State University where she taught dance fundamentals, Labanotation, repertory and Alexander Technique. She founded the Dance Notation Bureau Extension for Education and Research and was its director for 12 years. While at Ohio State, Lucy worked closely with fellow professor Odette Blum, establishing one of the department's foundational principles to center on dance documentation and Labanotation. Lucy also collaborated with George Karl and Scott Sutherland on the development of the software program LabanWriter, a project she continued with David Ralley. She served as vice president of the International Council of Kinetography Laban, on the board of directors of the Dance Notation Bureau and taught the Alexander Technique.
Lucy played a critical role in establishing Ohio State as an international center for Labanotation and Laban Studies. Her work helped to preserve the history of modern dance so that we can continue to bring it alive in the present. Her legacy continues to have a lasting impact on the college's dance department.
Lucy will be buried in the family plot in Charleston. A celebration of her life will be held at the Ohio State University Department of Dance, Sullivant Hall, 1813 North High Street in Columbus, Ohio, on a date to be announced.
This obituary has been adapted from dance.osu.edu.
Dame Libby Komaiko, one of the most important female figures in Spanish dance in the United States passed away on February 2, 2019. A trailblazer for Spanish and Flamenco dance in the United States, she leaves behind a strong and flourishing legacy which includes the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, The Ensemble Español Center for Spanish Dance and Music, the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Youth Company, the Northeastern Illinois University Spanish Dance Program and the annual American Spanish Dance and Music Festival.
JoJo Smith, known as "The King of New York" for his extensive contributions to Broadway and the dance industry, has died. He was 80.
Smith, who died from complications resulting from a major stroke suffered late last year, had been credited with giving some of Hollywood's most notable dancers their rhythm.
Sono Osato, a trailblazing ballet and musical theater dancer, passed away last Wednesday at her home in New York City.
Best known for originating the role of Miss Turnstiles in Jerome Robbins' hit On the Town—one of Broadway's first non-segregated musicals—Osato got her start at 14 as the youngest member of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and as the troupe's first Japanese-American performer. She went on to dance for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), where she found success in New York City but was banned from touring in Mexico and California because of her Japanese background. For a brief time, Osato went by her mother's maiden name, Fitzpatrick, in an effort to escape the World War II-era anti-Japanese sentiment. During the war, her father was confined under military guard in Chicago as an enemy alien.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Kate Vanderliet grew up in Orinda, California, attending summer sessions at the San Francisco Ballet School. She was a principal dancer in Hello Hollywood, Hello! starring Carol Channing, at the MGM Grand Hotel in Reno, Nevada. She also played Val in A Chorus Line after the hotel had been bought by Bally's. She became a star at The Lido in Paris, and was known for her dazzling charisma on stage. Chic, petite, and sophisticated, she commanded attention and respect.
Former chair of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts dance department Linda Tarnay died on Tuesday, November 6. Her wish was to have her ashes interred in the columbarium at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery—the site of Danspace Project and just a few blocks away from the Tisch dance building.
Before her 35 years of teaching at NYU, Tarnay was a founding member of Dance Theater Workshop. She performed with choreographers like Anna Sokolow, Phyllis Lamhut and Jamie Cunningham. She also started her own company, Linda Tarnay and Dancers, and was an artist-in-residence at The Yard.
As a performer. Lisa appeared on Broadway, in dinner theater, and throughout Europe. She was a triple threat, with a lovely soprano. Fellow dancers from the European company of 42nd Street knew her by her maiden name, Lisa Fairmont. They described her as vivacious, enthusiastic, passionate, and talented. With a dazzling smile, she was as loving as she was pretty. Her speaking voice was very distinctive. Just hearing her in conversation on the other side of stage made you smile and laugh. She was kind and compassionate to the younger dancers, and gave them excellent advice. Jon Engstrom, (who reset Gower Champion's original choreography in 42nd Street) told her during rehearsal, "You remind me of Sophia Loren." She was also a former Miss Colorado and Bronco cheerleader. She will be dearly missed by her friends and family.
Sarah Tayir will live on as a legend in ballet. Here are some recollections and anecdotes, shared by a few of the countless people who loved her and appreciated her gift of both ballet and teaching, describing some perspectives on her life as it unfolded.
Sarah Tayir described her early training and career in very humble ways to Sara Jane Gould, professional dancer, coach and student in Miss Sarah's class for many years.
Sarah was the youngest of four kids. Recalling her first memory of hearing music, she was sitting in someone's lap, listening to a Brahms piece. (Decades later, Miss Sarah used the music of Brahms often in her classes). At the age of 3, when she "could barely reach to turn on the radio," she just "fell in love" with music. She would dance around and "it felt so good it had to be wrong."
Last Wednesday, Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder and ballet pioneer Arthur Mitchell died. He was 84 years old and, though vibrant and tenacious as ever, this past year the toll that illness and age were taking on him was visible.
In October when he hosted "An Informal Performance on the Art of Dance" to celebrate the donation of his archives to Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the upcoming Wallach Art Gallery Exhibition, he shared that his recent hip surgery left him requiring a shoe with a lift. He acknowledged his "altered state" with panache, that side-eyed smirk catching the light with a cheek bone, and ending with a chuckle that broadened to a dazzling open-mouthed smile.
Mr. Mitchell's acute awareness of his pulchritude and charm, and the adroit manner in which he wielded them, have always been key factors of his influence.
Former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell passed away today in a Manhattan hospital. He was 84 years old.
Mitchell originated the role of Puck in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Oleaga Photography, Courtesy DM Archives
As a leading dancer with NYCB in the 1950s and '60s, Mitchell became indelibly associated with two roles created on him by George Balanchine: the central pas de deux in Agon (1957) and Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1962). Mitchell's performance of the athletic, entwining Agon pas de deux with Diana Adams—a white woman—caused a major stir during a moment in which America was rife with racial tension.