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Dance in Time: October
This month marks the birthdays of modern dance pioneers Ted Shawn (1891–1972; Kansas City, Missouri) and Doris Humphrey (1895–1958; Oak Park, Illinois); famed tapper Fayard Nicholas (1914–2006; Mobile, Alabama); choreographer Jerome Robbins (1918–1998; New York City); dance icon and National Ballet of Canada artistic director Erik Bruhn (1928–1986; Copenhagen, Denmark); San Francisco Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson (1942–; Reykjavik, Iceland); musical theater star Ben Vereen (1946–; Miami, Florida); hip-hop choreographer (and one-half of Nappytabs) Napoleon D’umo (1968–; Victorville, California); and rhythm tap dancer (and Gregory Hines Humanitarian Award recipient) Jason Samuels Smith (1980–; New York City).
On October 30, 1944, Martha Graham’s famed work Appalachian Spring premiered at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, with Graham dancing the lead role, supported by Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, and May O’Donnell. Graham designed the costumes, and the sets were by sculptor Isamu Noguchi, whose long-term collaboration with the groundbreaking choreographer encompassed roughly 20 dances, including Cave of the Heart, Errand Into the Maze, Night Journey, and Embattled Garden. Appalachian Spring was set to commissioned music by Aaron Copland, for which the composer was honored with the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music. He called his work-in-progress Ballet for Martha; it was Graham who came up with the title Appalachian Spring.
On October 22, 1948, the film The Red Shoes—based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and perhaps the most iconic of dance films (and backstage dramas)—was released in the United States. Moira Shearer, a dancer with Sadler’s Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet), starred as Vicky Page, whose passion for dance and need for love led to her doom. Shot in Technicolor, and with a mind-bending climactic performance scene, the film contains such dialogue gems as this exchange: Boris Lermontov (ballet impresario): “Why do you want to dance?” Page: “Why do you want to live?”
In October 1992, Kevin McKenzie was appointed artistic director of American Ballet Theatre. Trained by Mary Day at the Washington School of Ballet, in 1972 McKenzie won a silver medal at the Sixth International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. He danced with National Ballet of Washington and The Joffrey Ballet before joining ABT, where he became a principal dancer and performed until 1991. As a choreographer, he is best known for his versions of the full-length classics.