DanceView Times, New York edition
Letter from New York
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
Baroque en Haïti
V. Dances for the
Sailors and Stevedores
VI. At the Salle de
Spectacles (Haitian opera house, burned down 1804)
VII. Haitian Spirit
VIII. Drum Solo (Damas Fan-Fan Louis)
IX. The Contredanse
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