Flash Reminiscences, 9-28: After Francis, what?
Stories of the great Mason
By Matthew Brookoff, Alicia Chesser, Stephan Laurent, & Paul Ben-Itzak
The Dance Insider
For a period of time last year my computer was on the fritz. I was teaching an on line dance appreciation course so I needed to have computer access. Francis graciously (and grace is one of the terms which most describes Francis) gave me a key to his house and told me to come whenever I wanted and use his computer. During this (extended) period, my friend Brad Crane moved to NY. Brad is a composer and he and Francis immediately hit it off. Brad admired Francis's Steinway (though it needed to be tuned) and Francis invited Brad to come and play whenever he wanted. There I was downstairs working on the course, Brad upstairs on the piano and Francis in and out of the house being just as welcoming and gregarious as can be. Brad composed a fantastic ballet on the piano, a work which I am currently choreographing. I think Francis was thrilled that he could facilitate this new creation. It was one of the many ways in which Francis made my work possible over the years. I am fortunate to have had a chance to show him rehearsal footage about a month ago in Rye and especially glad that he got to hear the entire score, which he listened to with rapt attention.
One evening at the house this past Winter, I mentioned to Francis that Brad and I were going to go to the Met to take a look at the Bonnard show and asked if he wanted to join us. Though Francis was 87 and it was a cold winter night he jumped to in typical Francis fashion. We were out the door and on our way to the subway in no time. I will never forget the joy, the utterly unguarded enthusiasm with which Francis addressed the work. I see so clearly Francis approaching one of the canvases and letting out a resounding moan of pleasure over a detail he noticed, startling the young woman in front of him. Francis's enthusiasm, generosity of spirit, and graciousness were almost palpable forces. There is, of course, so much more to be said but the bottom line is that he made the world a better place and I will sorely miss him.
-- Matthew Brookoff, New York City
So very sad to hear this. His work was a huge inspiration for me. His positive words about my writing years ago continue to encourage me. These connections to Balanchine, to Graham, to the Ballets Russes -- to the great history of 20th-century dance -- are so precious. I saw him several times at the New York State Theater and he always had an enormous grin on his face, as if just being in that house made his heart bigger. Thank you, Mr. Mason, for your life and your work, and especially for leaving us so much writing through which your knowledge and enthusiasm for dance will continue to educate us for years to come.
-- Alicia Chesser, Tulsa
There was a man who really understood dance without ever having practiced the art, and knew how to use the verbal medium to translate the quintessentially non-verbal one. He will be sorely missed by all who care about the preservation of dance in the written word.
I only had the privilege to meet the man once, long ago, in Milwaukee where I was teaching at U-W. He immediately struck me as someone who understood the power of dance to tell stories or evoke images, and had the most uncanny ways of finding the right words to encompass that. Since then I have read whatever he wrote with the utmost attention, for I knew there was a non-dancer who understood the dancer -- he must have been one in a prior life, or is on his way to become one.
-- Stephan Laurent, Indianapolis
I'd just been fired by Dance Magazine, in November 1997, and found myself at a reception for the Graham company at the Graham School. Francis of course had heard. "You I'm not worried about," he said with that big toothy grin. "What will Dance Magazine do?"
A year later, we founded the Dance Insider. Francis was our first subscriber.
-- Paul Ben-Itzak
Got a memory of Francis Mason to share? E-mail us here.