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In Memorium, 3-10: Deaths and Entrances
The Beauty of Pearl Lang

By Stuart Hodes
Copyright 2009 Stuart Hodes

NEW YORK -- When I would arrive for classes in Martha Graham's studio, I occasionally spotted Pearl Lang in the advanced class just ending. Pearl, who passed away February 24, was sometimes teaching, sometimes taking, and I was always riveted by her headlong energy and spectacular beauty. Beauty is sometimes dismissed by those who prefer to look beneath this "skin deep" attribute. Pearl's beauty, always aglow, seemed like a reflection of her inner artistry.

Pearl Lang in "Appalacian Spring"
Pearl Lang in Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring." Photo courtesy Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance.

When I first danced with Pearl in "Deaths and Entrances," I felt the exquisite control she had over her boundless energy. When I took her weight in a lift, she passed it to me so seamlessly it was as though her body had merged with mine. Pearl's Bride in "Appalachian Spring" could shoot a gun, guide a plow, and give birth by candlelight, and was as at home on the frontier as an eagle in its eyrie. In her own dances, Pearl brought the same drive for perfection. Could she be difficult to work with? Better believe it. But I've yet to work with a choreographer who wasn't, and few had Pearl's gifts.

Less than a year ago I happened to watch Pearl's advanced technique class. Teachers well into their seniority have a chair handy. I never saw Pearl sit in hers; she was always on her feet, exhorting the dancers in her softly urgent voice. I saw a gentler Pearl when she taught choreography. She still charged her students with her passion for order, clarity, and originality, but gone was the fierceness. Her joy in seeing them blossom was deeply moving, and if their talent wasn't always equal to her demands, she loved them anyway. The memory of Pearl in performance burns in many living memories. The seeds she planted as a teacher will flower for generations to come.

Stuart Hodes was a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1947 to 1958 and headed the Martha Graham School in 2001. He has danced on Broadway, choreographed for companies including the Joffrey Ballet and Harkness Ballet, was Dance Associate for the New York State Council for the Arts, chaired the dance program at New York University, and was executive director of The Kitchen, among many other activities. To read Pearl Lang's reflections on Martha Graham, her dance theory and training, click here.

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