writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Letter from New York

3 November 2003.
Copyright ©2003 by Mindy Aloff

Letter from New York

Jinx Falkenburg, one of the pioneers of live talk on television, estimated that, during the 1940s and ‘50s—when she was producing two radio shows and a live t.v. show daily, five days a week, with her husband, Tex McCrary—she conducted over 16,000 interviews. Many of them were with political figures, such as Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon. Some were with intellectuals, such as Albert Einstein. And thousands were with entertainers, among them, Fred Astaire, whom Jinx interviewed while dancing with him. Among the youngsters on the production crew for these programs were William Safire and Barbara Walters, who closely studied Jinx’s interviewing style and went on to incorporate it into her own way of approaching subjects on camera.

Journalist; cover girl; movie starlet (she played a bit part in the Gene Kelly-Stanley Donen movie Cover Girl, whose script was based on her own career); champion swimmer, tennis player, and golfer—Jinx only danced for pleasure. She was never formally trained. However, her lanky frame (5’9” or so), intense athletic discipline, perfect posture, and lush, high-boned beauty gave her the look of a dancer. Had her life taken a different turn, she might well have been a great one. Two weeks before her death, on August 27th of this year, she excavated several publicity photos taken of her on the set of Tahiti Nights, a hapless movie from 1945. One shows her in a vivid leap, somewhere between a saut de chat and a grand jeté; another shows her poised in sous-sus on high, 7/8th point, her legs pulled up like the stems of martini glasses—each producing one smoothly continuous line that might have been drawn by Al Hirschfeld.

Looking at these images, a dancegoer is reminded that a fundamental part of one’s effect in dance is a matter of the cards that Nature has dealt: proportions, musculature, flexibility, stamina. I think of what the Martha Graham dancer Phyllis Gutelius once observed in an interview I conducted with her during the 1970s: that a dancer has two bodies—the body that she or he is born with, and the body that she or he creates. Jinx Falkenburg lived a tremendous, rich, ranging life that included heroic acts of generosity—entertaining some million G.I.s in Burma, China, and India during the Second World War, cofounding North Shore Hospital in Long Island and participating for decades there as a volunteer. I expect to chronicle some of them in another context: her body, lovely as it was, couldn’t compare with the dimensions of her heart. Still, it was one of the great bodies of the 20th century, photographed tens of thousands of times; and the playfulness, the fire, the joy in being alive that animated it belonged to a generation that included Maria Tallchief, Janet Reed, Lena Horne, Alicia Alonso, Rita Hayworth, Jeni LeGon, and a host of other stage and screen goddesses, as well as to my mother, who, like Jinx, never studied dance but loved it anyway—a generation that, when it stepped out, often went dancing. It was in their blood to make their own fun, with their swinging skirts and shapely gams and unself-consciously immediate relationship to rhythm and song. Their bodies eventually betrayed them, yet they never lost that cocktail of realism and humor that W.W.II served them when they came of age. They are the girls encapsulated in Fancy Free, Diversion of Angels, Gaîté Parisienne, La Valse. Young dancers who impersonate them today have to be coached to produce the spontaneity they dispensed with such seeming effortlessness and élan.

Jinx’s memorial service, a celebration of her life organized by her elder son John McCrary, took place at the Congregational Church of Manhasset, Long Island, on Saturday afternoon, November 1st. Members of her family and several close friends spoke affectingly, and the church’s choir sang selections from operas and cantatas by Delibes, Vivaldi, Brahms, and other luminaries with a perfection of tone that parallels the sound of the choir at the Metropolitan Opera.

On Saturday evening, I attended a second facet of heaven: Soirée Baroque en Haïti, an imaginatively programmed and impeccably performed evening of music and dance at the Alliance-Française, produced by The New York Baroque Dance Company and the early-music orchestra, Concert Royal. For this show, collaborators included the Dallas Black Dance Theatre and several master drummers from Haiti, Panama, and Canada by way of New York. Soirée Baroque marries reconstructions and free impressions of the French court dancing imported to Haiti prior to the 1804 slave revolution there with theatricalized possession dances of Haiti’s native practitioners of Vodun, for which, according to a program note, dance constituted a “sacrifice to the Gods. . .the greatest gift [of] one’s entire being.” When the dancers in heeled shoes and the dancers who were barefoot, each separately wonderful in their own realms, intermingled in an Allemande to “Le Devin du Village,” music composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one saw in art what one would never have seen in life: an Apollonian abstraction of how dancing can level differences of race and class by requiring attention to a process larger than any individual. The French made slaves of the Haitians; however, all of them have equal citizenship in the contredancing. It is a utopian vision of society as well as of art, and it was powerfully argued by all the performers involved. Most touching also was the performance by Concert Royal, distributed over the evening, of the three movements from the Violin Concerto in C by Joseph Boulogne (also known as Chevalier de Saint-Georges)—who, as Richman explained, was a 19th-century Caribbean virtuoso of color who almost became the director of the Paris Opéra. (In 1775, the year Boulogne was appointed the music director for Queen Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI wanted to make him the Opéra’s director as well, but withdrew that appointment after protests over the composer’s race.) It is a very good concerto, and the adagio, especially, speaks with a feeling that transcends the centuries.

Yet the vision of this extraordinary program only persuaded because the dancing and choreography across the evening were so fine. I single out the aquiline flights of Edmond Giles and the liquid charm of Ingrid Abbott from the Dallas company in Raboday (choreographed Marcea Daiter, dancer and NYU professor); and the New York Baroque’s David Rodriguez and Caroline Copeland, whose Orpheus and Euridice duet to Glück (choreographed by Turocy in period style) could have stepped directly out of a painting by Watteau, with all the rose petals and piercing thorns still dewy fresh (perhaps, given the rather brisk tempo of the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits," the phrase should be "skittered out.") I was especially moved by two moments: the figure for the arms in a waltz, danced by Copeland and Timothy Wilson (and reconstructed by Elizabeth Aldrich), in which one saw the couple’s limbs momentarily gel into a rectangular window with a hand lapping over the sill, like a scarf, and the pre-curtain appearance of Jean-Léon Destiné—choreographer, legendary star of the Katherine Dunham company, and scholar of dance history—who, with charismatic dignity, voiced welcoming remarks on the art and spirit of dancing that started the evening on a very high level, indeed. It seems unfair that this complex and fascinating evening of dancing and music should only have had two performances (there was a matinee on Sunday, November 2nd). The fact that the theater was only half filled on Saturday is an excellent particle of evidence on behalf of the thesis that, however the times we live in might be characterized, the word “reason” is not a part of it. –Mindy Aloff

A Jinx Falkenburg Filmography

Soirée Baroque en Haïti
With The New York Baroque Dance Company (Catherine Turocy, Artistic Director; Dancers: Caroline Copeland, Sarah Edgar, Ani Udovicki, David Rodriguez, Seth Williams, Timothy Wilson)
Dallas Black Dance Theatre (Ann Williams, Artistic Director and Founder; Dancers: Ingrid Abbott, Nycole Ray, Melissa M. Young, Edmond Giles, Garfield Lemonius, Armando Silva)
Concert Royal (James Richman, Artistic Director and Harpsichord; Cynthia Roberts, Judson Griffin, Baroque Violins; Tamara Meredith, Baroque Flute and Viola; James Gallagher, Baroque Violin and Viola; Christine Gummere, Baroque Cello; Melissa Slocum, Violone)
Drummers for Haitian Dances (Damas Fan-Fan Louis, Master Drummer; Paul Daiter, Jean Mary, Rogelio Teran).
Special Guest Speaker: Jean-Léon Destiné

I. Prologue
Violin Concerto in C Major, Opus 3, #2 - Allegro (Joseph Boulogne, dit Chevalier de Saint-Georges)
Haitian Overture: Welcome by Jean-Léon Destiné

II. Social Dances from the French Colony
La Valse (Reconstructed by Elizabeth Aldrich; Dancers: Caroline Copeland and Timothy Wilson)
Menuet à Quatre (Music: W.A. Mozart; Period Choreography: Catherine Turocy; Dancers: Sarah Edgar,
Ani Udovicki, Seth Williams, Timothy Wilson)
Asaka (Contredanse) (Choreographic Reconstruction: Marcea Daiter; Dancers: Nycole Ray, Melissa M. Young, Garfield Lemonius, Edmond Giles, Armando Silva)

III. Violin Concerto in C Major, Opus 3, #2 – Adagio (see above)

IV. Pantomime
Colonial French: Les Caractères de la Danse (Music: Jean Féry Rebel; Choreographer and Dancer;
Catherine Turocy)
Story Dances of the Haitians: A Haitian Myth (Choreographic Reconstruction: Marcea Daiter; Dancers: Ray, Garfield Lemonius, Edmond Giles)

V. Dances for the Sailors and Stevedores
The Hornpipe of John Durang (Choreographic Reconstruction: Carol Téten; Dancers: Seth Williams, Timothy Williams)
Raboday (Choreography: Marcea Daiter; Dancers: Ingrid Abbott, Garfield Lemonius, Armando Silva, Edmond Giles)

VI. At the Salle de Spectacles (Haitian opera house, burned down 1804)
Dance of the Blessed Spirits (Music: Christoff Willibald von Glück; Choreography: Catherine Turocy; Dancers: Caroline Copeland (Euridyce), David Rodriguez (Orphée)
Violin Concerto in C Major, Opus 3, #2 – Rondeau (see above)
La Nouvelle Yorck (Music: anonymous; Choreography: M. Roger, reconstructed by Catherine Turocy; Dancers: Nycole Ray, Melissa M. Young, Ingrid Abbott, Sarah Edgar, Amando Silva, David Rodriguez, Seth Williams, Timothy Wilson)

VII. Haitian Spirit Dances
Vodun Zépaule

VIII. Drum Solo (Damas Fan-Fan Louis)

IX. The Contredanse
Allemande (Music, Le Devin du Village, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Period Choreography: Catherine Turocy, assisted by Marcea Daiter)

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 6
November 3, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Mndy Aloff



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on November 3, 2003