World War II vet traveled globe with Martha Graham
For 20-year-old Stuart Hodes, the prospect of dancing for a living seemed laughable. He had just finished three years of service as a pilot in WWII, an experience he remembers as â€œa war that nobody doubted was good.
Although he wanted to become a journalist, he became discouraged by the fact that, as he recalls, â€œyou could throw a stone in Times Square and it would land on a reporter.
So Stuart went into public relations, unsure of his future but bolstered by the savings that his mother had set aside for him while he was in the military.
â€œI suddenly had $14,000, which was a lot of money back then. A subway ride cost five cents, he said.
The PR job led to a chance encounter with an actor who worked for Martha Graham, causing Stuart to look up the Graham practice studio in the phone book. When he saw two performers rehearsing in the theater, he wondered if he could become good enough to join them.
â€œI realized how like flying dancing was, said the former pilot. â€œDancing won"t answer the question that philosophers and poets try to answer, which is why things happen the way they do. Instead, dancing abolishes the whys's it just celebrates the moment, celebrates the fact that a dance is happening right here and now.
Despite the fact that he was 21 and never received any training in dance, Stuart began taking lessons that September. By December, he was asked to join the company.
â€œI was the right size, and they just needed more male dancers, he insisted. â€œBasically, I could walk across the room without falling down.
Even after five years of touring the world, dancing in the ensemble and choreographing some works of his own, Hodes was hesitant to call himself a professional dancer.
â€œDancing wasn"t something you did for a living, especially if you were a man, he said.
Although he supplemented his work for the company with Broadway gigs and private dance instruction, the financial pressure of a growing family eventually caused him to leave the company in 1958. Yet he continued his friendship with Graham until her death in 1991, and still sings her praises.
â€œMartha Graham was an adventure, he said. â€œDancing with her was like walking on the dark side of the moon. You never knew what you were going to see. She invented things and places that had never been conceived before.
Graham"s achievements were the product of her extraordinary talent, but she was also motivated to exert herself physically and mentally to the point of exhaustion. â€œShe was merciless to herself, said Hodes. â€œShe never asked you to do anything she wouldn"t do herself.
Her limitless energy and creativity often boiled over into heated arguments with her dancers.
â€œShe was a genius, and she believed in her own genius, but she was very insecure about people. You had to prove your loyalty to her. She had a temper, and when she was angry with you, she set out to absolutely nail you. But I had a temper, too. And however difficult Martha was to live with, you forgave her when she was onstage.
In one of Graham"s more memorable confrontations with young Stuart Hodes, she protested that his pants were too baggy. She declared that from that point on, â€œyour pants should be so tight that people in the topmost balcony could count your buttocks!
For Hodes and contemporary dance theorists, the task of defining the Graham technique is a complicated one.
â€œDance writers can bore you to death about what makes modern dance modern, said Hodes. The best description may actually be a comparison to earlier forms of dance.
â€œBallet is ethereal, looking heavenward. With ballet, everyone wants to be an angel en pointe. But in modern dance, you"re earth-bound, human. Martha made it noble to be human's to suffer, to love, to be small and to not be considered â€˜pretty."
Hodes, a Manhattan resident, enjoys the proximity of his two daughters, who reside in New York. He and his wife Liz have set up a makeshift theater in their apartment, often filming themselves performing scenes from plays and musicals. Stuart is also working on his memoirs.
As they move from dancing and choreographing to acting, writing, traveling and music teaching, the couple adheres to his affirmation that â€œcreating anything is an adventure.
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