Being a dancer is being human

As a dancer, Maude Baum speaks with her body. But this Saturday at Proctors, Baum and 30 other dance
“From the Horse’s Mouth†gathers all the area’s dance movers and shakers onto one stage. The show has been described as “dance history on the hoof.â€&#157
“From the Horse’s Mouth†gathers all the area’s dance movers and shakers onto one stage. The show has been described as “dance history on the hoof.â€&#157

As a dancer, Maude Baum speaks with her body. But this Saturday at Proctors, Baum and 30 other dancers will speak with words.

Baum will be joined by Tina Fretto Baird (tap), Rich Kuperberg (mime), Diane Lachtrupp (tango), Frank A. Lombardo (universal peace), Debra Pigliavento (Broadway), Paul Rosenberg (contra) and Livia Vanaver (clogging) and others for “From the Horse’s Mouth” — a show that is a living diorama of dance past and present.

The show’s creators, Tina Croll and James Cunningham, said the experience is liberating. For the audience, it humanizes the idealized dancers. And for the dancers, they reunite with colleagues and find common ground with newcomers to their profession. Better still, it’s inclusive. Every dancer, from ballerinas to hoofers, are invited to take part.

Appeal to senses

“It’s a sensory piece,” said Baum. ”There is always someone speaking or dancing. There is a lot to watch.”

‘From the Horse’s Mouth’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $19, $16 and $12

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or

Baum knows — she has appeared in the show twice before. The first time was early in its decade-long history, at St. Mark’s Church in New York City. She said the older dancers reminisced while the young ones discussed a current project, its successes and frustrations. Others, like Sue Lauther of Emma Willard School, talked about making pancakes.

“It’s not about dance; it’s about being human,” said Cunningham.

No matter the topic, the creators said “From the Horse’s Mouth” is dance history on the hoof.

“We did the show originally in New York because we knew so many interesting friends in dance,” said Croll, who worked with Cunningham on and off since the mid-1960s at Dance Theater Workshop. “We wanted to include all these amazing people in something, and we came up with this structure.”

“We started with stories because I was going to Al-Anon meetings,” said Cunningham. “People were talking about their problems and I thought, ‘This is interesting theater.’ They talked about their work, their lives and the conflicts. Some were resolved, some not. They were serious; they were silly.”

The New York City premiere at the Joyce Soho included luminaries Martine van Hamel, Carol Lawrence, Carmen de Lavallade, Deborah Jowitt and Viola Farber. Mary Anthony, then 84, told of coming to New York to study with Martha Graham and discovering she was disqualified for a scholarship because she wasn’t a boy.

Gus Solomon Jr. remembered being punished as a child for dancing, once at church and once when he did a back flip and broke the living room window. Farber, who died soon after the premiere, spoke of how she believed her legs would always serve her.

When Baum, an Albany-based choreographer, performed at St. Mark’s, she recalled dancing Isadora Duncan’s “Nocturne” in St. Petersburg, Russia, on the very stage that Duncan herself performed the Chopin dance. While dancing, “my feet could not longer feel the floor. My body wasn’t mine anymore. I transcended time and space.”

This time around, Baum wants to talk about transformation and her future. Is this about aging? “No. I want to talk about what I can do and what I want to do, not what I can’t do,” said Baum.

Xinhau Lee, a traditional Chinese dancer from Clifton Park, said she is still considering what story to tell. She is certain, however, she will perform a traditional fan dance.

And that’s another vital component of “From the Horse’s Mouth.” Not only do the cast members share personal stories — they also create personal movement phrases. So as the piece unfolds, three performers are dancing, either alone or together, while another gives a brief monologue.

It’s a simple structure, that Lee said, “sounds interesting and exciting.”

Early success

The first showing of “From the Horse’s Mouth” in 1998, was a rousing success for both audiences and artists. When the show was revived in 2000 with different cast, Jack Anderson of The New York Times praised the work as “heartwarming” and ended his review with “bless them all.”

It has since been staged by the members of the Martha Graham Dance Company, the dance students at New York University as well as dancers in Ithaca, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto.

“Dancers love it because it brings them together,” said Croll. “They thirst to come together.”

“You have to understand,” said Cunningham. “There is so much competition in dance.”

“And now they are working together. It’s a great love fest,” said Croll.

Another reason for its popularity with dance communities is that “From the Horse’s Mouth” can be staged in three days. For the Proctors event, Croll and Cunningham will come to town on Thursday. On that day, they will sharpen the stories that must be kept to one-and-a-half minutes.

“This is the most difficult thing for the dancers because they aren’t used to expressing themselves in words.”

On Friday, Croll and Cunningham will work on the movement phrases, which will be dropped into a structured improvisation.

Like a playground

“They go to different points on the stage where they are given instructions on what to do with their movement phrase, like do it slow two times,” said Cunningham. “It’s like a playground.”

On Saturday afternoon, the cast will have a tech and dress rehearsal. The curtain will go up that night. Consequently, the feel is spontaneous.

Over the years, Croll and Cunningham said, they have staged “From the Horse’s Mouth” with dancers as young as 9 and those in their 80s.

“I think one of the nice things is you’re reminded that no matter what generation you come from, you are part of a community,” said Cunningham.

“Yes,” said Croll. “It’s about the sheer love of this art form. The dedication they all have to it and how amazing it is.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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