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By Jill Johnston
Copyright Jill Johnston 2009
(Originally published in the Village Voice and Art in America and reprinted by permission of the author, whose many milestones include being the first dance critic of the Village Voice – and thus the oracle of Judson. Dance Insider subscribers get access to five years of the Jill Johnston Letter, as well as 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances around the world from 1998 through 2015. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for just $29.95/year by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to email@example.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. If the Merce Cunningham Dance Company no longer exists, the Cunningham works “How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run,” previously performed in Paris by the company, “Inlets 2,” and “Beach Birds” will be reprised next May 30 – June 2 at the Theatre National de la Danse Chaillot (across the river from another monument, the Eiffel Tower) by the company of the Centre national de danse contemporaine d’Angers (whose recent directors include the influential Emmanuelle Huynh), featuring veteran Cunningham dancer Ashley Chen. Today’s publication sponsored by Freespace Dance and Slippery Rock Dance .)
It is not easy to see. Outside the theater, living as we do, most of us see very little with our eyes wide open…. It is rare to see more than a general outline. Or to see more and still enter. That is the crucial transition, from seeing to entering. Not only crucial but mysterious, so I won’t say any more except to note that I think most people who go to dance concerts don’t see very well, not even dancers, sometimes dancers especially, and most often critics, who must attend special classes in becoming blind.
Mr. Cunningham presented a new dance, “Aeon,” almost 50 minutes long, to a score by John Cage and with decor by Robert Rauschenberg. “Aeon” is a dance of great scale. It moves through so much, in range of quality, physical force, the human condition, that the whole thing is staggering to think of in retrospect. Human events: the activity of dancers on a proscenium stage. Other human events: the ways people communicate with each other, or speak for themselves. Exterior events: explosions, clouds, lights, a machine, sounds. And always the dancing, the superb dancing. The stillness too, which is never a mere choreographic stop, but an act of undaunted containment, of simple yet magnificent composure, of not-being which is the essence of being. A complete act, not a choreographic or dramatic transition.
Cunningham’s own range in this dance is fantastic. Not only those typical sudden shifts from motion to stillness, but the subtle gradations of energy (I have a vivid memory of an ‘incident’ originating as a vibration in the thighs, transferred to the stomach, traveling upward to the arms and shoulders and exploding like a geyser at the top); not to mention all the complicated coordinations, and wordless drama that every movement event secretes.
Cunningham is a great dancer, and you know it not by his technical range and command alone; you feel it in the whole man, the whole man is in it every time. You may see a procession of selves and the man never makes a move not true to himself.
— From “Dance: Cunningham in Connecticut,” The Village Voice, September 7, 1961.
The exclusion of Cunningham this summer, despite the anniversary, despite the fact that Limon is a charter member of the whole affair and that Graham is almost a national monument, is a sad reminder of how impossible it is at any moment in a history of anything for certain (controlling) groups of people to see where a thing is going, to put their fingers on the heartbeat of a movement…. Maybe New London should stick to a museum policy only. In this category they can hardly miss. And Limon and Graham easily command the field where statues are in question. They both have attitudes about themselves and about dancing that have more to do with the glory of Greece and grandeur of Rome than they do with life in America at the present moment.
— From “DANCE: New London,” The Village Voice, August 30, 1962.
The dance world is embarrassingly backward. Cunningham should pack Philharmonic Hall for a week at least. He has no peer in the dance as a consummate artist. Moreover, he continues to be abreast, if not in advance of all recent developments…. Cunningham belongs to that great shift of focus — from representation to the concentration on materials — which is so central to the revolution in art in this century…. The curious thing about this kind of dancing is that emotion is created by motion rather than the reverse, which is the traditional view of modern dance. But since there is no specified emotion, I believe that what you feel in the movement is the impact of a total action. Each movement means only itself and it moves you by its pure existence, by being so much itself. It is Cunningham’s magic as a performer to make every action a unique and complete experience. The gesture is the performer, the performer is the gesture.
— From “DANCE: Cunningham, Limon,” The Village Voice, September 5, 1963.
In the 1980s Cunningham presents a profile of extremes. His iconoclastic approach to choreography (launched in the ’50s in collusion with Cage) — the dance and music co-existing in a common time frame, but otherwise independent of each other; the application of chance procedures to the movement itself; the defocusing of the space in an allover look, no element supposedly more important than another — is still state-of-the-art work. And where Cunningham sees examples of work by younger choreographers in which dance movement is measured in meter, to the music, or in which movement appears to represent anything other than itself, he will characterize it as 19th-century work. Yet in some respects Cunningham himself exhibits 19th-century characteristics. In the ’50s, and even in the ’60s, this 19th-centuryness could hardly have been apparent, if at all, because the deep, or a priori, structure of the work, the gender-given aspect, still went unquestioned, and was therefore invisible.
Conscious gender play has in the meantime entered into the choreographic considerations of a number of younger artists (among them David Gordon, Mark Morris, Steve Paxton, Lucinda Childs). But Cunningham himself clearly continues not to question this ‘deep structure.’ Most apparent, and most boring, in the range of male/female breaching in his work is the predictable lift. “Roratorio,” with its extensive social partnering, has more than the full complements of lifts to be expected in a Cunningham dance. Again, he inherits this convention from the ballet, yet generally the way his men lift or carry or place or drag his women is much more like a vestigial echo of the ballet than anything resembling the no-nonsense support of the ballerina for the purpose of exposing her line and ‘sex’ and sweeping her through pedestals in the air. Although Cunningham’s manipulations of women are comparatively matter-of-fact, frequently like an afterthought, en passant really, they still appear to affirm, if only perfunctorily, the assumed dependency, weakness, helplessness, etcetera, of women. Certainly, his women remain armless in this way, except in the conventional decorative sense. But Cunningham would no doubt say that lifting is, simply, along with leaps, jumps, turns, etc., part of the raw material of his medium, something that bodies can do on stage, and to which he can apply his chance operations, obtaining the most interesting variations in rhythm and sequence.
“Roratorio,” like all Cunningham’s dance, brims with the most wonderful changes in speed, direction, rhythm, dynamics, groupings, as the whole piece moves stage left to right, in a linear action (not, incidentally, unlike the circular structure of “Finnegans Wake”), finally exiting to the right as the dancers carry off the seven or so stools that accompany them as they traverse the space. But the one variation you won’t find is in the lifting of women. Men always lift women, or “girls,” as Cunningham calls them throughout “The Dancer and the Dance,” the excellent book of interviews with him by Jacqueline Lesschaeve. And these days, no doubt because Cunningham, in his late 60s has lost even a hint of virtuosity in his own dancing (he essentially walks, and gestures), the vigor and expansiveness in his work is all projected through the males in his company.
At one time, say as late as 1972, when Carolyn Brown quit the company, Cunningham’s men and women were at least technically somewhat closer together. He had more mature women dancing with him then, not only technically accomplished (Brown was of prima quality) but with interesting character as well, and he and the men also of course were nearer in age. Now there are great gaps in his demography. He is 67, one of his men is 40, the rest are in their early 30s, and 20s. His men are fun to watch, his women are good, certainly attractive, but only Cunningham, immobile and arthritic as he is, carries the weight of character, of presence, of the necessary eccentric factor, that makes any company great. The general impression is of a marvelous gaunt grandfather tree, craggy and leafless, weathered and patinated, amazing in its knotty configurations, its sheer endurance, sticking way up over a band of brightly colored acorns dancing at the foot of its trunk.
There was a certain perfect reverberation between Cunningham, on stage, and Cage, in his box, in “Roratorio.” Cage delivered his Joyce text like some hoary old poet; Cunningham appeared on stage like some ancient satyr. And the panoply of noise along with the explosion of movement that surrounded them invoked that great line of Thomas: “Do not go gentle….”
— From “Jigs, Japes, and Joyce,” Art in America, January 1987.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak
(Editor’s Note: The first of many DI forays connecting the grandmothers of dance reposing in Paris’s cemeteries — including Isadora Duncan, Marie Taglioni, and La Goulue — with the current state of their legacies as enacted on the stages of Paris, New York, and around the world. First published on October 30, 2000, this article has been updated by the author. What’s that you say? “Seen anything lately?” If you don’t like what’s being reviewed, go out and make some reviews of your own: The DI is expanding and looking for Flash Reviewers in Berlin, New York, Brussels, and Paris. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to the DI for $29.95/year and get full access to 2000 reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to email@example.com , or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Today’s publication sponsored by Freespace Dance and Slippery Rock Dance.)
PARIS — The remains of Isadora Duncan lay stored behind a 12″ by 12″ plaque, amidst a vast wall of urns, one of many walls in the columbarium at Pere Lachaise cemetary here. (And not far from the ashes of Alwin Nikolais.) Under her gold-lettered name, “Danseuse” and “Ecole de Ballet de l’Opera de Paris” are all that identify the grandmother of Modern Dance. In the margins around Isadora’s columbiarium, someone has written “natural movement.” I thought of what remains of Isadora’s legacy — and of how broadly her progeny (not to mention her progeny’s progeny’s progeny) have extended that definition, and what they consider the “natural” terrain to be investigated — Saturday night, a few hours after visiting Isadora’s final resting place, while watching the geometrical experiments of Lynda Gaudreau’s company at Theatre de la Ville’s space on Rue des Abbesses, a few stops on the Metro from Pere Lachaise, and right up the hill from Paris’s Red Light district.
Whew! That’s a loaded first paragraph. But I think both juxtapositions are appropriate. On the one hand, Modern Dance’s universe has expanded at least four times since Isadora’s early expeditions, which started from the base of natural movement, entranced by Hellenistic ideals, idols, and idylls. Rather than taking a codified system (ballet) and making up a dance to music which she then had to incorporate into her body, Isadora started from her body, and how it naturally responded to music and other environmental stimulae. (N’empeche que ballet modernizers like Fokine were impatient to learn from her.) From those rather humble first steps, her successors have charted a universe which goes way beyond exploring how the body moves naturally to the psychic explorations of Martha Graham, the socio-therapeutic screes of Bill T. Jones, the simultaneously chancey and architecturally meticulous and large-scale dances of Merce Cunningham (which sometimes seem if anything more mathematical than ballet), the socio-cultural dance-theater of Alvin Ailey and Donald McKayle, the light-fantastical dance theater athletics of Alwin Nikolais, Murray Louis, Pilobolus and Momix, and all the branches and limbs of these various exponents. And these are just the American strains. In European dance theater alone, Kurt Jooss, Pina Bausch, Sasha Waltz, Maguy Marin and Peeping Tom dwarf — at least in their best work — their American contemporaries. (Well, except for Mark Dendy and Jane Comfort.) And until she got blasé in the last several years, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker was the proud bastard child of Trisha Brown (gestures) and George Balanchine (musicality).
Double-whew! That’s a rather loaded second paragraph, so let me jump straight to the second juxtaposition: Despite all this hard work, through which these choreographers and others, aided by not a few dedicated dancers, have in a hundred years developed, essentially, a whole new school of one of our oldest art forms — despite all this, if you tell your average Joe or Jane in Middle America that you’re a dancer, he’s more likely to think of the type of sex-based action that was going on near the Place Pigalle Saturday night than the abstract art that five talented dancers and a few prodigious choreographers were creating up the hill at the Theatre des Abbesses in Montmartre.
Would the action near Pigalle be more titillating, at least to the hetero male sex? Perhaps. But would it feed your mind in the same way as the exacting and dense repertoire virtuosically danced by Lynda Gaudreau’s company? No way! This is my very long-winded way of saying that while “Document 1,” the 1999 multi-choreographer collage presented Saturday by Gaudreau, is not necessarily “entertaining” for the non-dancer, it elucidates like a clarion call that there is a cadre of modern dance choreographers who, from Isadora’s intentions to simply make it acceptable to move naturally to music, have extended Modern Dance’s mission to a search for a vocabulary which, in its pure science and demands on the dancers’ bodies and intellects has surpassed ballet as a complex system of movement and vocabulary for creating challenging abstract art. In terms of actually searching for new ways to move the body to create art, these choreographers are attempting so much more than just about anybody creating in the ballet field today, with the possible exception of William Forsythe. (Author’s note, 10-6-2017: If this last observation was still valid in 2000, it stopped being so by 2005, when the former American prodigal son ran out of kinetic ideas and started regurgitating theatrical tricks that were already old by the 1970s.)
The choreographic mix in “Document 1” included Jonathan Burrows, Adam Roberts, Matteo Fargion, Meg Stuart, Benoit Lachambre, and Daniel Larrieu.
While it was hard to distinguish where one work began and the next ended — not that I’m complaining, because Gaudreau’s conception of presenting the whole as one 75-minute seemless evening succeeded — more than anything the area covered reminded me of Burrows, whose work I saw a couple of years back at The Kitchen. Like that piece, whose title escapes me, much of this evening was concerned with exploring grids: grids of the body, grids clearly marked on the stage, grids of two or four bodies together, grids on one body, grids of the hands. Grids on the ground. The play area was defined by a brown paper colored marley (whose hue Lucie Bazzo’s lights sometimes changed to orange, black, or white). Dancers move repeatedly confined in one of two rectangles of sometimes blue light up and downstage. Towards the beginning and at the end, the five dancers (Sarah Doucet, Mark Eden-Towle, Sophie Janssens, Sarah Stocker and guest artist Lachambre), dance in a chorus line, albeit one whose moves are much more restricted and localized than what you might find at the nearby Moulin Rouge. Instead of kicking out, to reveal itself, a leg kicks in, swiftly. A foot beats against a calf.
In between these bookends of the evening, the explorations are also localized per dancer; sometimes with one or two performers on stage, but often with all four present, in their own spaces or divided, with two in one rectangle and two in another. At one point, when two of them converged on space and selves in a tape-defined area downstage right, I had a movement epiphany: Twister! Right foot red! Left hand green!
Choreographically as well as in its execution, the most virtuosic moment was provided by Lachambre, dancing an excerpt from Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods’ “No Longer Readymade.” Think Trisha Brown (the minuteness of hand-jive), remixed inna lockin’ and poppin’ mode by Doug Elkins, at 78 rpm, and you get the idea. How Lachambre moved not only his hands, but particularly his head, back and forth like that in such a cartoon-quick blur, is beyond me! The only stop-pauses in the frantic pace were ones in which Lachambre appeared to be shooting up, precisely pricking his inner elbow.
Lachambre also shined, literally, in a self-choreographed “Solo a la Hanche.” I see here by my handy-dandy French-English dictionary that “hanche” means hip in French, and that’s what we saw a lot of here, in its resplendent rippling-muscled full glory, from the moment Lachambre split open his pants to reveal thick hip, thigh, and left leg, in profile.
The guest artist also figured prominently in the wind-up toy section, where he winds up, then sets loose, a series of toys, which mercilessly pursue the other four dancers, who try to maneuver around them. Lachambre scrambles after them, often on his belly or back, catching the sonic action with his microphone. The section, er, winds up with a penguin solo, as this bird, the largest of the toys, waddles around for a while, alone in center stage, before finally winding down and being scooped up by a dancer.
During this section, the only sound is that of the winding up and down. And this is one more thing that reminds me of how far modern dance has travelled since Isadora’s initial expeditions — so far that many choreographers see music as unnecessary, so much has their work become about exploring space more than music. That’s not an entirely fair comment as applies to Gaudreau’s company, however; in fact, there was sound for much of this, but not what many would consider music: Glottal clicks, for example, also figured in the score. When sitting “off stage” at the sides, the dancers often held mikes into which they whispered the sounds for those still on stage. (Author’s note, 10-6-2017: Unfortunately, this particularly gimmick was soon run out ad infinatum by choreographers around the world.)
Film figured heavily in the evening. Most winningly in footage of a young girl dribbling a basketball, who is shortly accosted by two men who try, mostly unsuccessfully, to steal the ball from her. (Apparently, she’s a ringer.) Towards the beginning of the evening, we see Burrows’s film “Hands,” which is just that: hands folding, unfolding, extending, folding again. One for the hardcore localized digit movement fans, but didn’t do much for me. (Author’s Note, 10-6-2017: I liked this one much better live when I saw it, or at least a variety, “Sitting Down Dance,” a few years later at the Round Point Theater, performed by Burrows and Fargion.) And, at the end, there’s a film that’s a lesson in needlepoint or crochet. This provides the pat ending to an otherwise refreshingly non-linear evening of geometrical experiments: “And then you just keep going,” says a voice offstage.
…. If I can keep going for just one paragraph longer: What moved me most about this very abstract evening was the composition of the audience. A similar program in New York would probably have been packed, but mostly by fellow-travelers: dancers and choreographers. I’ve got nothing against dancers and choreographers in the audience, but if I do have a bone to pick with some post-post-modern choreographers, it’s that their work seems to exist in a vacuum: fascinating to them from a process point of view, and maybe to some of their colleagues and mine, but just too remote to appeal to a non-dancer like me. This is not an argument against abstraction; far from it. What impressed me about Lynda Gaudreau’s concert Saturday, both on the stage and in the audience, is that a crowd of (apparently) mostly non-dancers who knew how far Modern Dance has traveled from its roots in Isadora, and who also could look beyond the dancer stereotype being represented down the hill in the Red Light district, had come to see high art — and the choreographers and dancers had given it to them.
Left: Pearl Lang in Martha Graham’s “Diversion of Angels,” original costume, 1948. Photo by Chris Alexander. Right: Pearl Lang in Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring.” Photos courtesy Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance.
By Pearl Lang
Copyright 1991, 2002, and 2017 Marian Horosko
(Excerpted from Marian Horosko’s “Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training,” revised edition, University of Florida Press, 2002. Our dear colleague, editor, writer, scholar, teacher, and veteran New York City Ballet and Metropolitan Opera Ballet dancer Marian Horosko died on September 11 in the Bronx at the age of 92. As hard to believe as it was that she was already 70 when I first met her in the offices of Dance magazine — where she was education editor mais pas que — energetically bicycling on a stationary device, only pausing long enough to give a young editor a necessary correction. Marian represented that rare combination among journalists: A skeptic and a true believer. Marian’s other books include the 2005 biography, “May O’Donnell: Modern Dance Pioneer.” Special thanks to DL for the alert. First published on the DI, with the author’s permission, on March 10, 2009, on the occasion of the death of pioneering Martha Graham dancer, teacher, and choreographer Pearl Lang. Today’s publication sponsored by Freespace Dance and Slippery Rock University Dance. DI subscribers get full access to the DI’s Martha Graham Archives with more news, reviews, and commentary. To subscribe for one year, just designate your PayPal payment of $29.95 to firstname.lastname@example.org or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check.– PB-I)
My mother was a great admirer of Isadora Duncan, and there were photos of her and her various companies in Russia and Germany on our walls. I come from Chicago, and she took me to see Harald Kreutzberg, as well as all the dance companies that played there. I especially remember a performance, when I must have been four years old, of “Hansel and Gretel,” the opera. In this production, when the children went to sleep at night, the angels came down a ladder from the sky two at a time. As they stepped down, each step lighted up and I thought that was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I went right home, got my girlfriends together and did my first choreography, walking them downstairs with lights at every step!
I had lessons with a Duncan teacher and later, ballet lessons in Chicago. And when I was about 16 years old, I saw a Northwestern University series of American modern dancers that included Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, and Charles Weidman. I took all their master classes and was invited by Martha and Humphrey to come to New York. I arrived when I was 19 years old.
The traditional Graham class begins with the bounces, but in the last years, in watching the company’s performances, the contraction is just not as apparent as I used to see it and the way we danced it. The contraction is Martha’s great gift to dance. I begin the class with it, along with some of the things that are usually done later in the class. The contraction is the most basic use of the center of the body. There is always a stretch before a contraction, which engages the interior muscles and reacts as in a cough, a sob, or a laugh — all violent physical reactions. In order for the contraction to be visual, you have to have a smooth plane before it can happen. I try to make my students aware of the contrast in these movements. I point out that before a contraction is visible, there has to be a stretch in the other direction to make it happen. Aesthetically, too, it pleases me more to see them sit down and do contractions rather than begin with bounces. Somehow, I don’t think Martha would have minded my changing the order.
Nothing in the system begins in the extremities. All the movements begin in the center of the body and move out. There is an overtone here from Duncan. In her book “My Life” (1928) she wrote that movement begins in the solar plexus, the diaphragm. When Martha devised her system, Duncan training was still around. Martha made a technique of the concept of a contraction beginning in the abdominals, while with Duncan it was a style, a quality of movement. Martha worked at a time when even painters were picturing the body in a cubist style. Picasso painted the body broken up into various planes, and choreographers of the time were emulating that kind of vision.
Martha saw Duncan dance in New York at Carnegie Hall and was enamored with her and absolutely ecstatic when she saw her dance. She wrote in her notebooks that she could hardly breathe during Duncan’s performance and that her own hair, combed into two buns, had become completely undone at the end of the performance. Ruth St. Denis and Duncan were dancing at the same time — two famous and unique dancers who influenced Martha. She never talked about Mary Wigman and probably never saw her dance.
Her early background in the Denishawn company provided her technique with a strong influence in ethnic dance since their repertoire was built upon ethnic dances. St. Denis was famous for her “Nautch Dance,” which bore little resemblance to the original, but ethnic dances were all very fashionable in those days.
I find that students lose sight of a movement phrase, especially at its beginning. Just as you write a sentence with a capital letter, the beginning of a dance has to have some authority to tell us what is going to happen, and it has to have an end. If it doesn’t have that finality, we don’t remember it. I try to convey that when I teach. There are those students who are naturally going to dance and need some technique, and you have those who study technique, technique, technique and nothing more than that ever happens.
I have been saying for years that, in addition to classes in ballet for all the students, male dancers, especially those studying Graham’s technique, should be required to study flamenco dance because Martha’s posture for men was macho.
Martha listened a great deal to Joseph Campbell [company member Jean Erdman’s husband and author of “Man and Myth”]. Martha was a Jungian [Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung (1875 – 1961) founded analytical psychology]. A lot of Jung’s psychiatry was built upon universal archetypes. The behavior of people interested Martha, so when Campbell made parallels to something in Hopi Indians and East Indian mythology, for instance, she absorbed those similarities. She didn’t want to be specific in her characterizations as much as she wanted them to resonate in other cultures.
For instance, Martha was fascinated with the beautiful Southwest, which was an artist colony in the 1930s and where Georgia O’Keeffe went to live and paint. There, the cross-culture of American Indians and Hispanic Catholics influenced her early work “Primitive Mysteries” (1931).
We are, after all, training dancers for the stage, and they have to have life in them. It can’t just be steps and technique. I see so many young choreographers walk to the front of the stage, look out to the audience, and seem to say, “I’m unhappy and it’s all your fault.” Every company director and teacher has the responsibility to develop the possibilities of a dancer. You have to know what those possibilities are and bring them out of each one. After every class I think about what the students will need in the next class. It takes the director or teacher and the student together to make this happen.
Every class is a prayer. Some of the movements are pious; there is a spirituality in dance. Martha claimed the studio was her church, just as the Asians bless the floor on which they perform. There are so many influences in our society that the student has to ignore — the vulgarity on the screen, on television, and even on stage. If a character is vulgar, then you have to play it that way, but when it becomes pervasive in a society, it makes you wonder how you can teach the subtleties, the refinements, and the nuances and beauty within the movements. There is little or no frame of reference for them. And so little time.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2014, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak
First published on November 5, 2014. Eileen Darby — pillar of the dance world, star of publishing, exemplary human being, treasured mother, dedicated friend, the spitting image of Claudette Colbert with a dash of Shirley MacLaine circa “The Appartment” thrown in — died three years ago today.
When I received the news that my friend, my mentor in life and work (we met in 1995 when she was the advertising director of Dance magazine, and she’s been the Dance Insider’s advisor since its founding in 1998), my guide, my ‘repere’ of first resort, my rock, my model for the realization of the New York fairy tale Eileen Darby had passed away, my first thought — after the shock and upset, and I am still in shock, I don’t think I’ve yet realized that Eileen is gone, it’s surreal even to be writing this, as it’s the sort of piece I would send to Eileen before anyone else for input and approval — was that Eileen would have frowned at the euphemism ‘passed away,’ as she did whenever I used it in an obituary. “Just say ‘died’!” And even the first word that comes to mind to describe Eileen — ‘class’ — is one at which she would grimace. “‘Class’ is a word used by those who don’t have it. It’s cheap.” As in, “Classy Chassy Cassie” — George Raft to waitress Ann Sheridan as she turns to pour coffee for him and Humphrey Bogart in “They Drive by Night.” And speaking of coffee, Eileen, who liked to make hers in a French press (they’re actually made in Switzerland), added the touch of stirring the grinds up to better distribute and dissimulate the flavor, a gesture I’d copy early mornings in the narrow kitchen of her spacious two-bedroom on the 8th floor of Peter Cooper, while looking out the window at the green and white road signs along the FDR Drive set against the backdrop of the East River, where Gatsby’s Green Light was mirrored by a purple neon palm tree (“Tacky!” sighed Eileen) on the deck of one of the private boats docked near the heliport: the quintessential New York scene, the New York of my dreams, which always signified this prodigal’s return to the city, Eileen’s pad the traditional gateway as she hosted me for a couple of nights after my ‘aterrisage.’ (Mornings ideally leavened by the best bagels in the world from nearby Essa’s on 21st & First; that Eileen could not eat gluten didn’t stop her from lugging a dozen of them uptown to the Literary Brownstone I was cat/house-sitting at for a bountiful back terrace 50th birthday brunch in 2010.)
During the nine years that I lived in France, our tradition was that I’d call Eileen right before my parties for last-minute aperitif advice, famously including one year her recipe for Oysters Rockefeller, but the best advice was when she counseled me to make everything ahead of time so that I could actually mingle with my guests and enjoy the party; we also liked to argue over the most authentic recipe for Manhattans (rye-based, with bourbon a suitable back-up). Even the anonymously bleak red-brown brick buildings of Peter Cooper (in which Bogie also made his swan song, as a down-and-out press agent who resided there in “The Harder they Fall”; Eileen always kept good company — or maybe it’s the other way around) — no one would ever think to break in here, Eileen pointed out — concealed, more than the occasional material treasure, a rich cosmopolitan life, above all intellectual. Early in her New York career, Eileen worked for the Modern Language Association, forming friendships with a literary coterie (some of whom would grow up to become essential elements of the city’s intellectual nucleus) that would last a lifetime. It’s this association more than Madison Avenue (or, as another pillar of that nucleus John Leonard wrote in “The Naked Martini,” “the canyons of lower Lexington”) — she spent most of her professional life in advertising and marketing, starting out with Annenberg’s Gourmet and Good Food magazines — that defined her mental life. (Sitting next to Joyce Carol Oates at a dinner organized by one of these figures, Eileen gave me a much needed ego boost by reporting that when she mentioned she was friends with one of the prodigious novelist’s former Princeton students, Oates remembered me.)
If I’ve put off writing this ‘memoriam’ — Eileen died September 27 — it’s because it means recognizing that Eileen is gone.
After my return to New York in 2010, our get-togethers usually involved Cosmos mixed by Eileen in her apartment. (Paul: “It’s fine, but could I have an ice cube?” Eileen, while fetching ice cube in its own petite glass tea-cup from the fridge: “I never use plastic ice trays, because the plastic leaches into the ice.” Grandfather-clock-sized cuckoo clock in entree-way with a different bird popping out of its trunk every hour: “Tweet! Tweet!”) En route to Eileen’s I sometimes stopped for a slice of $1 pizza at the corner of 23rd and Park, really just an excuse to have a NY moment as I chomped the slice down while gazing uptown at the Chrysler Building. I seized another gem of a moment one early morning in 2012 while transferring from Greenpoint digs to Eileen’s place, drinking my thermos coffee on the boardwalk while gazing across the river at Brooklyn; the evening before, on the type of vanishing ramshackle pier you used to be able to access by climbing through an improvised hole in a wire fence made by other pioneers, I looked across the river from the other side at the sprawling Peter Cooper buildings and tried to reconnoiter Eileen’s place to toast her. On my last visit to her place, push/wheeling my luggage from Penn Station south and eastward, I paused in an anonymous parking lot off 7th avenue to munch a slice of whole wheat bread and cheddar while contemplating the water towers set against the grey-charcoal late-summer sky; never mind if I was getting doused by a downpour — I felt euphoric to be on my way to Eileen’s and a much more elevated air.) I felt a bit guilty about always inviting myself over as opposed to inviting Eileen out, but really, who could desire a more idyllic New York scene than drinking Cosmos while overlooking the East River from Eileen’s vast windows, the shelves on the opposite side of the room crammed with the genre of books that marked the second half of the 20th as the New York socio-politico-literary century? It also allowed us to ‘control’ the environment.
Even if, by her own admission, Eileen did not go out a lot in her final years in New York, she insisted that she liked knowing that it — it being New York — was there if she wanted to take advantage of the city’s myriad stimulations. (When she did go out, she usually had adventures. On one blustery New York late afternoon of the type that turns the city’s belly into the vortex of a canyon, Eileen’s response to a woman who stopped her to compliment her tan beret was to give it to her.) Sometimes Eileen would order Chinese food delivered for our confabs and insist I take the leftovers with me; sometimes she’d cook up a Portuguese specialty stew combining pork, beans, and usually sweet potatoes or yams. We consumed these feasts on a simple, huge but elegant light mahogany rectangular table which Eileen proudly boasted was built by hand by her late second husband Roger, as manually adept as he was mentally sharp. (Eileen insisted that her daughter Diane, about whom she also never stopped boasting, got her smarts from her father, but, ‘Mom’s math’ not withstanding, I’m sure a healthy dose came from her sharp mother, not so incidentally a ‘numbers-cruncher’ sans pareil, who helped make the owners of Dance magazine rich.) The table (long enough so that Eileen could keep her work papers on one end and dine on the other) was one of the few things she took with her when she moved from New York to Miami Beach to be with Diane, along with Beat era paintings that she and her first husband, Jimmy, had collected in the late 1950s ‘at the scene’ in San Francisco, where they met at Enrico’s or another North Beach club. (Jimmy would later work at the Old Spaghetti Factory.) Another in Jimmy’s party was courting Eileen, but Jimmy took his time and persisted, and they ended up together. I think Eileen never stopped loving Jimmy (she might refine that to just appreciating the adventures they had together). I liked the synchronicity between that Jimmy was the first president of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady, and that from 1995 to 2001 I lived next door to the legendary recording studio on W. 8th Street, where my favorite singer, Carly Simon, also recorded her early albums “Carly Simon” and “Anticipation.” (Another synchronicity: Carly’s children played with Diane when they were neighbors on the Upper West Side.) It seems that Eileen and Jimmy were everywhere where the Scene was being created in the late ’50s and early ’60s — they probably helped create those scenes in San Francisco and Greenwich Village (not to mention Ebiza), where they rented the classic cold-water flat for $25 a week. It’s no accident that when Hollywood tried to make a movie musical about the Village at that time, they called it “My Sister Eileen.” (Later Eileen would visualize, and she and Roger would subsequently — consequently? — find, the brownstone of their dreams, complete with yard. Eileen was sure she was psychic, and the many many times she anticipated what I was going to say confirmed this gift.) As far as Roger was concerned, she appreciated that when he accepted an executive post with Metropolitan Life, his condition was that his (by then ex-) wife Eileen and daughter would get the apartment in Peter Cooper, then owned by the insurance company. “He wanted to make sure we were taken care of — that’s the kind of man he was.” This is typical Eileen; far from harboring rancor towards her exes, she appreciated how they’d enriched her life and that of her daughter. She also didn’t waste negative energy on those who might have exasperated the rest of us. If it’s true that on the political level Eileen didn’t ‘suffer fools gladly,’ as a colleague has recalled (nor on a societal level; looking out her window on the FDR Drive, packed at NY’s extended rush hour, she’d excoriate the commuters who gassed up the planet instead of taking public transportation), when confronting a fool face to face, her advice was to smile and say “Thank you” or “That’s nice.” It wasn’t so much that Eileen believed in turning the other cheek, but that here too, she didn’t like to waste energy.
Much as she herself made fun of it, Eileen’s practical side was also revealed in little manias like insisting that the guest unfortunate enough to spill water on her floor be made to traipse over it afterwards with paper towels under his stockinged feet while maintaining his glass on a paper plate to avoid recidivism. And her practical-political side was revealed during elections. In the Bush era of lock-step banana Republicans, she campaigned relentlessly under the banner of “Vote Party!” While her contemporaries were e-mailing silly jokes to their friends and colleagues, Eileen’s solution to the Times’s segregating Krugman and Hebert behind a pay-wall was to share their columns with her circle. But if Eileen was a liberal, she was not opposed to having fun. When she treated me to Cosmos and Manhattans during Christmas 2010 at Smith & Wolensky’s, a favorite since her Annenberg years when she’d entertain clients there, I was not at all surprised that a man 20 years her junior tried to pick her up. Partly because of her gluten-free diet, Eileen had the energy and sparkle of a woman 30 years younger; if it sounds strange to be shocked and stunned at the sudden death of someone 78 years old, it should be pointed out that, notwithstanding her self-deprecating comments that she was becoming batty in her dotage, Eileen hadn’t yet passed through the ‘elderly’ and decrepit stage. Which, fortunately, didn’t mean she never talked about her childhood; I remember and carry forward her memories of Star the goat on her grandparents’ farm, a farm ‘right in the middle of a city,’ in this case Fall River; of a father, born at the turn of the last century, who, marking the ingenuity he’d bequeath to his sons Raymond (“so smart”) and Billy (“perpetually handsome, always with a dazzling younger woman on his arm” — Eileen) and their ‘little sister,’ turned to manufacturing all sorts of parts (related to fire-arms for the military, I believe) at the outbreak of World War II. Too old to serve, he still wanted to be ‘useful.’ When Eileen wanted to move to New York City, instead of trying to bar the way, her family moved with her, setting up shop in New Jersey. They were not misguided in wanting to keep an eye on her as little sister soon became the bell of the Gotham ball; one night, even Knick star Walt Frazer turned from basketball court dazzle to dazzling courtship, ultimately escorting her home in a taxi.
Eileen’s allure (which no doubt owed something to the regal Cabral blood from Portugal, which reference I’ll also use as an excuse to vaunt her hand-made Portuguese tea-cups, a pair of which she gave me) — and smarts — were eventually passed on to Diane. Eileen wasn’t just automatically proud of Diane because a mother should be; I have a feeling she’d have remarked her brilliance even if they weren’t related. That they were merely gave her bragging rights — never empty, but always supported by the beyond-her-years observations Diane had made since childhood and the School of Ethical Culture. But she was just as apt to point out that Diane had studied with Chomsky at MIT as that Diane is the kind of intelligent, intrepid, and resourceful woman who sometimes scares insecure (and sexist) men away, because she can do anything; she once took apart and repaired the engine of a glass-bottomed boat stalled in the middle of the Everglades.
I am sure that Diane is hurting now, and all I can offer is some inadequately anodyne second-hand words of guidance:
**After she moved to Miami Beach, Eileen never stopped saying how happy she was to be near her daughter.
**When you have a problem you can’t resolve, let your brain continue to work on it overnight while you’re sleeping.
** (This might apply to me more than Diane, but… just in case:) Whatever it is, no matter how bad it feels, it won’t last.
** You’re better than that.
** You’re gorgeous *and* smart.
** If it pleases you, don’t deprive yourself of the occasional trip to the Azores, dear to Eileen.
In December 1996, a colleague invited me to a New Year’s Eve party on E. 4th Street. I’d been complaining to her that I never met any women. I told another female friend about the party. Meanwhile, I started the evening at a holiday party hosted by a pal of Eileen’s in Chelsea, a tranquil event with some of Eileen’s older and, let’s say, more staid friends, and Diane. When I was about to leave for the East Village fete, Diane gave me a look as if to say “Get me out of here!” (a comment not on her mom, nor her mom’s friends, but on what even Eileen admitted was the relative tameness of her friends’ New Year’s parties). When we walked into my friend’s fiesta, where my other female buddy and one of her girlfriends had already arrived and introduced themselves as “friends of Paul,’ the hostess took one look at me, entering the party accompanied by the instantly most stunning woman in the room, and burst out laughing, my complaint now seeming ludicrous.
We capped the evening by dancing at an anonymous club in the wall at the corner of Avenue B and 7th. What I remember most about Diane that evening is her calm and repose. I know that, having already lost her father, Diane must be living the most turbulent moments of her life right now. My wish for her is that, without forgetting, she find assurance, if not solace — where is the solace in such a profound loss? — in that repose which is still within her somewhere. That she know that she will continue to make her mother proud — or, if you prefer, to live a life that would make her mother proud. And for the future, if I can be so bold and presumptuous, I think her mom would want for her that she is able to find a way, without giving up the tropical climes so important to her, to be surrounded by, or at least have some smart people in her life. (I think Eileen would have similar advice for her nieces, Caroline, whose independence as a teenager on her own in Paris she never stopped vaunting, and Susan, whose smartness she also frequently praised.) Because the fools are plenty, the sages few.
PS: Wondering whether to use ‘wise’ instead of ‘sage’ reminded me of another citation from Eileen which I have often had resort to. It’s from W.B. Yeats, concerns ‘wise love,’ and (paraphrasing) goes something like this:
In wise love, the beloved, refusing to see the daily self of the other, sees his higher self, and reflects it back to him.
For myself, I’ll remember a brilliant Summer Day in 2012 when, the light suffusing 23rd Street as I made my way Eastward towards the river through the throngs and past the second-hand stores to Peter Cooper for Cosmos with Eileen, I was never happier.
Eileen, you really hit the nail on the wall!
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By Angela Jones
Copyright 2005, 2017 Angela Jones
NEW YORK — I hate everything… generally. I’m a typical ex-modern-dancer-turned-downtown cynic who starts by looking for the predictable in every show. But Cirque Eloize’s “Rain,” seen June 23 at the New Victory Theater, where it continues through July 10, blew me out of the water (quite literally). It somehow managed to pull me in and hold my attention from start to finish by being charming, utterly surprising, engaging, evocative, humorous, playful, poignant, and aesthetically pleasing to boot.
All the performers are clearly seasoned and know their apparatuses inside and out. They also manage to build and develop their individual characters throughout, creating not only cohesion but also a piece with clear direction and intention, the likes of which most other circuses only aspire to. The beauty of “Rain” is also that even though we are taken on a journey, I couldn’t tell you exactly what the story is, but there is a sense of one. It takes place quite a while ago, in a place we can somehow all remember. Time and place are malleable — right when you think you know where something is about to go, it gets turned on its head, sometimes literally….
To receive the complete article, first published on June 30, 2005, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to email@example.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@@gmail.com . $99 if you purchase before October 15.