I got the sad news today that Alan Howard died three days ago. He had been in a hospital in New York City, but recently returned to his apartment so he could be at home when he went. He was 72.
He rose through the ranks of the the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, eventually reaching the rank of premier danseur. In her book The American Ballet (1959), Olga Maynard wrote:
"The American premier in the Company is Alan Howard, born and trained in the United States, and one of the youngest premiers danseurs.... Howard has not once been seen to falter in a lift, wobble in a turn, or ruffle the skirt of his partner.... Howard’s partnering demeanor is of the courteous deportment in the great danseur noble style.... Howard has given Herculean support to his company from an early stage of his career. In a recent season, when the danseur ranks were decimated by illness and accident, Howard danced seven male roles in one day, between matinée and evening performance. A brilliant technician, he has creditably disciplined his virtuoso flair for characterization. He studies drama as well as dance for more scope in ballet....[H]e has an elegance of physique and the serious mien suited to classic roles. In the danse caractère...his King of the Dandies in Le Beau Danube is now a tradition on tour. His potential is boundless, given the right direction. A student of the great Fedorova, he has a fine sense of theatre and is intent on perfection of form and clarity of communication."
I wish I could include the photo of him from this book. He’s in a grand jeté, with a beautiful line. He was unusual for an American dancer of his generation, in that he studied ballet from a young age (in Chicago), consistently and with good teachers, so his line and use of his feet were very refined.
I knew him as a teacher in San Francisco. He owned the beautiful Academy of Ballet on Market Street for many years. Although I only studied with him for about a year, and subsequently when I was home on vacations from college, I learned a lot from him about presentation and performance. He had a tremendous collection of 19th-century lithographs and photographs of famous dancers from "the old days," many of which were on the walls of his studio. He always encouraged his students to study the pictures of famous dancers, to stand in front of mirror and try to imitate their line, their look, their majesty. One of the best exercises he gave in class was a very difficult one for students: one by one, accompanied by some regal music, we had to walk across the very long diagonal of the studio, and fill up the entire distance with one first port de bras, trying to command the attention of an imaginary audience for the entire distance. It sometimes felt more grueling than physically demanding combinations.
He and my mother were good friends, so I knew him somewhat better than my limited exposure through classes would indicate. I always loved his sense of humor and joie de vivre. He had an unfading love and enthusiasm for ballet that was as strong when I last saw him, within the last year, as it was when he was teaching in the ’60s, and probably when he was a boy, taking classes.
My mother talked to Carolyn Goto, who danced in Mr. Howard’s Pacific Ballet, among other places, and she says a memorial gathering is being planned. I will post the information here when I get it, or perhaps someone else who’s in on the planning will.
(Mr. Howard had a long teaching career in Europe after he sold the Academy of Ballet, but I don’t know the details; maybe someone else will provide them.)
<small>[ 14 March 2003, 01:29 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>