Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Louis Falco Dance Company presented the premiere of “Escargot” in Mankato, Minnesota, on Oct. 1, 1978. Last Friday, thirty one years and a day later, the work was performed again in the state by student dancers at the University of Minnesota‘s Barbara Barker Center for Dance in Minneapolis. In the interval, the 18-minute modern dance, accompanied by Ralph MacDonald‘s music album The Path, became one of Falco’s signature works, performed throughout the world by the Cleveland Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and many others. One of the performers from 1978, Alan Sener, restaged the work for the University’s Cowles Visiting Artist Program and visited about it with a studio audience.

One notices early on that “Escargot” requires great aerobic stamina from the two casts of six dancers, each composed of three men and three women. A series of solo and group turns in quick succession filled the stage with movement patterns that appeared more complex and challenging than anything an individual dancer was doing. Such a perception proved somewhat false, however. Although no longer novel to the bodies of 21st century dancers, and taken for granted by the eyes of their audiences, Falco’s layers of individual vocabulary and phrasing are exceedingly dense and demanding.

Although MacDonald’s music traces the evolution of jazz – from sounds African to Caribbean to New Orleans to New York disco – Falco created the work in silence, according to Sener, intending originally to use classical music accompaniment.

“However,” Sener said, “one day someone brought in what was a hot album at the time – and we were a hot company.”

Born in 1942 to Italian immigrant parents, Falco grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Following his introduction to modern dance at The Henry Street Playhouse, and while attending the High School for the Performing Arts, he joined the Charles Weidman Dance Company in 1959. He then danced as a principal in the José Limón Dance Company, serving as Limón’s muse from 1960 until 1970. As one of the world’s most exciting dancers, he changed the perception and role of men in modern dance.

Falco first presented his own choreography in 1967, and continued until 1983 when he folded his troupe in order to focus on commercial work in films, music videos, and television. His work gained its greatest visibility from his role as choreographer for the 1980 film Fame. A choreographer in the “fall and recovery” style, Falco worked with contemporary popular music, and with contemporary design artists (e.g., Marisol and Armani) for sets and costumes. Known for its fashion and glamour, particularly in Europe, Falco’s company was characterized by “explosive energy, sensuality and chic” according to his 1993 New York Times obituary by Jennifer Dunning.

In a just world, stations of honor would be assigned to the acolytes, like Sener, who tend the fires of our cultural trail blazers. For many of these loyalists, the blessing of professional association with their principals fuels devotion to the preservation of legacies not their own. Beginning as a principal dancer in Falco’s company in 1978, Sener served as the choreographer’s assistant until his death, and since has served as biographer-in-progress and artistic director for the Falco repertory. Since 1991, Sener has been associated with the University of Iowa where he teaches and creates his own body of work as professor and chair of the Department of Dance.

Student performer-members of the University Dance Theater will present “Escargot” in their concert program at Rarig Center, Dec. 11-13. For tickets call 612.624.2345 ($5-$17).

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