June 23, 2024


Life is art

Don Martin, LACHSA teacher and Lester Horton dancer, dies

Donald “Don” Martin, a choreographer and trainer who preserved the legacy of modern day dance icon Lester Horton, died July 4 at his home in West Hollywood following difficulties from lung condition. He was 90.

The loss of life was confirmed by his cousin Dr. Vicki Hughes.

In the 1950s, Martin carried out with the Lester Horton Dance Theater in L.A. and was an unique member of Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater, executing in the company’s iconic 1960 piece “Revelations.” Just after doing work with the Library of Congress to archive Horton’s memorabilia, together with choreographic notes, images and set styles, Martin taught Horton system to generations of younger dancers at the Los Angeles County Higher Faculty for the Arts.

In 2003, he acquired the life span accomplishment award at the 12th yearly Lester Horton Dance Awards, recognizing his perform in preserving Horton strategy and the choreographer’s legacy.

Born in Houston in 1931, Martin moved to L.A. as a child. He attended Thomas Jefferson Higher Faculty in South L.A. with contemporary dance pioneers Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade, graduating in 1948. An afternoon trip with Ailey to notice de Lavallade taking a course at Horton’s Dance Theater in West Hollywood sparked Martin’s lifelong devotion to dance.

Martin began his occupation with Horton’s Dance Theater in the late 1940s. Horton launched the dance theater, 1 of America’s first everlasting venues devoted to modern day dance, in partnership with Bella Lewitzky. The troupe has been identified as the initially built-in modern dance business in the U.S.

In addition to dancing, Martin was immersed in costume and set design, lights and advertising, as perfectly as teaching Horton technique to youthful pupils in L.A. In the early 1960s, he done Horton’s “Dedication to Jose Clemente Orozco,” which was designed in 1953.

Martin turned good friends with Maya Angelou when the writer — then doing the job as a performer — hired Horton dancers to open for her demonstrate supporting her album “Miss Calypso.” Traveling with Angelou, the performers had to use the “Green Guide,” a information listing risk-free places for Black travelers.

“There were being some times where they experienced to use the Black entrance,” reported Natasha Diamond-Walker, a soloist for the Martha Graham Dance Firm who was mentored by Martin. “They could not go to the white entrance or they could not eat at particular places to eat or they could consume at that restaurant but it experienced to be in the again exterior.”

When Horton died unexpectedly in 1953, Martin labored with Frank Eng, Horton’s business supervisor, to maintain the theater and college open. In 1960, Eng made the decision to near the dance theater, and Martin moved to New York to join the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater he done with the firm overseas as aspect of John F. Kennedy’s “President’s Specific Intercontinental Program for Cultural Presentations.”

After returning to L.A., Martin started doing the job with Man Greengard, proprietor of the luxurious men’s clothes retail store Mr. Person, a longtime fixture on Rodeo Push in Beverly Hills. As a head trend customer for additional than 20 years, Martin attended runway demonstrates and styled Hollywood celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen.

“He was very stylish. He cherished Issey Miyake,” recalled Hughes. “He was just so properly-rounded and cultured and classy, and all my good friends loved him.”

A woman in a patterned sweater and a man in black

Don Martin celebrates with Maya Angelou on the eve of her 65th birthday bash in 1993.

(Vicki Hughes)

Martin and Angelou remained close close friends for 50 many years. “Don would notify me about how [Angelou] would appear in excess of to his apartment, since he experienced a wonderful condominium in West Hollywood, and she mounted chicken and dumplings,” Hughes said.

Martin commenced teaching Horton procedure at L.A. County High Faculty for the Arts in the early 2000s.

At the college, the place Martin taught until he was 85, he made primary works and restaged Horton’s duet “Dedication to Jose Clemente Orozco” for students. Performing in one of Martin’s is effective was a ceremony of passage and a privilege for learners, reported Fiona Lummis Eddy, interim co-chair of the LACHSA dance office.

Diamond-Walker, one particular Martin’s early LACHSA learners, described his courses as demanding but fulfilling.

“He arrived from a minimalistic method and he was all about the do the job,” Diamond-Walker said. “He wasn’t about feelings, like he didn’t actually treatment how you had been emotion that day — he himself did not convey any emotion into the area.”

Which is crucial, she added, because “as a specialist dancer you simply cannot permit your feelings dictate how you are heading to carry out. He was providing all of his pupils that enormous lesson and that type of schooling that a person would need when they are a expert dancer.”

An older man dressed in black demonstrates a Lester Horton modern dance move.

Don Martin teaches a Horton course at LACHSA.

(Leo Hetzel)

Diamond-Walker became Martin’s “dancing daughter” as her profession progressed. Just after graduating college, she realized that Martin planned to entrust her with Horton’s selection, which includes legal rights to perform Horton’s choreography, props, paintings and phase maps, immediately after his loss of life. Martin experienced inherited Horton’s perform and became a steward of the assortment after Eng died.

“It’s a significant accountability and it is a pretty thorough get the job done for the reason that you have to make positive you are carrying out it the appropriate way, lawfully,” Diamond-Walker explained. She designs to continue on Martin’s function as a Horton custodian. “My program now is to reinstate the Lester Horton Dance Theater and truly have the ballets of Horton and have the ballets of Don’s, all established and structured, so that they can be performed in the course of the globe.”

In 2020, Martin was diagnosed with belly most cancers. Even even though chemotherapy led to problems and Martin grew weak, he taken care of his class, Hughes reported.

“He’s laying up in bed with the oxygen mask but it was just so tranquil and relaxed,” Hughes said, reflecting on his demise. “His white drapes billowing on side of him. He’s obtained a big poster of Marilyn Monroe previously mentioned his mattress, a pencil drawing of a naked dancer on just one wall, and the other wall was all mirrored. It was like a thing out of a image. There was an orchid plant on his bedside desk. And he went out as gracefully as he came in to everyday living.”

Martin is survived by 6 cousins furthermore nieces. nephews, good-nieces and great-nephews.