Sunday, December 18, 2011

Choreographer/Dancer Jack Cole and "Hindu Swing"

Ever heard of choreographer Jack Cole and “Hindu Swing?”  Four weeks ago I had not either, but I think this could be one of the grooviest discoveries I've ever made on this blog.

While researching films about India and Orientalism for my "Indian Dances in Western Films About India" post series, I came across the article "The Thousand Ways There Are to Move: Camp and Oriental Dance in the Hollywood Musicals of Jack Cole." Clearly an interesting article just from the title, but as I read it my fascination was piqued when I read that Cole fused ethnic movements (most notably East Indian) into his choreography, started out as a Denishawn dancer, and studied with Uday Shankar! A Hollywood choreographer that studied with Uday Shankar? Tell me more! Tell me more!

The article discussed in detail the number “Not Since Nineveh” that Cole choreographed for the Arabian-themed Hollywood film Kismet (1955) and it emphasized his use of clear signifiers of Indian dance. OK, I figured there would maybe be some Indian-inspired hand gestures, some pretty arm movements, some namaste hands….

...but nothing prepared me for THIS:

“Not Since Nineveh” - Kismet (1955) - Note: If you are unable to see the video due to your country location, please view it here.  


I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dance in Hollywood so brilliantly inspired by the geometry and precision of Bharatanatyam! I’m simply in awe. The Indian inspiration coupled with the syncopated jazz music makes for a completely new visual experience. "Hindu Swing" indeed, though the coinage of the religious term "Hindu" instead of "East Indian" is curious and likely a product of the time period. The dancers Cole used were clearly up to the challenge of his rigorous choreography; Reiko Sato, the princess in the middle, steals the show with her forceful, perfectly controlled, and expertly embellished movements.  McLean, in an interesting take on the number, describes it and all other oriental Cole numbers as "unmarked transvestism" that Cole used as a "hidden" way to express his homosexuality (he was a closeted gay man); she notes how the princesses have fully-covered bodies and are masculine powerhouses with swords and gestures while the men are shirtless and dress rather femininely.  I think the number is simply perfect, but apparently Cole felt the editing left out "some of his best choreography."  You mean there's even more on the "cutting room floor"?!  (TCM).


Cole's Indian-Inspired Film Dances

The spectacular number "Not Since Nineveh" above was not Cole's only film musical choreography inspired from classical Indian dance (and some folk dance).   Here are four more numbers I located:

“Diwan Dances Part 1 (Rahadlakam)” - Kismet (1955) - While the number starts off on a humorous note with Zubediya of Damascus’ entertaining but frenzied orgy of movement in circle-boned pants, she is soon followed by two stunning dances by Samaris of Bangalore and the Princesses of Ababu. Nearly all of the movements of Samaris of Bangalore are exceptionally close to Bharatnatyam adavus; just look at how rigidly she holds her torso and arms in a quirky and uber-stylized manner. However, her costume is most certainly not inspired by Bharatanatyam and looks more like something from Burmese or Cambodian classical dance (but fits right in as South and Southeast Asian anachronisms are common in the film). Her performance is sadly way too short and quickly overshadowed once the Princesses of Ababu begin. Ahhhh... the Ababus!  Look at how their arms are strictly held straight on a horizontal plane, how the hands gesture in a very stylized way, the use of Kathak-inspired hand-spins, the quirkiness, the precision! Brilliant. Not brilliant enough, apparently, for the caliph who “has made no decision!”


“Bazaar of the Caravans” - Kismet (1955) - Cole takes some inspiration from Indian folk dance and has the men performing the very neat movement where the items they are holding in their hands are swung up and down in an S shape without ever being turned upside down. Note: If you are unable to see the video due to your country location, please view it here


“Fate (Reprise)” - Kismet (1955) - A bizarre number with only slight inspiration from Indian dance in the raised arms with limp hands and the spins that remind one of Kathak chakkar spins or sufi rounds (Cole does also include proper sufi dancers in the beginning of the film).


“Rhythm of a New Romance” - On the Riviera (1951) - While this dance number is completely silly (I love Danny Kaye's "INDIA!" exclamation!), it’s delightful to see the Bharatanatyam and South Indian folk dance-inspired costumes and movement. I can see a lot of similarities to Not Since Ninevah in the upward arm waves and the head movements. Loney notes that this number was choreographed and staged by Cole and "used a score of Cole-trained dancers, many showgirls, lavish sets, an obligatory staircase, and Kaye and Verdon dancing [...] with Rosario Imperio featured as a Spanish dancer" and Cole filling in for a sick background dancer (though I have trouble recognizing him.... could he be the male dancer in the India segment?!).  Another song from the film, "Popo the Puppet," is worth watching for Cole's creativity.


So...Who Was Jack Cole?

Check out this trailer for "Jack Cole: Jazz," an in-production documentary by Annette Macdonald and  Timeline Films that is unfortunately delayed due to a lack of funding:


Jack Cole is often called the “Father of Jazz Dance” since his “Cole technique” and the way he evolved jazz dancing originating with Black Americans was highly influential in theater and film dance. He was known for his extremely precise and isolated movements and for his innovation of combining ethnic (notably East Indian, but also Afro-Cuban, Harlem, Spanish, and some Irish) and modern/jazz movements with jazz music.  Nightclubs, Broadway shows, and Hollywood films (and some TV shows) were the three commercial arenas he focused on and where his creativity flourished.  There are some differences of opinion in how exactly Cole should be placed in dance history; even Cole himself thought his style was perhaps better termed "Broadway Commercial" (Loney).  I like Constance Valis Hill's explanation best:
"I am not sure that Cole should be hailed the “Father of Modern Jazz Dance”—what a dubious distinction to father the mongrel hybrid of a dance that was postwar jazz.  But Cole’s extraordinary, although highly idiosyncratic, contribution to the jazz continuum is how he played the movement rhythms of Indian Bharata Natyam, Cuban rumba, and American jitterbug over and against jazz swing.  Strutting in slow motion, sliding over the measure, pulsing in double and triple time, flick-kicking off the beat, and snapping out precision-timed isolations to the beat, Cole drummed the body.  Dancing the jitterbug in a Brooks Brothers suit, his hair crewcut, Cole’s updated and cooled-down movement aesthetic distinguished “modern” jazz dance from anything that had come before it."

Jack Cole's East Indian Sources

Jack Cole, 1930s
My biggest question in learning about Cole and watching his phenomenal choreography has been: where did he learn such precise Bharatanatyam-inspired movements?  Before and during his time there were many other dancers who were interested in the dances of India and created Indian-inspired choreographies of widely-varying authenticity.  A general orientalism and interest in other cultures had been present in the US for some time, and dancers like Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, and La Meri were all presenting "Indian" dances as part of their repertoires.  But nobody ever did anything like Cole!

Ruth St. Denis - Source
Cole's initial introduction to "Indian" dance likely began when he joined and toured with Denishawn (Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn's school) which featured a great deal of oriental-inspired dance numbers.  Everything I've gathered about Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn seems to indicate that their ethnic dance pieces relied more on grand costumes/sets and exotic choreography gleaned from their study of pictures and their imagination rather than learning from actual ethnic practitioners.

The book “The Drama of Denishawn Dance” breaks down the movements of many of Denishawn’s pieces as remembered by 1920s Denishawn dancer Jane Sherman.  As Sherman describes Indian-inspired pieces such as “Nautch Dance,” “Dance of the Apsarases,” and “In the Bunnia Bazaar,” there are only descriptions of foot stamps with ankle bells, chassee and ballet steps, spinning while holding the edges of skirts, and some teasing movements of the hands and arms; none of it sounds particularly authentically Indian and was likely inspired by whatever St. Denis saw of the touring "Nautch Dancers" performing at American fairs of her time (for a fascinating discussion of this, see Priya Srinivasan's excellent article).  Three rare videos of St. Denis performing her “Nautch Dance”/Indian-themed pieces sum this up visually.  The first two I will link since I can't embed them (Incense, Radha), but the third I've embedded below:


Ted Shawn’s humorous “Cosmic Dance of Shiva” piece was said to be created after he studied hundreds of Indian sculptures and paintings featuring the dancing Shiva, learned of the creation/destruction myths in Hinduism, and learned "Indian dance" in India for five months during the Far East tour.  Shawn claimed he “asked Siva before every presentation of his solo to take possession of his human body to express the beauty, rhythm, and power of the god’s being” (Sherman).  Sounds like it would be quite the dance attempt, right?  This, ladies and gentleman, was the result:


So while I'm not an expert on Denis and Shawn's works, I think I've made a good case for their choreography not being particularly authentic and thus not a source for Cole's classically-derived movements.

When Jack Cole moved to New York City and began his nightclub circuit and later film work, he put himself in an area rich with opportunities to learn authentic ethnic dances. It appears the biggest known contenders for influencing his Bharatanatyam inspirations were La Meri, Uday Shankar, and Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury. 

La Meri - Mohan Khokar Archives
"By the late 1930s, Cole began an intensive study of "authentic" East Indian dance with the American-born dancer La Meri, who states, "From me he wanted the adavus of classical Bharata Natyam, and these I gave him."  Cole mastered the technique--the cobra head movements, undulating arms, subtle hip-shoulder isolations, precise "mudra" hand gestures, and darting eye actions (Hill)."  La Meri is said to be the "first 20th century American dancer to actually pursue the study of foreign dance languages--the movements, the choreographic forms, the styles, and the cultural components." She "grew up seeing performances like Loie Fuller, Anna Pavlova, Denishawn, and Diaghilev's Ballets Russes" and first saw Indian dance at an Uday Shankar concert in France in the 1930s (Ruyter).  In an autobiographical account, La Meri said she learned Bharata Natyam in Madras and mentions the name of the devadasi Shrimata Gauri Ammal (Renouf).

La Meri, 1937 - Source
It seems that La Meri may have started out in an orientalist vein reminiscent of Ruth St. Denis (and exemplified by the picture above), but she clearly later sought authentic dance instruction and was interested in teaching authentic dance movements to others and writing research texts about the subject like her 1977 book Total Education in Ethnic Dance.  How authentic she danced is hard to judge without actually seeing video of her Bharatanatyam interpretation (versus her ballet-influenced works like the "Swan Lake using Hindu Gesture technique" viewable at Jacob's Pillow), but the picture to the right looks promising.  La Meri could have been a source for Cole's crisp movement, but it seems more likely that she influenced him more generally in terms of the araimandi half-seated posture, hand gestures and eye movements, etc.

Next up? Uday Shankar (brother of Ravi Shankar) whom Cole is said to have studied with and asked him to teach his students and ensemble groups whenever he was in town (Loney).  I've read that Uday toured the US with ballerina Anna Pavlova in 1923 and again in the 30s with his own troupe, but my impression has always been that his visits were brief and centered on tour performances.  Is it possible that he stayed in New York City for extended amounts of time to have enough time to teach Cole and Cole's dancers as extensively as they claim?  Even if Uday did, it is unlikely that Cole learned his crisp Bharatanatyam moves from him as Uday's style, while distinctively Indian, didn't seem to come from any specific classical tradition and was more of a mix of various folk and classical movement fusion. It's possible, however, that the North Indian Kathak hand spins (such as those seen by the Princesses of Ababu in "Diwan Dances") may have been an Uday inspiration given Uday's early exposure to Rajasthani folk dances when "his father became prime minister of a princely state in Rajasthan" (Hall).

The last possible known (to me) influence is Bhaskar, whom I happened onto quite by chance.  While browsing the web I came across the interesting blog of Sukanya Rahman, granddaughter of Ragini Devi (an American who studied at Kerala Kalamandalam and toured with Guru Gopinath) and former dancer/current artist who recently published a memoir about herself, mother, and grandmother.  One of Sukanya's blog entries mentions the dancer Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury who apparently told her “everything Jack Cole choreographed he stole from me.” One wonders if that statement is borne from truth or rather coming from a place of jealousy. Narthaki wrote of Bhaskar after his death in 2003, “Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, celebrated choreographer and dancer who took the beauty, power and grace of Bharatanatyam in the 1950s to the USA.” After more research, I've learned that he formed a dance company in New York City (“Bhaskar Dances of India Company”) in the 1950s with Indian and American dancers. I think it is a legitimate possibility that Jack Cole may have studied extensively with Bhaskar in the 50s given that they were both based in the same city.

But were Bhaskar's movements just like Uday Shankar's and not quite classically accurate?  Luckily, I was able to track down a video of Bhaskar and two dancers from his company performing in the Merchant-Ivory short dance film, The Creation of Woman (1961).  While his dancing is mostly just exotic waving-around-of-the-arms/hands and posturing, the male and female dancers do dance some Bharatanatyam that he choreographed (see 7:00, 8:50, 10:18, and 11:40).  While I find the dancers' style lacking in crispness, the choreography certainly looks like the kind that would have informed and inspired Cole.

The Creation of Woman (1961)


My theory, therefore, is that Jack Cole received his Bharatanatyam instruction foremost from Bhaskar with lesser influence from La Meri. But there still seems to be something missing.  How did he get his movements so sharp and so reminiscent of classical dancers that have spent umpteen years perfecting their art and adavus?  I think this influence came from himself!  One of the characteristics of "Cole Technique" was his aggressive and sharp style of movement and use of isolations.  The geometry and sharp lines of Bharatanatyam was surely a match made in heaven for Cole. 

But what differentiates Cole from all the other Indian-inspired western dancers of his day was that he never, to my knowledge, portrayed his Indian dances as authentic.  If his setting them to jazz and swing music wasn't enough of a dead giveaway, it's informative to read his approach to his choreography:
“I was interested in the Oriental theater, Japanese and Indian particularly. I was always interested in the culture of people and how they expressed themselves. I never wanted to be—people are always confusing why you are teaching them; they think you want to teach them to be an Indian dancer—but I was trying to expose them to a different attitude, to give them the excitement and the discovery of the thousand ways there are to move that are peculiar and different, totally different, that would never enter your head here. It opens up a new vocabulary of movement" (McLean).
I love this quote because he reminds me a lot of how I felt when I first watched authentic Indian classical dances from South India.  The "discovery of the thousand ways there are to move" that I had never seen before or could have even imagined was exhilarating.  Beyond that I simply liked the aesthetics of the movements, and this appreciation deepened as I learned the meaning behind the gestures and storytelling and the interplay between the dancer and the complex rhythms of classical Carnatic music.

Cole, dancers performing on TV
Beyond simply liking the movement of ethnic dances, East Indian included, Cole seems to have had a genuine respect for the dance forms as evidenced by his seeking out dancers with authentic training.  One of Cole’s former dancers has said Cole would explain the symbolism of all the Indian hand and facial gestures in class. There are also accounts of his authentic dance research when asked to choreograph ethnic film dances, such as when he went to Haiti to study authentic voodoo rituals for a dance number in Lynda Bailey (Loney). Most importantly, it doesn't appear he ever claimed his East Indian dances were anything more than inspiration. After all, he was taking dance movement that spoke to him and creating something new and genius, not claiming some "mystical connection to India" like Ruth St. Denis.  He didn't appear to utilize the rich facial expression and abhinaya of Indian classical dances which is critical to the art form.  And often, he did not utilize markers of "exotic" and "oriental dance" (e.g., costume, set design) unless the subject matter called for it because the authenticity of the dance was not the point; the point was the movement, and Bharatanatyam-inspired moves can be seen in much of his choreography without any visual signifiers of it being "Indian." 

But let's not forget that he was primarily concerned with clubs, broadway, and film productions for which his works needed to be commercially viable. He knew the public would find these ethnic forms fascinating, just as they had done in his Denishawn days.  As he said in a magazine interview and during the time he was known as "the King of Exotica," "I'm crazy about this Oriental stuff.  I've studied with a lot of Indian teachers." (Gottfried).  So while he certainly appropriated Indian dance forms like Bharatanatyam, it seems less egregious to me than dancers like Ruth St. Denis who never sought out explicit authenticity and whose whole method of production and presentation would invite the audience to read the performances as 100% authentic. 

Cole, Gwen Verdon in Alive and Kicking
I have noticed that most of his audiences, fans, and reviewers, even today, seem to not make any distinction between his inspired dance movement and authentic dance movement from India.  It seems no one ever questioned his "ethnic dance" expertise during his heyday.  In the "Jack Cole: Jazz" documentary clip above, Alvin Ailey describes a Port de Bras Cole did as matter-of-factly "East Indian."  The movement being shown is only "East Indian" in the way that spinning in a circle is a "Ballet Pirouette." First of all, what is "East Indian" dance anyway?  There is no monolithic panIndian dance form, just as there is no sense in asking a person of Indian origin "do you speak Indian?"  The "East Indian" dance form Cole seemed most inspired by was the Indian classical form known today as Bharatanatyam.  The movement Ailey describes above does feature the hands out to the side in a horizontal line and the head moving around in a circle, but neither of these look specifically like Bharatanatyam; they are loose visual inspirations only.  Now the Not Since Nineveh number featured at the start of this post is a whole different ballgame.  While it still is not authentic Bharatanatyam, it is so creatively and tightly inspired that it serves as a wonderful homage to the aesthetics of the classical art. 

Many admirers of Jack Cole's work and members of dance circles express frustration that Cole seems almost forgotten today especially outside of the theater and dance world.  He was and still is "little known outside the circles of concerned dance historians, fans of cult [movie] musicals, and a smattering of dance students fortunate enough to know his work and technique through the classes of his proteges" (Steihl).  Much better known are choreographers who have definite influence from Cole such as Agnes de Mille, Bob Fosse, and Jerome Robbins.  While some of them apparently deny any Cole influence, Agnes de Mille said in All His Jazz that many choreographers, including herself, Fosse, and Robbins, "all stole from Jack Cole."  Just take a look at this video from a 1951 TV program of a Bob Fosse choreographed jazz dance.  The Jack Cole influence is immediately and unmistakably obvious.


Some sources I’ve read have suggested that the "Cole amnesia" seen today is due to Cole's having worked in commercial ventures and never dabbling in serious modern dance like Martha Graham; others have suggested it was because he was a closeted gay man, while others have noted Cole’s volatile temper and difficult, sometimes abusive, personality may have discouraged others from paying kind acknowledgment to him.  Bob Boross theorizes four additional contributing factors: Cole "never had a big hit show" unlike Robbins or Fosse; he was never employed in a "director/choreographer" role; the "status quo" and film production style of the time period Cole worked in were barriers; and jazz dance fashions evolved and changed after Cole's time. "Former pupils of Jack Cole can become very defensive about him and the respect that is due his memory," says Ries, who believes "it is Cole's teaching and the development of his technique and classes. Here Cole was master [and] the dancers he trained are now passing his training on and though much else has changed, his concepts and technique remain the basis for the modern musical theatre dancer."

There appears to be an effort in recent years to revive his memory and celebrate his works.  Chet Walker will present a musical tribute to Cole next year with recreations of his works (video), Jacob's Pillow hosted moderated discussions about his work, and Dancers Over 40 often remembers Jack Cole and has some excellent video uploads of his rare works (check out Sing, Sing Sing).

A nagging theory of mine remains.  One of Bob Fosse's characteristic moves was "Jazz Hands."  Some have said "Jazz Hands" originated from African dance, but was their popularity influenced by Jack Cole's use of Bharatanatyam hand gestures like the alapadma?  Could the "Jazz Hands" derivative "Spirit Fingers" have been popularized by inspirations from classical Indian dance?  A girl can dream! ;)

To close, there is much more that could be said about Jack Cole and his public and personal life, but here I've focused only on the information relevant to assessing his Indian-inspired dance style and where it originated.  For more reading I would recommend many of the sources below.  I'll end with a link to the Dance Heritage Collection website's page on Jack Cole which features a rare video of him in a speaking and dancing role in Designing Woman (1957): 100 Dance Treasures: Jack Cole


Book and Article Sources:
Boross, Bob - Jack Cole as researched by Bob Boross (FULL TEXT)
Gottfried, Martin - All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse (SELECTED TEXT)
Hall, Fernau - Honoring Uday Shankar
Hill, Constance Vallis - From Bharata Natyam to Bop: Jack Cole's "Modern" Jazz Dance
Loney, Glenn Meredith - Unsung Genius The Passion of Dancer Choreographer Jack Cole
McLean, Adrienne L. - The Thousand Ways There Are to Move: Camp and Oriental Dance in the Hollywood Musicals of Jack Cole (SELECTED TEXT)
Renouf, Renee - La Meri: A Life in Ethnic Dance
Ries, Frank W. D. - Scholarship and Musical Theatre (Review of Unsung Genius above and Marilyn)
Ruyter, Nancy Lee - La Meri and the World of Dance (FULL TEXT)
Sherman, Jane - The Drama of Denishawn Dance
Steihl, Pamyla Alayne - The "Dansical": American Musical Theatre Reconfigured as a Choregrapher's Expression and Domain  (FULL TEXT)

Edit: Additional Sources:
I was recently introduced to some excellent writings on Jack Cole by Debra Levine of the artsmeme blog. She seems to be one of the few people consistently writing about Cole today! Here are some links to her articles and blog posts on Jack Cole:
American Master Choreographer Jack Cole Feted at Jacob's Pillow (Huffington Post)
Jack Cole Made Marilyn Monroe Move (Los Angeles Times)
Jack Cole-tagged posts at artsmeme.com (check out these vintage costumed Cole pics)

27 comments:

  1. This is gripping reading. Bravo!

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  2. What a great find Minai! It's been many many years since I saw Kismet and now I want to watch it again to enjoy these rediscovered dances. A fascinating story you have found, and you have done it justice with this lovely piece. Thanks once again for all your efforts in detailed research and sourcing clips to make it come to life. Cheers, Temple

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  3. Fascinating, almost all of it new to me. I found that Bhaskar is the son Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhry whose sculpture 'Triumph of Labour' I saw several times in Madras in my student days. There is an interesting sketch of Bhaskar in a book called 'Village Elders', I assumed village referred to Greenwich. I liked that dance and thought Indian dance can do with innovations like that. May be there are in Uday Shankar's and other dances but I never watched Kalpana. Anyway, thanks for a very nice post.

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  4. SHIRLEY Temple?! how have you been , Shirley?! :D

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  5. On rewatching the dances from Kismet, am I the only one that sees a stylistic similarity- both costumes and set design - to Star wars?

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  6. rameshram - Thank you. I need more info on this Kismet-Star Wars comparison! :)

    cinemachaat - Lovely to find someone else that has seen Kismet! From reading reviews of the film, it didn't seem to be very well received in its day (apparently it was very hurriedly made). The funniest part to me is all the non-middle eastern things in it that appeared to go the heads of every reviewer I've ever read. :) Glad you enjoyed the post and the research, thanks for the comment!

    gaddeswarup - What an interesting connection! So Bhaskar came from an artistic family then. Are you referring to the 'Village Elders' book by Coleman that documents photos of the Gay/Lesbian community in NY? If so, this has my mind theorizing all sorts of things! Was Bhaskar part of that community (this certainly crossed my mind as I watched "The Creation of Woman"), or were his performances popular there? Jack Cole was apparently a closeted gay man, so I wonder if he had any sort of connection with Bhaskar (and this would further strengthen my theory that Cole and Bhaskar studied extensively together). I have a feeling that given the homophobia of the time period there is a whole other side to Cole's history and the dance community he was a part of (and Ted Shawn, etc.).

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  7. Yes,it is the book by Coleman and is available on the net. I posted some links here
    http://gaddeswarup.blogspot.com/2011/12/interesting-indian-dance.html
    Since the images of that sculpture stayed with me.

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  8. gaddeswarup - wow, that book is a wonderful find, thank you for posting about it! 4 pages describing more about Bhaskar! There's so little info about him on the 'net that this is a great addition. How sad that he had some very tragic things happen to him at the end of his life.

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  9. Hi Minai,

    You really have a nice website with well-researched articles on Indian Dance. Eventhough, I enjoy reading your articles, I have never commented before. I just wanted to ask if you have already reviewed "La Bayadere"...I think that would neatly fit under Western adaptations of Indian classical dance traditions...(even though it's an opera containing several dance pieces)...Thanks...Keep up the good work !! :)

    Anand

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  10. Thank you Anand. Do you mean "La Bayadere" the ballet production, or is there a film adaptation of it you're referring to? I've just started watching some YouTube clips of these "oriental"-type ballets, and from what I can gather the ones supposed to be inspired from Indian dances seem to be inspired more in costumes than movement. I do see some namaste-hands, general arm fluidity, and maybe a half-seated posture but haven't seen much that looks really "Indian" to me. It seems the point isn't really to have authentic Indian movement but rather to be just exotic. :) But I could be wrong- will have to explore this topic further! Thanks for stopping by and hope to see you again.

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  11. This post is brilliant! For someone who has just been introduced to Jack Cole, you have "processed" so much of him - and write about it beautifully. There is a story (fable?) about how Cole was introduced to doing Hindu movements to jazz music: While touring with Ruth St. Denis and appearing at some small venue on the East Coast, Miss Ruth asked the band leader: "What choice of music do we have?" The band leader replied: "The only Indian music we have is 'In an Indian Temple Garden,' but it is a swing version." Miss Ruth asked the band to play it. As they played, she marked the choreography and said; "Yes, that will do just fine."

    Thanks for your passion, knowledge and incredible information on your site. It is now a big "FAVORITE" of mine.

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  12. Dance on Film - Hello! Thank you very much for the compliments- I see from your username you have similar interests. :) That's a very interesting story of how Cole was first exposed to the Indian/Swing combination. It seems curious though, especially since I read in one of the books I cited that once when Jack played some big band music or something similar in Ruth and Shawn's place, they reacted negatively and felt it was "defiling" the "temple." The Unsung Genius book mentions another version of the "story" of how Cole got exposed- it said it was Marcus Blechman who casually suggested the idea of pairing the movements with jazz music to Cole, and it took off from there. So it's hard to know what's true isn't it! Seems that's true of quite a lot about Jack's life, especially his personal life...

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  13. In May, Queens Theatre in Queens, NY is opening a show THE JACK COLE PROJECT. Alot of the pieces of Kismet will be performed. I think it is something definitely worth seeing if you are interested in his Indian style!

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  14. Sydney Pratt - Thank you for the information. I hope the performance is recorded and available for purchase/viewing later because I certainly live on the wrong side of the country! :) I'm curious if anyone can do as much justice to Not Since Nineveh as the original Ababus did!

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  15. I've been watching their rehersals and they seem up for the challenge!

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  16. Sydney - How exciting, I didn't realize you were so close to the production! In my post I had linked to a "teaser" video of the Jack Cole Project, and there I see a couple small snippets of Not Since Nineveh rehearsals- the male dancers look phenomenal! I'm most impressed by their rendition of the flamenco number Cole choroegraphed for a film (I forget the name). Excited to see the final production, somehow!

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  17. Wow,"Limehouse Blues" it's from my YouTube channel.
    Sorry for my english,i'm italian.First of all,my compliments for this blog.I absolutely don't think Jack Cole is not as famous as Fosse or Robbins etc. because never dabbling in serious modern dance like Martha Graham or because he was gay(!).About the volatile temper and difficult,sometimes abusive,it may have been damaged,but partially.Instead,i agree with my Facebook friend Bob Boross,especially about his first and second point:Cole "never had a big hit show",and he was never employed in a "director/choreographer" role.
    I have linked this page on my Facebook group about Jack Cole:http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jack-Coleone-of-the-greatest-choreographers-and-dancers-ever/162119210496478

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    1. Jazz dance - So you're the source of that great Limehouse Blues clip! What a rarity, especially since it's an old TV clip--I'm so glad you posted it for us dance lovers to see! Yes, all those reasons I listed for why Jack Cole is not so well-remembered today were all theories I had read in either Loney's Unsung Genius book or other sources listed. I wonder if the reasons you agree with (lack of hit show and director/choreographer roles) were due to Jack's own actions/wishes or if they were due to outside pressures/influences on him due to some of the other reasons listed. It seems hard to say for sure, and from everything I read on Jack he struck me as a person that had a love/hate relationship with the Hollywood cinema machine that likely affected how he chose to interact with it. But I am certainly no Jack Cole expert! :)

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  18. Hi,what do you think of this?From 1:11 to 2:16.In general,in my opinion it's a nice dance number.The choreographers are Joe Layton and Arlene Phillips.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3min3gGlmo

    And i signal this:http://www.nitabieber.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=44&Itemid=58

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    1. I haven't seen the 1982 Annie in such a long time and had completely forgotten about the turban-ed "Indian" Poon-jab character played by a black guy. :) What a humorous dance he does in that first link- gotta love the head movements and the faux-hand gestures he does at the end. And that Nita Bieber dance is great. I immediately saw tons of Jack Cole influences and then read her biography and saw that she was a Jack Cole dancer! Great finds, thank you for sharing.

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  19. Candace Hibbard LillieJune 22, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    I was one of Bhaskar's partners, 1976 until the accident. He always told me the same thing about his influence on Jack Cole. Who can say? But CREATION OF WOMAN is an awful example of the BHASKAR: DANCES OF INDIA Bharatha Natyam technique. Believe me, it was VERY crisp and exactly on line. Fast, too. The dancers in the Merchant film are just beginning to learn the dances. It was early in the time Bhaskar was in the U.S., and they had not had time. BTW, i still have that loin cloth, if anyone is interested....

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  20. Candace Hibbard LillieJune 22, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    sorry for the double post. Bhaskar said they were both rehearsing at the same rehearsal studio. Cole was a VERY quick study. He would watch Bhaskar's rehearsals and just use what he liked. As far as I know it wasn't lessons.

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    1. Candace - I am completely stunned by your comment! Amazing that you were one of his dance partners. I'm wondering if you are familiar with the Sruti magazine issue that had Bhaskar on the cover and multiple articles about him? Your comment made me read through it again, and I was amazed to find your name mentioned multiple times! You are mentioned as finishing one leg of the tour with Carolyn after Bhaskar's paralyzing accident, again in a description of the friends who helped "Bhaskar keep his chin up," and again in writings by Bhaskar himself noting his two new partners who worked six months on and six months off. What a coincidence to have you here commenting on my blog! So wonderful. When I first read the Sruti articles about Bhaskar, I was so saddened to read about his horrific accident and many other sad things that happened to him. It was interesting to read in Sruti about the films he had done. Do you know of any other film dances Bhaskar had done? The articles say his only other classicalish dance was in "Dances of India" by Trident Films.
      It's wonderful to read your confirmation that Creation of Woman wasn't the best example of Bhaskar's abilities. And you have his loin cloth! :) But most of all I'm happy to read your note that Jack Cole and Bhaskar rehearsed at the same studio - further proof of my theory! Thank you again, feel free to send me an email at kasuvandi@gmail.com. Toodles!

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  21. Blog is fantastic. I have only had computer two years and am senior citizen. First place I searched on Youtube was to see the Khyber Pass, and to see if people in Middle East danced. Films I saw were from the very wealthy travelers from the 1930's, and I became mesmerized with the dances of India, and Indonesia. The films had no sound. Knew that it was pure language, not to be mispronounced in anyway. Didn't know of Cole until I saw Mitzi Gaynor's video, "I don't Care." Then tonight to find Kismet, and a link to your blog. Well, just how lucky can you get! I am an Igor Moiseyev fan, too.
    I saw one of your commenters said Jack was a quick study, and I know he had to see the great stuff to understand it, but I can tell you from experience, that there are those like Cole, whose mind can store and feed back exactly, or know where to reach until they get it. I with my limited experience of seeing dance except thru YouTube would say Cole loved gesture and nature, was primed to rejoice in physical expression. That is way beyond speculation on sexuality I saw mentioned. In the field of communication there is an expression about clarity called the signal to noise ratio. I think Cole experienced every signal he saw and lifted it up for us to see in our rhythm. It is a joy to watch, just as to see a falcon soar, or a horse and rider who share their nervous systems to perfection. I am going to follow some of the links you suggested. I am probably the least educated of your commenters, but I do love dance and hearing the music of other cultures.

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  22. NadineisthatU - Hello and welcome! I'm happy that you found my blog through the Kismet dances- they are indeed amazing. I think you're right that Cole was extremely talented in interpreting dance through natural ability. Do follow Debra Levine's artsmeme blog - she recently participated in a TV special highlighting Jack Cole's film work if I remember correctly, which you might find interesting.

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  23. I'm back because I wanted copy a link to this to artsmeme blog. I just found her tonight. So you two are already connected, it only makes sense. I wish I had cable so I could have seen the full films feature Cole's choreography. Tonight on PBS saw three hours of program, Broadway or Bust, at npr.org/broadwayorbust, Keisha Lelana, how much she had to do in four days with 60 high school kids from all around the country. She was amazing, and all the vocal coaches were, too.

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  24. Nadine - Hello again! Yes, Levine's work to spread awareness of Jack Cole's talent and legacy is wonderful! I wanted to watch her special too but don't have cable either! At some point it might be available online to view.

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