July 13, 2006
Lester Horton was as vertical as his handwriting that was a clean and simple calligraphic delight. He stood and held himself erect. Even at age 36 there was gray mixed in the dark hair above his sideburns.
When I entered the studio in the fall of 1942 he no longer danced but there were tales of his great stage presence that would draw the eye to him even with his back to the audience. While he loved having his picture taken, there is no evidence in his dance photos of a dramatic persona or presence.
As all great intuitives he spent most of his time
in meditative silence. In his dance photos he didn't seem so much to be performing as thinking. On the other hand his choreography was dramatic. It was also witty, inventive and filled with extraordinary coordinations, complexity, as well as simplicity when desired.
Astrologically Leo is the dramatist of the Zodiac. Lester was Leo's opposite, Aquarius. Aquarius is the sign of the eccentric, the meditative, and of group and social conscience. It is the sign of the brotherhood of man. Lester was all this and more. He was the prototypical person of the people.
He was without an ounce of prejudice or the least sense of class distinction. Social injustice and pretension seemed the only things that bothered him and were one source of his choreography. Since we performed at so called Workers parties I assumed he was or had been a communist. Humanistically in those early days the communists were on the side of the angels.
Chorographically he sketched. In cartoon world terms of that time, he was an idea man and an animator. Certainly he was an animator in more ways than that. He brought so many of his dancers and students to life, and to a life they never imagined. When I was there Bella was his inbetweener, one who coordinated, filled in missing pieces and smoothed his animating sketches. We were the paints in his palette.
Lester was the glue that held his heterogenous troop together. There was Bella the sardonic, the mental and the highly skilled. There was Jim, the immaculate perfectionist. There was Herman, the affable Saint Bernard. Jeri was the small, the dry and the competent. Eleanor was the earthy, the gross and the capable. Saul, later Paul, was critical, disdainful and semi skilled. May, often absent, was small, tight and good enough. I was the young, the inexperienced, the naïve, and the devoted.
There are so many ways to describe the man. The writer is like Indians circling a wagon train hoping to get in a shot from one of the many angles. I had never met anyone as generous, as talented and yet so unpretentious. I had never met anyone so kind, so friendly or so focused upon his mysterious work.
The mystery of his work was where it all came from. He seemed to pluck concepts, ideas and movement out of thin air. Circumstances seemed to have little if any effect on him. He was a man of action. He translated his thought almost simultaneously into act. There may be some who do so, but his translations were inevitably beautiful. There were those who were awed by this. I simply loved it. I loved existing in the sweetness of his aura and among the fall out of his creativity.
It must be said that he was not a painter, though he did some painting. In fact he had made a living at some point painting eyebrows and eyelashes on Stubergh mannequins. Katherine Stubergh had been a student of his and part of the Michio Ito company before she devoted herself exclusively to sculpture and mannequin making.
Bill Bowne who was living with Lester at the time when I arrived was technically skillful and taught art at UCLA. I was a very good draughtsman and I painted so I considered myself in a position to make a judgment. As always, Lester's ideas were intriguing but he didn't have the base training and control at that point to be called a painter. On the other hand, regardless of
his skill, Bill was not an artist.
There exists a painting Lester did of Questzlcoatl, a Mexican Christ figure. The figure wears a mask identical to one that I designed and made for Jim in Lester's ballet Tierra y Libertad. Tierra was an extensive work beginning with mythic gods and ending in the revolution. Tierra y Libertad was the battle cry of the Mexican revolution: Land and
Lester Iredell Horton was born on January 23, 1906 in Indianapolis, Indiana at 11:55 pm. Those city and place names are almost enough to explain his fascination with things Indian. There are a series of photos of him in Indian costume, and he choreographed a brilliant Hoop Dance that Jim Mitchell danced with clean finesse. He had lived with Indians and learned their dances and songs.
His birth date number, 23, is a number in Hebrew Gematria associated with Chaiah, the word for life. The seat of Chaiah in Qabalah is in the center on the Tree of Life called Wisdom. These two words I associate with Lester. He was deeply wise and a source of life for those around him.
To continue into the obscure and the occult, the numbers 2 and 3 in his date of birth represent the Moon and Venus in the Tarot. In his chart these two planets are conjunct in his third house. The Moon and Venus represent the feminine and the fruitful. In many ways this describes the man. Lester was both fruitful and receptive He had two other planets in the house of communication, Mercury and Uranus.
Having all these planets in the third house colors the person with qualities of its nominal ruler, Gemini. Geminis are quick and brilliant, if not too stable. The stability for Lester was supplied by the sign that ruled the house and the planets in it. This was Capricorn.
Capricorns are ambitious and careful builders. That he built such an enduring reputation and prolific repertory in so short a life is a tribute to his ambition, his brilliance and his stability. That stability was maintained under conditions of frequent insecurity and
His Mars, the planet of action and of athletes (and all trained dancers are athletes), was in Pisces, and posited in the fifth house of theater, children and romance. In Pisces, Mars, representing his actions, takes on an intuitive and mystical characteristic. Being in the fifth house, it finds its outlet in theater, and working with younger people.
Neptune, the planet of intuition, meditation and fantasy, is the planet closest to his midheaven, therefore in a sense ruling his chart. His Neptune is in the water sign, Cancer, increasing his abilities as a sensitive.
Needless to say experiencing his chart or analyzing it is not the same as experiencing and knowing the man. This is something that those who knew him and are still among the living do not and can not forget. It was like being in the sun when his favor was not withdrawn, and almost always it was not withdrawn from anyone.
If he did not praise, his support was tangibly and warmly present as was his unspoken demand for your best. It was like being in the benign presence of love.