San Francisco Chronicle
Dancer believed craft gave him ‘unearthly joy’
Stuart Hodes, who danced with Martha Graham in the 1940s and ’50s and who for the rest of his life served the field of dance as a performer, choreographer, educator, administrator and author, died Wednesday in New York City. He was 98.
His daughter Martha Hodes confirmed the death, in a hospital.
Hodes did not grow up as a dancer. When he took his first dance class, at the Martha Graham Studio in 1946, he was nearly 21 and fresh from flying B-17 bombers for the Army during World War II. Within a few months, he was asked to join the Graham company.
Graham was 52, already established as a founder of modern dance and believed by many to be greatest dancer and choreographer of her time. She was also known to be extremely demanding.
Hodes would connect the experience of working with Graham with that as a wartime pilot. Working with Graham was “life in the eye of the storm, at the epicenter of an earthquake,” he wrote in his wry, diaristic 2020 memoir, “Onstage With Martha Graham.” That intensity was what he needed: “Having flown and fought as a 19-yearold, I could live with nothing else.”
“I felt that dancing and flying were two ways of getting to the same state,” he said in an interview on “PBS NewsHour” last year. Both, he wrote in his memoir, “can become pure action in which selfconsciousness vanishes, leaving unearthly joy.” Elsewhere he called it “magic time.”
During his tenure with the Graham company, he became known for standing up to her, answering her temper with his. “Martha was driven to dominate people, but I could not allow myself to be dominated,” he wrote.
“Yet I never felt freer than when working with her,” he added. “To become the object of her interest was intoxicating, a challenge I was powerless to resist, yet it took me a while to realize that I was stuck with her and with dancing for the rest of my life.”
The rest of his life was more than seven decades, all devoted to dance.
He performed with the Graham company until 1958, the year he appeared opposite Graham as the Husbandman in Nathan Kroll’s film of what is widely considered her most beloved work, “Appalachian Spring,” set to the music of Aaron Copland. That film is the best document of Hodes in his youthful prime: spirited, eager, trustworthy.
In the 1970s, working for the New York State Council on the Arts and as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, he directed funding to dance companies. From 1972-1982, he was head of the dance department at New York University’s School of the Arts. Throughout, he kept performing, onstage as recently as 2019.
Receiving the lifetime achievement award from the Martha Hill Dance Fund that year, he said, “Dancing was an adventure, and that’s why I stuck with it.”
Stuart Hodes Gescheidt was born in New York City on Nov. 27, 1924, to Jacob and Kate (Hodes) Gescheidt. His father was a building contractor and real estate broker, his mother a stenographer and bookkeeper. He was the middle child, between his older sister, who became Malvine Cole and a writer, and his younger brother, Alfred, who became a photographer.
Stuart was enrolled in Brooklyn College in 1943 when he was drafted into the Army and learned to fly. “You felt the whole country was up there with you,” he told PBS.
After the war, he returned to Brooklyn College but shortly dropped out to join the Graham company. He also took classes at the School of American Ballet. For his stage name he dropped his surname and later adopted Hodes as his legal surname as well.
Dancers in the Graham company were not paid for rehearsals. To support himself, Hodes danced in nightclubs, like the Latin Quarter, and in Broadway shows, like “Paint Your Wagon,” “Do Re Mi” and “Kismet.”
Among his roles in Graham works was the Creature of Fear in “Errand Into the Maze,” the Seer in “Night Journey” and Adolescent Love in “Diversion of Angels.”
He also choreographed and presented his own works. A 1951 piece, “Flak,” conveyed the experience of being the target of anti-aircraft gunfire. He created “Abyss,” depicting rape, for the Harkness Ballet in 1965; it was later performed by the Joffrey Ballet. His works were also performed by the Boston Ballet and the George Faison Universal Dance Experience, among other troupes.
In his memoir, Hodes wrote that he was often asked why he didn’t start a dance company of his own. His answer: “Because I have a family.”
In 1953, he married a fellow Graham dancer, Linda Margolies. Their children, Catherine and Martha, were born in 1956 and 1958. Martha, born while Hodes was filming “Appalachian Spring,” was named after Graham, who told him and his wife that it was “a dangerous name.”
The marriage ended in divorce in 1964, and he married another dancer, Elizabeth Wullen, the next year.
After Hodes left the Graham company in 1958, he continued teaching at the Graham school and at the High School of the Performing Arts in Manhattan (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts). In the late 1960s, he worked for the Harkness House for Ballet Arts, creating shows for young audiences, and ran a young-audience troupe, the Ballet Team.
In addition to his daughter Martha, he is survived by his wife; his other daughter, Catherine Hodes; and two grandchildren. He lived in Manhattan.
Through the 1990s, Hodes and his wife toured with one- and two-person musical shows they created together. With the group Dancers Over 40, he performed the duet “I Thought You Were Dead” with Alice Teirstein, lifting her onto his shoulders. Jennifer Dunning, writing in The New York Times, called it “hilarious, touching and perceptive.”
Hodes also performed with Paradigm, a group for dancers over 50, and with the multigenerational organization Dancers for a Variable Population — still out in front in his 90s, a twinkly-eyed beacon of vitality and zest for life.
Hodes’ devotion to Graham didn’t fade, even after her death in 1991. During a legal dispute over the rights to her dances, he testified in several trials. And during a 2007 show reuniting Graham alumni, he recited a witty rap in her honor, ending with the line “Now every day on celestial grass / Heaven is taking Martha’s class.”