Rizzuto, Rachel, Dance Teacher
The social conscience of the modern dance world
One of the first choreographers to have a racially integrated dance company, Lester Horton (1906-1953) developed a series of movement exercises that have now been codified as the Horton technique. He also introduced modern dance to the West Coast: His Dance Theater in West Hollywood was the first modern dance venue for performance and teaching in Los Angeles.
The Indiana native's introduction to dance might have occurred with a Denishawn performance, a touring Wild West show with Native American dancing or Anna Pavlova's company, depending on what story he chose to tell. (Horton had a flair for the dramatic.) After briefly studying ballet, he teamed up with director Clara Bates to choreograph, star in and design the costumes for The Song of Hiawatha, which put him on the dance map while still a teen-ager. A short stint with Japanese dancer Michio Ito led to the formation of the first of Horton's several dance companies, the Dance Repertory Group.
As a choreographer, Horton was known for broaching unusual topics, like political strife and multiculturalism. He welcomed Alvin Ailey, Bella Lewitzky, James Truitte, Joyce Trisler and Carmen de Lavallade, among others, into his fold, all of whom would go on to create their own work. Today, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is most famously rooted in his technique.
Horton introduced a new genre of performance: the choreodrama, which skillfully intertwined dance movement and theater. Though his choreography is seldom performed today, notable works include:
* Salome (1934): Based on Oscar Wilde's salacious play of the same name, this piece exists in at least six different versions - Horton liked to keep it fresh.
* Le Sacre du Printemps (1937): Horton's rendition of Nijinsky's original work, set to Stravinsky's music, was the first the West Coast had seen of this iconic piece at its Hollywood Bowl premiere.
* The Beloved (1948): Horton's inspiration for this duet came from a newspaper article in which a man bludgeoned his wife to death with a Bible.
Essentials of Horton technique include:
* FORTIFICATIONS: 17 movement studies (such as the Achilles stretch and lunge stretch), designed to strengthen and stretch the muscles; each targets a specific body part or quality of movement. …