Thursday, June 07, 2007

Girls in White Dresses... And the Man

The ballloon is still going strong.

Today, I set the opening number for the SDPAL STAR Awards. Just a little something to get the audience in the right frame of mind. Its tricky because the League represents a lot of different types of organizations. Some commercial, some not. Some classical, some not.

These events should also be enjoyable and fun, but they must honor the excellence of the organizations. So you have to strike a balance between a party and a serious occasion.

And the event is really about honoring the awardees. Nobody ever talks about the great opening number at the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.

So anyway, I have the San Diego Ballet girls in long white ruffled dresses swirling, turning and leaping about joyously for about a minute. Just enough time to build the energy and not so long that it becomes a "number." They are dancing to a Vivaldi piece that reminds me of the Main Street Electrical Light Parade. Much bounce and verve.

Tomorrow, I will start work on some of the interlocking pieces. Some of the stuff is being set by other choreographers, so as many people as possible get a chance to be represented.

I guess that is it for today.

Okay, the favoite thing of the day is Matt Mattox. Matt is THE MAN.

When I began dancing I was lucky enough to study with a teacher named Jack Tygett. Jack and his wife, Marge, had been dancers in Hollywood during the end of the big Hey Day of the musical era. Listening to Jack and Marge talk about dancing in movies choreographed by Agnes De Mille, Jack Cole, Nick Castle, Eugene Loring, Bob Fosse, Hermes Pan, et al. stirred my dance imagination.

But as much fun as it was to hear about the choreographers, it was even better to hear about the dancers. And when Jack would talk about the male dancers of the time, there were always two that stood above the rest. Roy Fitzell and Matt Mattox. Roy and Matt could do anything. Ballet. Jazz. Spanish, etc. etc. Roy danced for Eugene Loring. Matt danced for Jack Cole. Other dancers like James Mitchell worked for De Mille, etc. Choreographers all had their favorite dancers to work with.

We all know about the movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Choreographed by Michael Kidd, it is always mentioned as containing some of the best male dancing in cinema. This is a black and white still from that movie.

Although we think of all of the brothers as dancing, this is not the case. Howard Keel (Brother #1) doesn't move at all. He just sings. Brother #2 is a matinee idol that was being promoted. he basically gets in line at the end of numbers, so that Julie Newmar (yes, Catwoman from the later Batman series) can jump in his arms. The youngest brother, Russ Tamblyn (later to be seen as Riff in West Side Story) does alot of gymnastics, but not much dancing. Which leaves most of the heavy lifting when it comes to dancing to Jacques D'Amboise, Marc Platt, Tommy Rall, and Matt Mattox.

Jacques was on loan from New York City Ballet and, truth be told, he doesn't really have much film presence. Marc and Tommy had actually been pushed as secondary leading men by various studios. In the above pic, Marc's face is partially obsured, to his right is Tommy and to his right, at the edge of the pic is Matt Mattox.

The only brother who really looks like he could be a lumberjack AND a dancer is Matt Mattox.

Now, don't get me wrong, Tommy Rall and Marc Platt are amazing dancers (Mark has a breathtaking number in a horrible movie called Tonight and Every Night and Tommy could do triple air tours), but in this movie, its all about Matt Mattox. Matt is featured in a number called Lonesome Polecat. Slow. Simple. He dances and swings an axe in long clean arcs. As clean and crisp and simple as his dance style. His dance is very brief. But it is my favorite part of the movie.

After his career in the movies, Matt became a major exponent and teacher of jazz (he called the technique Freestyle) in Europe. He took his strong, precise, no-nonsense style into a world that valued the "latest thing," and he stuck to his guns. Always known for his integriy as a dancer, he brought that respect into the academic arena.

For Mattox, jazz was (is) not about "flash." It is a serious art form, that deserves serious study. And it was in the class, as a mentor, where he seemed to have found himself.

But I'll always remember those long sweeping arcs...

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Anonymous Bob Boross said...

Hello, I just saw your post on Matt. I have worked with him for over two decades, and I teach his technique. Recently I was teaching at UC Irvine for many years. For my MA degree at NYU I wrote a thesis on Matt's career. Ever have any classes in Matt's technique for your company? I could teach for you, if needed. My website is Thanks, and its nice to see that someone has remembered Matt - he was and is still brilliant, and a dancer who never received his due for such a mind boggling legacy.

Bob Boross

4:51 AM  

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