Compiled and Edited by Carol Anderson
An Alchemical Marriage:
Lubos Cerny’s Music for Dance
by Holly Small
Lubos himself expressed a particular affinity for modern dance. He said it suited his temperament best, and, since he co-ordinated the musicians’ playing schedule [at York University], he usually slotted himself into these classes. If the class schedule could not be distributed evenly, he was always willing to play for the extra classes. One teacher for whom he expressed particular gratitude was Ahuva Anbary – gratitude mixed with fear, for Ahuva could be a terrifying woman. She was a Graham teacher from the old school, exacting, even brutal with her students. At least once a day someone left class in tears. But what Lubos appreciated was that she took the time to work with him on the Graham forms. She knew exactly what she wanted and she insisted that he get it right. This approach appealed to Lubos’ impeccable work ethic, the sense of disciplined technique or craft that was instilled in him as a child, which was surely the secret to his longevity as a dance accompanist.
The polar opposite of Ahuva was Gary Masters, a frequent guest teacher in the early days of the [York] Dance Programme. Gary was from the José Limón company. He was buoyant and full of joy and he drew, out of the brooding, romantic Lubos, a sweeping, musical vitality. I remember coming out of those classes in a kind of weird ecstasy that I had never before experienced. Gary, a musical and precise dancer, would often ask Lubos to play specific pieces; Chopin Nocturnes and Preludes especially.
I remember trying to work as close to the piano as possible. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be under the piano, or in it. I was awakening to the profound link between music and dance and to the deep, transformative effect music can have on our minds and bodies. I was discovering that we can do more than just react to music or wallow in it. We can meet it head on and give something back, an exchange of energies, an alchemical marriage. Each class ended with an elaborately choreographed révérence which we performed with all the passion and grandeur available to a group of undergraduate dance students.
Lubos’ expressivity and poignant romanticism stirred something deep within us. I frequently found myself weeping even as I danced, and this too was allowed for in Gary’s class. Often the relationship between dance teacher and musician is one of subordination. The teacher is the boss. The musician does the teacher’s bidding. Ideally, however, it seems to me that this relationship should be one of equals leading the class together. Once the material has been carefully taught, the teacher can get out of the way and let the musician and dancers work with each other. The constant shouting of counts, encouragements or corrections becomes unnecessary when the dancers are really listening and collaborating with the musician. Such was the relationship between Lubos and Gary and it is one that I have aspired to in my own working relationships with musicians ever since.
Ludmilla Chiriaeff's Passion
by Linde Howe-Beck
Passion introduced them: the journalist struggling to get a fix on the changing fortunes of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the company's visionary founder, who had recently relinquished its artistic direction in favour of guiding its soon-to-be-many schools.
Sometime in the mid-'70s, they met for the first time at Les Grands' offices above a supermarket in west-end Montreal. The founder/teacher was a long-limbed, energetic woman who zipped in and out of offices, galvanizing her small administrative staff with energy and charm. In studio, she focused entirely on the matter at hand with careful, thoughtful corrections. Sometimes she would leap up from her casual, splay-legged sitting position to demonstrate with the elegance which was one of her trademarks. Later, in an interview, she stretched time like a rubber band, her ideas speeding along various tangents with all-embracing enthusiasm. Her non-linear speech patterns were definitive and typical.
Ludmilla Chiriaeff (née Otzup, stage name Gorny) was a fascinating and frustrating interview. With messanic zeal she attacked her subject - the dance - determined to make another convert. Dance was her life-long passion, one she insisted on sharing with as many people as possible. She had total disregard of time and refused to answer questions directly, launching instead into long and scrambled monologues. She referred to her early days in Berlin, her latest problems at Les Grands, quoted from her beloved Rainer Maria Rilke, savoured snippets of remembered conversations with Serge Lifar, Chaliapin or any number of heroes, offered recipes for menu-planning and concocting ballet programmes (same formula), told anecdotes from Les Ballets Chiriaeff's days in early television, and more - all sprinkled with bits of philosophy. Years later, the journalist learned that her subject would always - eventually - come to the point. Even if it took two, three or even five hours of rambling.
No matter. The interviewee's effervescence was spellbinding. I suspect the journalist missed her deadline, caught up as she was in a complicated story about a potato plant found flowering in the rubble of bombed-out Berlin. The plant's struggle to bloom in the face of adversity was a metaphor for the young Chiriaeff's own desire to dance at all costs.
Hers was the story of a dance “mission.” Madame, as Chiriaeff was known with respect and often reverence, was a mean weaver of legends, some of which seemed to expand with every telling. She could spin a tale like a dance, her dramatic inflections and timing stirring the heart and soul. The jewel in her repertoire dealt with how, as a pubescent ballet student burning with desire to dance, she sat spellbound as family friend and Diaghilev choreographer Michel Fokine described how she might serve dance by combining musicality, sensitivity, strength, self-criticism and openness. She adopted his words as lifelong goals.
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