In a letter he dictated from a hospital bed in 1991, Hawkins wrote: "I cherish strangeness because it can shatter ordinary reality ... What I'm after is a new structural possibility . . . the hurtling of strange jewellike explosions of high dynamics into a continuum of mythic meditative hush." Translated into choreographic terms, that meant dance that avoided linear structure in favor of a stage-filling flow of carefully regulated movement animated by intense inner (and visible) energy. His technique was designed to avoid the artificiality of ballet and the tense, percussive quality of Martha Graham. Instead, it emphasized freedom and a flow of movement.
The technique was a physicalization of Hawkins's theories of dance and of art in general. Art, he believed, should bring audiences to illumination, to the state known in Zen Buddhism as satori. His works are abstract rather than literal and evocative rather than didactic. Instead of dramatizing psychological or physical conflict, they suggest cooperation among the dancers and a comfortable relationship between them and the space they inhabit. In Plains Daybreak (1979), based on American Indian mythology, the world is a sacred and innocent universe in which each of the primal animals, including man, is honored for its own attributes.
The establishment of harmony was a major motif of Hawkins's choreography. Even gravity was not an enemy; rather than battling it, performers accept its force and discard and reestablish equilibrium without apparent strain.
Hawkins was born April 23, 1909, in Trinidad, Colorado. In 1926 he won a scholarship to Harvard, where he majored in Greek civilization. Classical Greece became one of four great cultural influences on his work, along with the American ideal. the Native American ideal, and Zen.
It was a concert by the German expressionist dancers Harald Kreutzber and Yvonne Georgi that decided him on his future. After graduating from Harvard in 1930, Hawkins spent two months in Austria studying with Kreutzberg, but his real work began when he enrolled at the School of American Ballet in 1934, the year of its founding. Hawkins danced with the American Ballet, the first company organized by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, from 1935 to 1937, and then with Kirstein's Ballet Caravan, a troupe founded to stress American themes. His first work, Show Piece (1937). was for Ballet Caravan.
Hawkins met Martha Graham at Bennington College; in 1938, when she invited him to appear as a guest artist in American Document, he became the first man to dance with her company and, he once remarked, "possibly the first man to dance without a shirt on." The following year he officially joined the company as her partner; he created leading roles in such important Graham works as El Penitente (1940), Deaths and Entrances (1943), Appalachian Spring (1944), and Night Journey (1947). Hawkins and Graham were married in 1948 and divorced six years later.
After leaving the Graham troupe in 1951, he formed his own small ensemble and began to develop his own style. Around that time he met the composer Lucia Dlugoszewski, who remained his companion and artistic collaborator for the rest of his life. Their first collaboration was a suite of five solos called Openings for the Eye, but it was the 1957 Here and Now With Watchers, that signaled the arrival of a new style.
Hawkins was an intensely musical choreographer who paid great attention to rhythm and dynamics. He generally worked to commissioned scores and he refused to perform to taped music. He also placed great value on the sculptural decor he commissioned for his dances, insisting that the set pieces (and the masks he often used) be works of art in their own right. Some of the dances he made between 1957 and 1980 are elegantly beautiful but so restrained that they often were difficult of access. However, with God the Reveller in 1987, Hawkins introduced a more dynamic strain into his dances: "To be only Apollonian in a work of art," he said that year, "is academic." From then until his death, the choreographer made a series of works that incorporated both serenity and athletic intensity that showed Hawkins still searching out new ways of moving, and brought him, in his late years, a newly enthusiastic audience.
Hawkins received the Dance Magazine Award in 1979 and the Samuel H. Scripps Award at the American Dance Festival in 1988. On October 14, 1994, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by the President.
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|Title Annotation:||dancer and choreographer|
|Author:||Mazo, Joseph H.|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1995|
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