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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
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
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