Reflections on Gloria Newman (From Former Dance Company Members)

The following are recollections by various former Gloria Newman Dance Theater members.

ALVIN MAYES

I would hear “catch,” and turn around to see a big blonde woman flying through the air into my arms. Of course that was Joella.  She would be laughing from the moment she took off to the moment I caught her. I thought it was some sort of initiation until I found out it was a lift from Orbits.

My first big performance was in Denton, Texas and the women showed up with large hatboxes with different colored wigs for Bowles (Tromperie) and each was given a different name.

Oh we did have drama.  After learning Rooms, Anna Sokolow would not let us perform unless Dennis (Holderman) shaved off his mustache. After we ( Gladys Kares and I) finished the duet from Charles Ives’ Unanswered Question, Betty Walberg ( Musical Director) hated the music. So we performed it in silence.

Gloria’s choreographic process would go something like this: Take Lynn’s (Rimpalski) phrase but do Wanda-Lee’s (Evans) version for the last 6 counts,  then repeat it on the other side. now do Carol’s (Warner) arm phrase, no not that one, that was Stella’s (Matsuda). I would say “who is Stella” and Joella (Lewis) would say “I’ll tell you later, you’ll like her.”  Then Sandy (Puerta) would do the whole thing twice as fast and Gloria would say “Yeah, like that.”

BARBARA DOBKIN

I first met Gloria in 1973 at Temple University in Philadelphia, where I was a student. Gloria taught a one day master class. At the time I was itching to leave the University and pursue dancing and was inclined to head for New York. Gloria’s style of movement-

full of lyricism and the excitement of risk, a style that could only be properly accomplished by a dancer’s full commitment to going to the off-balance space between movements, going full out and under control was a challenge. No posing and placement like ballet, never static.  Every movement, no matter how simple, was always the impetus to the next one.  I fell in love with her style and wanted more.

Because of Gloria, I came to LA. I took daily classes from her at Loyola-Marymont College and in 1973 she asked me to join the company. Though I had not seen any of the company’s choreography, I knew that her technique was something I wanted to master. I stayed with the company for 5 years.

Her signature pieces – Rounds, of Winds and Time, Orbits, Magazine – were exciting to dance, challenging, full of life, passion, and humor (Magazine). Doing her choreography reminded me why I loved to dance. When I think of my most favorite and exhilarating dance experiences, I think of the quartet section of Harrison (of Winds and Time) - four women moving downstage in unison; or the opening of Rounds, everyone airborne; or the full-out, no-holds-barred dive at the end of Orbits; or the the end of Magazine with its knee slapping rhythm poetic cadence and the final rush to a pyramid freeze, then blackout. So much fun!

When I picture Gloria in the studio, I see her with her hair parted in the middle pulled up into a tight bun (in later years she’d occasionally keep it in a loose ponytail) wearing a brownish long sleeved scoop necked leotard, brown bell-bottomed stretch dance pants, and bare feet. I also imagine her with a cigarette in hand, unfortunately.

Gloria choreographing could always be quite the challenge to all of us. We’d think she had settled on a movement or section, then she would say something like, “ Start with the last part, then add the first part, and now do it facing the other way.” You had to be careful with any sort of fooling around steps you’d be doing in the studio, she often would put them in the dance. I’ll never forgive Alvin Mayes for insisting we try a sort of lift where I jump onto his shins landing on my shin – shin to shin. Gloria yelled from across the room, “ Keep that.” I think my shins are still bruised 35 years later

Though I left the company and went on to do other things in dance – performed with Donald Byrd, dance in TV, movies, and musical theater – I will always be grateful for all that I learned from Gloria.  As dancers, we are molded and inspired by our teachers. I think we we carry their influence throughout our dancing lives. No one has been more important to me in this way than Gloria Newman.

CAROL WARNER

I don’t know where to begin. I feel a bit overwhelmed as I look back to 1954 when I first encountered her at Eugene Loring’s American School of Dance.  She had a profound influenced on all of us in the “Freestyle” class.  (Loring’s categorical title for anything not ballet.) The memory of half of the advanced members staring in the mirror after class and revisiting a plie and trying to get what Gloria was looking for still evokes a smile. The fact that she changed the direction of my dance life and the why is complicated. The last time I worked with her was in the mid 80’s where she was in residence at the University of Utah and giving her final critique and inspiring choreographer’s notes to the dancers  performing in Orbits. There is a lot that transpired between 1954 and 1992, and I am still thinking about it and her.

DON BONDI

I first met Gloria Newman October, 1958 at SARK Studio. 50 years later my life is a direct result of that “preordained” meeting. Without that meeting – was it by chance – what would I be?

I had recently been discharged from the Army and just started teaching biology at Los Angeles High School and received my first pay check. I now had the money and freedom for classes and went looking for SARK studio which I vaguely remember from 4 years earlier (before I went to Korea) as being somewhere on National Blvd.

I met Gloria at my second class and she proceeded to outline the next 14year of my life with classes, rehearsals, and teaching.

I danced, argued, fought, anguished, laughed, cried, ate, loved, learned, and hurt with and for Gloria for 34 years – 13  as a company member, 21 years as a friend and sounding board for her latest adventures.

Gloria made the best Chocolate pie, choreographed the best duets for Stella (Matsuda) and I and later Lynn (Rimpalski) and I. She used music in the most intriguing way, built her home with art and color, and taught movements that were demanding, unique, and beautiful to perform.

To dance with Gloria as I did in the early early (the duet from of Winds and Time) was to dance beyond my ability because of her presence as my partner. To dance for Gloria when she no longer performed, was to discover through her my own inner joy of self.

The echoes of –”one more time –Don – bigger- from the inside- touch me” are words engraved in my soul.

What would I be having never met Gloria? I don’t know, but I do know that what I am is a large part of Gloria Newman Schoenberg.

Thanks Glo  — Don

GLADYS KARES

I first met Gloria when I was ballet student at UCLA and stayed with her for 16 years. I think Gloria asked me to join the company because I was jumper. She had a particular ability to find what was special in each individual and hone that so that we somehow became better artists in ourselves- not just a bunch of “ little Gloria’s.”

Gloria was constantly revising a dance because she believed that dances should change as people change, as time changes. It was not easy working with her.  She was a taskmaster and at the same time a mom. She might yell at you one day and the next day feed you chicken soup.But there were no hidden agendas, no games. Gloria was always for the art form and for the person. she had an incredible vision.

When I came home from teaching, or if there was a problem at school, I’d pick up the phone and get Gloria’s advice. I can’t imagine dance with out Gloria.

JO ELLA LEWIS

I saw the Gloria Newman Dance Company (Theater) for the first time as a junior College student and said,”That’s what I want to do.”  To have had the opportunity  to dance in her company and study with Gloria was a major part of my life. Her creative choreographic genius and her teaching of “ efficiency of movement”  will be missed.

A special time for me is when Gloria  would come into rehearsal with a special glint in her eye and say. “I had this dream last night ..can you… is it possible to…” Then rehearsal would begin and the dancers would get to play.

One of my favorite pieces Gloria choreographed on my generation of dancers in the company was Orbits. She used the images of Giacometti sculptures. The piece evolved quickly – not alway the case. She opened with Bob (Small) and in the upstage “light” duet and downstage was the “heated“ duet with Don (Bondi) and Lynn (Rimpalski). Section two was a pure case of genius – Carol Warner was never to touch the ground,   she started on two men’s shoulders (Ted Nelson and Art Mikaelian) and evolved magically between the two. Section three was movements of athleticism and long sculptured lines ending in very high revolving finish.

Gloria was a master teacher and educator. Her knowledge of the body and how to move  efficiently was sound and teachable and many of her students and dancers have gone on to have careers as dance educators using her principles.

To me Gloria was my mentor, my friend and tireless companion in this life. I love her dearly. –Jo Ella

JUNE WATANABE

Gloria with her thermos of coffee and cigarettes, and I am here in my Eichler kitchen cooking soup, just like Glo – that is how I remember her, of course along with her smile and her way of talking.

No one in the dance world can match Gloria Newman’s sensibility and realization of the

physicality of space. Once it got into our bodies and our psyches it was impossible to shed because it was so very deep.  We devoured space and felt it with ever cell in our bodies. Gloria’s works demanded complete surrender to the outer forces initiated by our movement that then carried us to reveal human feelings. I so wish I could have had this clarity back then, but then I was not ready with the questions as I am now, back then I just did it.

I can recall the grueling schedules; travel from East Los Angeles to Orange, late rehearsal hours, total commitment and working unconditionally. We were a family (Don, Stella, and I) traveling together. Stella prepared food for us to sustain us on the late night returns after the late rehearsals. Don drove, Stella and I talked about our “camp” days to pass the time.

I also know that through thick and stormy times Gloria, so headstrong, would just plow through the challenges that continually faced her. I think I picked up that work ethic when I began my own company and kept going despite the many early setbacks. I just kept going because there was no other choice.

I danced with Gloria from1960-1962 before getting married and moving to SanFrancisco where at the age of 40 I pursued a dance career with my own company.

What was there in her early training and evolution that developed her unique technique?

Gloria developed an inner strength in her dancers. Even in stillness or limited movement   it took enormous strength to look simple. As I aged, I still could not shed the physical, kinesthetic sensation of Gloria’s way moving. She was the “pied piper” of dance. She gave me a sense of physicality that demanded a complete commitment of body and spirit. As a mentor, she gave fully of herself with the greatest warmth and generosity.  Gloria lives in my dancing body forever.

KAREN GOODMAN

What I remember is the strength not only required to do the work, but the strength that the work produced. Each dancer was sculpted in the space and each dance existed somehow indelibly injected into the fabric of space yet rising from it like bas-relief. That was there in Rounds which was seared into my memory the first time I saw it, with that opening electrifying leap and the runs and leaps that followed. (ed.note: The leap came from off stage to onstage. To have the height of the leap correspond to the opening cord of music, there was click on the tape that Stella Matsuda counted from so she could be at that height on stage when the cord struck.)

Her work was so deeply physical and kinetic. Yet every movement, every gesture, although connected to each other, had to live and communicate on its own. One dove and slashed through that space both furiously and joyously. The cliched idea of any leap is that it defies gravity and hides that power. In Gloria’s choreography we are meant to glory in its power. It was Gloria’s leap!  it is utterly clear how much I owe her.

And each piece choreographed projected her intellectual appetite as well as her humanity in the range of her chosen themes.

KAREN J. WOO

Rounds and Contrasts is one of my favorite work.  It is never stationary – the dancers are constantly moving though space. It is a physically dynamic piece that provides a showcase for the dancers’ abilities and displays the beauty of the body lines: extensions of the leg, curvatures of the upper body, grand jetes with raised arms.

Gloria’s movement vocabulary was not easy to grasp. Her classes helped in learning her movement style, but now it was more intricate and detailed. Gloria wanted me to  assimilate the choreography, she pushed me very hard to attain a certain quality of performance that involved dynamics, musicality, and risk taking – attack the space… fall off your hip…not so even…stay in the air longer.. don’t mark it perform it.

I owe so much to Gloria Newman. She was a brilliant teacher and  artistic director.

KAROL LEE

There is an excitement in working with Gloria because she does treat you individually, and she does work with you and bring out of you – as a performer- all of your potentials and beyond. She has a foresight that’s real special.

ROBERT SMALL

I met Dorothy LaSpina doing summer stock in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1968.  After my first year attending the University of Hawaii, I transferred  to UCLA. Gloria was rehearsing at Dorothy’s studio in Studio City. I was taking a jazz class with Dorothy and after class  Dorothy introduced me to Gloria. Gloria took one look at this skinny, underdeveloped quite kid and asked me, “How would you like to stay and watch a rehearsal of my company?” I watched Don (Bondi), Carol (Warner), Joella (Lewis), Lynn (Rimpalski) and others. And sure enough, Gloria asked me in her low-keyed but knowing way if I would like to come to a rehearsal the following Saturday. I learned some choreographic phrases. She knew she could make some thing of me and asked me to come to more rehearsals. She had me under her spell after the first rehearsal and I stayed with the company for 3 years before joining Murray Lewis Dance Company.

That is the short of it, the long of it is that Gloria affected every aspect of my life as I developed into a professional dancer who travelled the world f or 20 years, always seeing Gloria’s face to mine (actually she came up to my  chest) saying ( loudly)… “MORE, you can give more!”  And she was right, there was always room for giving MORE. Gloria gave her whole life to her art, her family, and to us. I can’t thank  her enough … she is still there in my face saying, ”MORE.”

RUTH BEADLES

Gloria opened up the world of dance to me. At the tender age of 23, after I graduated from Pepperdine and settled into my first teaching job teaching PE in Anaheim, I found SARK Studio and Gloria. Required to teach dance as part of the PE classes I signed up for class once a week which soon became 2 then 3 times a week. I would be exhausted from teaching all day and drill team practice after school and I would enter Gloria’s class with my thick cotton leotards and soon would be exhilarated and revitalized.

With no dance or ballet background and with my ”dead fish” feet, to my surprise she invited me to join the company in 1961. She found something in the raw material of me which opened up to her teaching.

“Full up out of your center”
“You must go down to go up”
“Pull in as you reach out”
“ Feel the dancer next to you; give each other energy”

And I thought,”What means this?” I soon came to know these principles and qualities of movement gave energy and life to even the simplest movements. Even more they could be applied to life.

I was so fortunate and blessed to be able to dance in her company for several years -to learn from her in class, in rehearsal, and in performance.  She has enriched my life.

Thank you Gloria.  –Ruth

STELLA MATSUDA

I was fortunate to be a part of her early company from 1960 -1972. Before that, as a dance student at UCLA, I heard her name from the more advanced students who were studying on the outside at SARK studio. Of course, I too had to take classes and there I found my mentor, my director, and my friend.  She taught me correct body alignment, how to move through space, and how to discover my own inner spirit and energy.

In 1960, of Winds and Time was the first dance I learned. I loved it and felt is was Gloria’s signature piece. I guess it was, for that time period anyway. Gloria’s choreography changed through the years- another look, another energy. She always had a new idea, something else to say.

The technique she emphasized came through her dance. There was always an inner driving pulse in her work, a constant shifting of the body so that the final position was not the most important. It was what happened on the way that made it exciting and gave the dance life. I was glad I had the chance to study with her again during a summer workshop. In class she said, “Don’t just go through the motions. Dancing is like eating an ice creme cone, enjoy it while you’re eating it. Don’t get to the end and realize you’ve finished it with out even tasting it.”

Gloria knew nothing stands still – there is always change. That’s what dance is about- it is never constant. She was always planning, looking ahead – another dance. Often there were layers of movement happening at the same time. As in life, one needs to pick and choose what one wants to see and respond to.  Gloria offered the viewer several points of view to become involved in her choreography. Through this freedom she developed perspective to capture the audience and offer them the chance to agree or disagree – to make them care.

Gloria was always beginning.  “Surprise me,” is what I hear her saying, with a special delight on her face.

WANDA-LEE EVANS

One day during my senior year t UCLA, I was meandering down the 2nd floor hallway in the dance building, when a graduate student, Beth Bagnold, asked me, “Do you sing?” Answering “Why?” resulted in a singing audition for Gloria and Donald McKayle for the  west coast premier of Games for her company.  (Al DeSio was the other half of the singing duo.)  When Carol Warner returned from a long break (she and Donald were my teachers at UCLA), she told Gloria that I was also a dancer. Gloria invited me to take company classes and soon afterwards I started learning company repertory.  I started with As Quite As and my debut performance was at the Downy Civic Auditorium. I was hooked immediately  to the unpredictable possibilities. Gloria offered possibilities I had not considered.  She nurtured my courage and creative muscles. I went into deeper exploration, discovery, and development of my sensibilities. My cycle started in 1972 and for 8 years there was crazy times and crazy behavior and I questioned my dancing in 13’s and 7’s and creating in 5’s with Betty Walberg and all the others. Thank you Gloria and all my fellow GNDT dancers.

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