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FROM THE VAULT: In Memory of Gus Solomons Jr.

Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Gus Solomons Jr., who, as a dancer, choreographer, educator, and critic, was a leading figure in modern and postmodern dance, died on Aug. 11, 2023, in Manhattan. He was 84. Over his long career, Mr. Solomons danced with many companies and many choreographers, including Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. He broke ground as the first Black dancer to join the Cunningham company.

I first remember hearing of Gus as a choreographer around 1973 in a newspaper announcement for a performance he was doing with his company, Solomons Company/Dance, at Kresge Hall on the campus of MIT. Of course, I knew of him as a dancer in the Merce Cunningham Company, but as a choreographer, this was news to me. I was a student at Tufts at that time studying in the Drama Department and had only recently discovered dance in a serious and obsessive way. I think what struck me most about Gus was how thin he was, how long his limbs were, and that he was Black in what was often a very ‘white’ context. I felt an affinity. The performance I saw was enthralling. The Ailey company had also enraptured me, but in a way that was very different. While Ailey’s work and his dancers struck me as heart and passion, Gus and his Cunningham-like vocabulary and odd organizing principles seemed to be a very different way of being Black. Its physicality is based on a subtle and ongoing interaction between the body and the mind and an unapologetic assertion of the possibility that blackness could be odd, astringent, and care little for respectability. I saw myself in him. And to some degree, I still do. I was a member of his company, Solomons Company/Dance, from 1976-1978. 

This sense of affinity caused me to invite him in 2009 to restage a work of his for Spectrum. We chose a work from 1976 that I had seen many times, loved, but never performed – Statement of Nameless Roots. The original piece was in two parts, a long solo for Gus and a quintet for three women and two men. Spectrum performed only the quintet. The piece was on a program entitled “Icon-Clan – Three Generations of American Iconoclasts work share the Stage: MERCE CUNNINGHAM, GUS SOLOMONS JR, and DONALD BYRD.” 

Here the quintet is performed by Spectrum dancers from 2009 – Lara Seefeldt, Geneva Jenkins, Kylie Lewallen, Joel Myers, and Vincent Michael Lopez.

 

In remembrance of Gus… 

Donald Byrd,

Artistic Director, Spectrum Dance Theater

August 21, 2023

Statement of Nameless Roots

Premiere: 1976

Spectrum Dance Theater Premiere: 2009

Choreography by Gus Solomons Jr

Dancers: Lara Seefeldt, Geneva Jenkins, Kylie Lewallen, Joel Myers, and Vincent Michael Lopez

Video by Gabriel Bienczycki

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