featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Memorium, 4-27: Fearless
Images of Homer

"I lost my fear."

-- Homer Avila

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

Homer Avila died Sunday night, at the age of 49, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, where he'd checked himself in Saturday. "He was dancing until Friday, checked himself into the hospital Saturday night, and was gone by twilight Sunday," reports Pentacle's Ivan Sygoda. "The cancer that cost him his hip and leg had metastasized and reached his lungs."

The journalist trades in the effects of sympathy. By his reporting and then the selection and arranging of details, he can write an obituary to pull your heart out. I've been doing this for more than 25 years, since a high school English teacher I didn't know that well passed away unexpectedly, and I set about interviewing his colleagues. Did I know what they told me was moving? Yes. Was I moved by their words? Yes, but it was probably a detached empathy. This one is hard.

Homer danced with Momix and with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, where he would meet his partner Edisa Weeks. I first caught them on an evening of performance in a church basement on the Upper East Side, where their duet "Dubious Faith" was the highlight. Homer played a priest, the taller Edisa lifted and twirled him; Homer walked on upended wine glasses. More miracles were to come.

In 2001, after he lost a leg and hip to a rare form of cancer, chondro sarcoma, he would become what Maura Nguyen Donohue called in these pages "an accidental hero," chiefly concerned that his friends and colleagues get over it. He would also continue to dance, working with Alonzo King, the Ballett Frankfurt's Dana Caspersen, and others.

Reviewing Homer's post-operation full-evening debut in August 2002 at the Kennedy Center, our Julia Ward recalled the delicate wine glass perambulation of "Dubious Faith," suggesting, "The act might serve as an apt metaphor for what Avila calls his 'new morphology,' a new way of looking at his bodily material and technique. Small adjustments to balance executed in tiny shifts and jumps of his left foot, along with the precise counterbalance of his exquisitely refined arms, turn Avila's 'new morphology' into an incessant source of strength and beauty." (To read Julia's complete review of this program, please click here. To watch a video of the Kennedy Center performance, please click here, then scroll down to "Play this Performance." Please note: The video's a little dark at the beginning, as it starts with the onstage projection of an earlier performance of "Dubious Faith.")

I met Homer and Edisa at the 1997 Dance Magazine awards. Afterwards, Edisa, Homer, my soon-to-be Dance Insider partner Robin Hoffman, Caitlin Sims, Edward Ellison and I went out for drinks and live soul music at a toney Upper West Side bar. As with most of you, I'd run into him often, usually at dance concerts, often finding a way in at the intermission; such was his insatiable appetite for all types of dance, be they uptown or downtown.

But my best memories of Homer are of when we got a chance to boogie down together, once at a party given by Valerie Norman which I DJ'd, and, memorably, at an APAP after-party given by Dance Theater Workshop, where Homer, Edisa, Aleta Hayes, a couple of Florida presenters and I took over the dance floor until 4 in the morning, finishing the night crammed into Small's in the West Village, listening to jazz and sipping Koolaid.

There, you see, I am not being very eloquent. So let's turn it over to Homer and to my colleagues who have reviewed him here.

From a March 2002 e-mail from Homer: "Just a short message to say that I appreciate very much yours and many others' concerns and attentions for my 'journey.' As you can perhaps imagine, the numerous dimensions of change and adjustments are disorienting and consuming. I've beenengaged with so much of life that I haven't been very good at keeping in contact with so many dear friends. After a very long year, and actually it started a year before then, I feel like perhaps I'm on the final leg of a long odyssey. Finishing a concert at Cunningham -- the finale for Avila/Weeks -- and finally having a home/apt. to my name all have meaning. Occasionally I've wanted to shout, 'Stop the world I want to get off!,' yet figured that the way through so much was to keep moving/dancing. It seems I may be back to dancing (that's the easy part), but as I go on I learn that there are stages to this predicament and that every step presents new obstacles/difficulties to be dealt with." This predicament. To a hard-working dancer, it was just another challenge.

From Julia's review of the Kennedy Center premiere of King's "Pas de Deux," created for Homer and partner Andrea Flores: "The austere, angular choreography is perfectly suited to Avila's hyper-controlled musculature. The adjustments in balance he makes while standing, without crutches or a prosthetic limb, may appear necessary to maintain his stance, but one is forced to rethink the body's capabilities in a section where the, at turns, dependent and confrontational Flores pushes Avila down to the ground repeatedly. Each time, he snaps back up to perfect attention and stillness. The angularity of Avila's quick arm combinations and Flores's stark, specific arabesques, accompanied by the compositions of Pauline Oliveros, give way to more sumptuous dancing as the drone of Medieval chanting takes over. All in all, it is a gorgeous piece of choreography and imagination. King has said of this work with Avila that 'any limitations are only in the mind. He was turning on one leg, jumping on one leg, using his elbow, using that body to find new ways to speak in dance.'

From Chris Dohse's DI review of Homer's comeback performance at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, at a June 2002 Food for Thought concert: "Agonizing yet empowering to watch, Homer Avila's 'Not/Without Words' (his first solo since having a leg and hip amputated) is both a manifestation of will power and the product of a fierce choreographic mind. When Avila lists all the things he's lost, ending in 'I lost my fear' while standing tall and proud, he's simply beautiful; nothing less than stunning, eloquent spirit."

Homer spoke eloquently, in dance and in spirit, to all who were charmed to meet him. "He never stood still," said Sygoda. "I think he sensed that if he did, that would be it. He knew Sunday that his breath had run out, and he had time to say some goodbyes." Homer's friends and admirers in New York can pay their respects Thursday from -- this is also hard to write -- 4 to 6 p.m. at the John Krtil Funeral Home, 1297 First Avenue between 69th and 70th Streets. If you have memories you'd like to share with the DI's readers, please send them to me at paul@danceinsider.com.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home