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In the News > Reviewing the year 2003 (a look at trends and forecasts in dance world) (appreciation of tap dancer Gregory Hines)


1 Dec 2003

Reviewing the year 2003.(a look at trends and forecasts in dance world)(appreciation of tap dancer Gregory Hines) From: Dance Magazine | Date: 12/1/2003 | Author: Goldberg, Jane AS YEARS GO, 2003 wasn't a great one for dance--with a few notable exceptions, The states' budget shortfalls, belt-tightening, and conservative spending have progressed nationally and internationally to a wave of layoffs, closures, and cancellations of projects, and of course, war. But announced plans for 2004 are spectacular, so expand your calendar for events you just can't skip. Confidence in economic recovery is reinforced by increased attendance reported at major summer festivals and single performances. Communities in North America display their optimism in the future by major capital building of theaters and performing arts centers. LESS AND MORE Between visa denials by embassies and the SARS epidemic, you would think that international travel was inhibited, but except for quarantine-declared regions such as Toronto and parts of Asia, dance-related tourism travel grew rather than diminished. "Yes, the Chinese students were denied visas by the American Embassy in China because of the SARS issue," reported a spokesperson for the Youth America Grand Prix competition. "We lost some really great students from the Beijing Arts Academy and Shin Jen Arts Academy--and also some international students because of the war in Iraq. No visas were granted after the war started, but those who had applied before had no problem. We lost students from Canada, Japan, France, Brazil, and Mexico. Nevertheless, we had a very successful competition." Many dance workshops and competitions that were held during the summer reported record-breaking numbers of applicants. But: World health officials are now recommending inoculation this year against a particularly virulent flu virus that has already struck Australia and areas of Southeast Asia, the area of the planet where these attacks are often first identified. International tracking of communicable diseases offers the hope of preventing runaway epidemics that close schools and theater box offices. ART IS PAYING OFF Choreographers Mark Dendy, Mia Michaels, and Twyla Tharp, who are better known for their work in concert dance, applied their skills to the commercial stage in Taboo!, A New Day, and Movin' On, respectively. And Broadway and Las Vegas audiences responded with ticket sales and applause. Is this a trend? Let's hope so. POINTING OUT THE BEST Four members of the dance community were honored with the prestigious Dance Magazine Award in April 2003: recently retired American ballerina Susan Jaffe; choreographer and artistic director of Frankfurt Ballet William Forsythe; New York City Ballet principal Jock Soto; and Charles Reinhart and his wife, Stephanie (awarded postumously), directors of the American Dance Festival. Guests chatted with the recipients following the presentations at Merkin Hall in New York City. POINTING OUT THE BEST A building boom of performing arts centers gives new venues to many dance, theater, and music companies. Support for these capital campaigns is coming mostly from private donors these days, rather than public funding--which has been significantly withdrawn. Among the constructions are Kansas City Ballet's new center (right); Pacific Northwest Ballet's McCaw Center; National Ballet of Canada's Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto; Joan Weill Center for Dance for the Alvin Ailey school and company in New York City; Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. University centers haven't been left behind: University of Arizona's new center in Tucson; Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts of Bard College, New York; and London's Laban Centre. "We are going forward," said William Whitener, artistic director of Kansas City Ballet, "but with private contributions." THE YEAR 2003 was especially hard on the tap community, as a long list of names the public recognizes--and whose skills respired generations of new dancers and audiences--passed into memory: Cholly Atkins, Buddy Ebsen, Al Gilbert, Donald O'Connor, Sandman Sims, and of course, Gregory Hines. TALKING TAP (ONE LAST TIME) WITH GREGORY HINES "I want to tap for the people, Jane. I want to bring tap dancing to the people." Gregory Hines said that to me often in Greenwich Village, where we were during the 1980s. He succeeded like nobody else did. Gregory was reintroducing tap dancing into the mainstream on Broadway with shows like Sophisticated Ladies, Eubie, movies like White Nights, Cotton Club, TAP!, and television like his Great Performances PBS special, Johnny Carson, and Letterman. I--and many dancers like me--on the other band, was taking it into much more intimate venues: downtown lofts, Jacob's Pillow, and the American Dance Festival, where tap had been shuffled out of the public eye for years. From our first meeting--backstage at Black Broadway, a show he ended up emceeing when Honi Coles got sick--we were partners in tap. I was looking for John Bubbles and stumbled over Hines, who was stretched out on the floor in second position. He told me he'd heard from his wife about "some white chick tapping with the old hoofers at DTW" and I told hint I liked that he wore his glasses in Eubie. We both loved talking about tap--its past, present, and future. We were totally addicted. I even brought out my tape recorder at his daughter's wedding and he spouted his take on the Irish roots of tap. We were baby boomers, ex-hippies, and finally part of the big tap revival of 1978, when lap was blossoming in all kinds of venues and Gregory. Hines was our Pied Piper. He carried his shoes everywhere. I ALREADY knew from an interview I'd read that he missed talking about his old mentors, men like Sandman Sims, Bunny Briggs, and Honi Coles. I was a disciple of those veterans too, just years later. In my last interview with Gregory (which turned out to be his last interview with anyone) we talked about lap as if his cancer didn't exist. Neither of us knew how long he had, but he was one hopeful hoofer. He even got up, and showed me how much better he walked this year. "I was always impressed by feet," he said. "Always.... Time is in the feet. It's all there--in the feet. I play drums and I play okay, but I drag the time when I play drums. There were times when I've been playing that I could feel myself dragging the time and [that] I'm trying to get back. The bass player has got it and I'm dragging it. I just love watching a person who's got great feet, and the time is impeccable. One of the great things that separates tap dancing from everything else is that you see the body move and you hear the body move. If I'm watching somebody and their movements have a beautiful grace to them, but their feet are not happening--I'm not saying that they're not a good dancer [but] it's feet that really impress me the most." OVER THE years we argued about recognition and credit, tap's natural succession, women and wardrobe, He was "so sick of loose and comfortable"; I didn't want to see tapping women in unitards; I reminded him thai he was a guy and what right did he have to be so obsessed with what women wore anyway. When the future of tap came around, it was inevitably about Savion Glover. He adored Savion, and was a real father figure to him. In this conversation he compared Glover to Bill Russell of the 1960s Boston Celtics, who revolutionized the game of basketball. "Savion took tap dancing and he changed it ... changed how people saw it, changed how people wanted to learn it, changed how people wanted to perform it and put it to the degree that if you want to see the progression, you have to see Savion last ... You want to see Riverdance? Cool. You want to see Lord of the Dance? You want to see Tap Dogs, Stomp? See them first. Don't see Noise/Funk and then go to Tap Dogs. You have to see Tap Dogs, enjoy it for what it is--hunky guys dancing in various forms of undress, dancing on water. Then you go see what tap dancing is, where it is, where Savion continues to take it." I've always regretted that I wasn't a Hines tapomane, watching him improvise every night in Sophisticated Ladies on Broadway the way balletomanes watched Suzanne Farrell's or Darci Kistler's growth nightly during the ballet seasons. No one I know ever followed Gregory's dancing except possibly Barry Saperstein, who worked with him ever since the family act of Hines, Hines, and Dad played the Catskills at the tail end of vaudeville and the beginning of television. Saperstein was his drummer and musical director continuously on the road where he made a living for his family doing his nightclub act on concert, college, and Las Vegas stages (he carried his own floors in later years) when he wasn't doing movies, television, and always, always appearing in tap benefits, on everyone's boards of directors, giving advice. K. C. Patrick remembers Gregory at a press conference being introduced as the first celebrity spokesperson for National Dance Week in 19xx when she was the only journalist there. With no formal agenda, he nonetheless spread the word for dance in every class and performance he gave that year. JUST LOOK AT what he e-mailed first-time producer Jason Samuels-Smith for an event that he was supposed to benefit during the week he died: "Jason, I'm looking forward to the Los Angeles Tap Festival, my brother, and I've got a real good feeling about how it's gonna be received by the city's dancers and tap lovers. Other than the performance on August 17, can you give me the dates you'd like me to teach a class, and hold a panel discussion? If you can, just put it in the contract, so I can make the moves necessary to keep any conflicts from getting in the way. Also, you know how I hate to bring up the money issue, but I've found over the years, it's very important to keep all cards on the table. So, please make sure my $5.00 fee is stated clearly in the contract. Don't make me have to hunt you down like a dog to get my money!!! You make me so proud, my brother. Love, Greg Hines." He had that kind of loving relationship, it seems, to anyone with a pair of tap shoes. COPYRIGHT 2003 Dance Magazine, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact Copyright Clearance Center.

Jane Goldberg