The season of Thanksgiving is the season to remember what you’re thankful for. We’ve all had someone in our lives we’ve lost, someone of value to us as both a person and as a dancer. In the spirit of gratitude, Dance Magazine asked six prominent dancers and teachers to remember such a person—someone they looked up to, learned from, and miss. This is their time to remember.
In memory: Gerald Arpino
Dancer, Joffrey Ballet
Mr. Arpino was not just my director; he was a father. He never called us by name; he called us “babies.” Because I’m 6′ 6 “, he was always saying, “You’re so tall!” He said that to me every day like he never saw me before. Mr. Arpino always knew how to target my weaknesses and make me face them. He was really straightforward about it, firm but at the same time loving. He knew how to communicate what he wanted without being too aggressive.
I auditioned in 2001, but I couldn’t get a visa, so I went back to Paris for a year. But then I just had to go to Chicago—I don’t know why. My parents thought I was crazy. So I took that long trip from Paris just to take one class. I hadn’t met Mr. Arpino yet. After class, nothing. I left the studio and Mr. Arpino was walking by. “Oh! Here you are!” he says. “We’ve been waiting for you!” It was magical. He chose to hire me right then, so there was a tie right from the beginning.
The Joffrey is like a family today because of him. It’s so amazing to see dancers growing in such an environment. You see healthy minds. Mr. Arpino set an example as a leader who does not just boss people around. His company, his dancers came first, not himself.
From top: Gerald Arpino. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, DM Archives; Fabrice Calmels in Othello. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy Joffrey
In memory: Gus Giordano
Choreographer/Producer; former dancer, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago
Gus was passionate about proving that jazz dance is just as valuable as other art forms, and I am on the same crusade. You need to have so much core strength to do his style. The Fosse work was easy for me because I had so much Giordano background. In Gus’ style, everything is hit hard, everything is done in plié; your arms are moving through space like you’re moving through cement or peanut butter. Nothing is easy. I was incredibly drawn to it. You must have another whole awareness of your being to execute that correctly. He supplied you with the motivation; he would be clapping and emphasizing with his voice. He was like a cheerleader: “Come on!” and “Go!” and “Pow!” (That’s another thing I still do!) He knew how to inspire people to want to dance. He really looked at you. You felt like he understood you. He was so approachable, and he always spoke the truth.
In the company, we did a lot of commercial work—industrial shows, fashion shows—and it was never less important than the concert work. Everything was exciting. Everything deserved equal artistic respect. I got that from him.
Not even a year before he died, I gave my piece, The Man That Got Away, to the company. He made it all the way upstairs to watch rehearsal, and he just sat there and laughed and laughed through the whole thing. To have somebody who was such a part of my
upbringing respond in that way was perfect!
From top: Gus Giordano. Photo from DM Archives; Sherry Zunker. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
In memory: Harvey Hysell
Principal, Houston Ballet
I met Harvey Hysell when I auditioned for The Nutcracker when I was 8 years old. He made a little solo for me. After that I switched schools to train with him until I left for San Francisco Ballet when I was 17, so the bulk of my training came from him. He wasn’t just a teacher: He choreographed and designed sets and costumes. My appreciation of all that goes into a ballet production comes from him. It was amazing to have someone like Harvey choreograph on me at such a young age. I miss being able to pick up the phone to discuss a role or my career. Whenever I went home to New Orleans I would show him what I was working on. When I was in the corps and still unsure of myself, Harvey asked what roles I was doing, making me realize I was exactly where I should be. It helped to hear that from him. When I first danced Swan Lake in 2000, he worked on my port de bras. I remember him telling me of the lightness of how a wing would land—the arm first, with the feathers following. He told me to learn every role that I could and I did. That advice turned out to be key. He used to say, “You have the legs to be a great tutu dancer.” He followed my career, traveling to see me in many shows. I also appreciated that he told my parents that I was headed for a difficult life as a dancer. That honesty proved a good thing.
From top: Harvey Hysell. Photo by Donn Young, DM Archives; Mireille Hassenboehler. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB
In memory: Fernando Bujones
Chair of dance department, Patel Conservatory (former director, Orlando Ballet School)
First I idolized him as a star dancer, and then he became a teacher and a coach for me at Boston Ballet. There was tremendous purity in his dancing. He pushed ballet forward in terms of what male dancers could do. It was his clarity, the anatomical integrity, the precision, the way he moved in and out of positions. He was also incredibly bravura.
Fernando was one of the most generous friends I’ve ever had. He was always willing to promote those he loved. He was incredibly enthusiastic and he motivated through positive encouragement. Whenever you’d do anything just slightly better, he’d jump up and say, “That’s so great, it’s so much better! Doesn’t that feel good?”
Fernando taught the Orlando Ballet dancers to present themselves and they looked fantastic. We’ve had a lot of boys come to Orlando Ballet, and now they’re dancing all over—at New York City Ballet, PNB, in San Francisco, and so forth. I’m training better dancers than I was, and that’s because of Fernando. He changed my life.
I miss his humor. He loved to laugh. He loved dancing, he loved to be in the studio. He would never sit in a chair. He always had a towel around his neck because he was always up and sweating.
He was so happy to give, he was happy for my success. The dancers adored him. He was fun to work with, and he made them feel better about themselves.
From top: Fernando Bujones. Photo by Zeida Cecilia Mendez, Courtesy Diane Carney; Peter Stark with students of Patel Conservatory Youth Ballet. Photo by Michelle Revels, Courtesy Patel
In memory: Vicente Nebrada
Soloist, Houston Ballet
When I was 8, I was in his Nutcracker as a little soldier at the end of the line. During one rehearsal, he asked his assistant what my name was and told me to come to the front of the line. He said I was the only one doing it right, the only one who understood the music. I was beyond excited. Then when I was 14, he asked to meet me. I couldn’t believe I had the honor to meet him. I wanted to tell him, “I’m dying to be in your company.” But I was so nervous, all I could say was, “Hi!”
At 16, I started my career in Vicente Nebrada’s ballets at Ballet Nacional de Caracas. I always loved him and his work and miss him still. I remember him sitting in the studio giving corrections. He was super serious and would get angry sometimes. He just cared so much about what he was doing.
As a choreographer he looked for dancers that performed with heart. He wanted you to feel what you’re doing, not just lift your leg or turn. So by starting with his pieces I learned to dance with my soul. Also the pas de deux he created are passionate. You need to trust your partner and through that I learned to truly connect. When I danced his ballets I moved to another place, a higher plane. That’s what he pulled out of me, and that’s what I miss the most.
Though I never got to work with him as a company member, his partner Zane Wilson told me that right before he died, Nebrada said, ‘I see talent in this girl. Help her with her career.’ It was one of his last wishes.
From top: Vincente Nebrada. Photo by Ricardo Armas, DM Archives; Karina Gonzalez. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB
In memory: Eva Evdokimova
Choreographer, artistic director, SENSEDANCE
I was a student at the Hamburg Opera Ballet School. Eva Evdokimova did Giselle, and I’ve never seen anything like it—she was otherworldly. I took her class religiously at Ballet Arts in New York beginning around 2000. Her sense of musicality and rhythm gave an alertness to every step. We talked a lot after class and just clicked. She was my teacher, my mentor, but we would go to performances together and talk about them. She trained my eye and taught me things I otherwise might not have noticed—it was the greatest education. I asked her if she wanted to perform as a guest in my 2002 series at The Kitchen and she said, “I don’t want to perform just any solo. I think you should choreograph one for me.” What an opportunity! After working together, we became very close friends. Her hunger for knowledge was inspiring; I would get a call from her in the evening, “Did you read this book?!” Her discipline, respect for everybody, commitment, and her artistry, were amazing lessons. Through her classes I became interested in incorporating ballet into my choreography, and working with pointe. She believed in me; having an artist as great as her trust in your artistic choices—it’s empowering. What I take from her is quiet fearlessness.
From top: Eva Evdokimova. Photo by Zoe Dominic, DM Archives; Henning Rübsam. Photo by Antonio Yussif, Courtesy Rübsam
Interviews by Lynn Colburn Shapiro, Lauren Kay, Wendy Perron, Debbie Schneider, and Nancy Wozny