An outstanding cast of dancers, choreographers, directors and scholars will appear together this January in NYC, in a special production of "The Men Dancers: From the Horse's Mouth." Spanning all ages and traditions, this diverse group of performers will join together to dance and share personal stories with the audience, with big names in the dance world participating.
Lar Lubovitch in The Men Dancers, Jacob's Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan
Former NYC Ballet principal dancer Charles Askegard, master choreographer Lar Lubovitch, former NYC Ballet principal Jock Soto, acclaimed dance figure Gus Solomons Jr. and Trent Kowalik (one of the original "Billy" performers from the musical Billy Elliot) will be among the cast of 30 -- Bessie and TONY Award winners, Ernie Award recipients and dance legends will share the stage in this four-day event.
Last summer, a special all-male version of From the Horse's Mouth premiered at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in honor of Ted Shawn, the festival's founder. Inspired by the success of that production (part of the Pillow's 80th anniversary season), The Men Dancers: From the Horse's Mouth is back!
Following is a conversation with Jamie Cunningham, co-founder of From the Horse's Mouth, about this extraordinary production:
Jamie Cunningham in The Men Dancers, Jacob's Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan
How did you come up with the idea for Horse's Mouth?
I have known Tina Croll, co-founder of From the Horse's Mouth, since 1966, when we were young dancers and choreographers at Dance Theater Workshop in New York City. Fourteen years ago, I attended an Al-Anon meeting where each person spoke for three minutes about a problem they were having and how they were working to resolve it. I kept thinking how this process was "real theater." Upon leaving the meeting, I happened onto a sign in front of Yoga Institute, reading, "one truth, many paths." And that's when then idea for From the Horse's Mouth came together... to create a piece featuring many dancers and choreographers doing many different things. I immediately phoned Tina and told her it would be interesting to put together a piece where dancers could talk about their lives and their work -- whether serious or funny -- exploring their own style of dance as well as interacting with other people working in quite different styles, ie. an Indian classical dancer interacting with a Spanish flamenco dancer; a ballet dancer interacting with hip hop.
Do you see a historical value to this personal story telling?
Yes, indeed. When we introduced the production 14 years ago, our friend Sharon Kinney, a former dancer with Paul Taylor, asked to do a documentary of the piece. Lincoln Center's Library for the Performing Arts also shot 10-minute interviews with each of our dancers from the original production, which is now part of the Library's permanent collection.
Why are dancers, choreographers, directors and scholars drawn to perform in this piece?
What has made this piece so successful with dancers and the audience is its diversity and variety -- we are all a part of this process of theater and dance... part of a larger, common humanity. It's a common ground that we all have. From the Horse's Mouth is like the UN -- although it started out with our friends in the modern dance world, it has evolved over 14 years to include all races, sexes and cultures. It reminds the participants that they are not separate -- they are all a part of the greater field of theater and dance.
How will the NYC production of The Men Dancers differ from the one presented at the Jacob's Pillow 80th Anniversary season in July, 2012?
There will be some changes -- for example, former NYC Ballet principal dancer Jock Soto will be joining us and dance critic Jack Anderson and his partner George Dorris, together for 46 years, will participate, talking of the changes they've seen in the role of male dancers over many years. We are delighted to see the return of former NYC Ballet principal Charles Askegard (now artistic director of Ballet Next) and master choreographer Lar Lubovitch to The Man Dancers for the NY run.
What's in store for the future?
An all-tap version of Horse's Mouth is planned by the American Tap Dance Foundation in NYC in April 2013. There will also be a production in Boston to celebrate the beloved teacher, choreographer and dancer Martha A. Gray. Next fall, Horse's Mouth will be in San Francisco honoring choreographer and dancer Margie Jenkins. Also on the fire is an all male -- and all female -- version of Horse's Mouth for the 2014 World Pride Celebration in Toronto, Canada.
We are also planning a production in 2015 connecting the arts and sports, sponsored by the University of Toronto -- we've been dying to do a piece with athletes!
Adria Rolnik is helping promote The Men Dancers: From the Horse's Mouth, Jan. 10-13 at the newly renovated Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th St (between 1st and 2nd Avenues),
New York, NY 10003. Gala celebration and performance on Jan.10 at 8 p.m, with performances continuing on Jan 11/12 at 8pm and on Jan 13 at 3pm. Visit http://themendancers.brownpapertickets.com/ for tickets.