Terese Capucilli’s film is a beautiful ode to the great accompanist…an information-filled lesson for anyone thinking of being an accompanist or who already is one. If only every accompanist would watch this!” — Penny Frank, Teacher, LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts 1968-2008, Graham & Ailey Schools

To some, playing for dance classes might look like or appear to be a thankless job, or a waste of a good musician’s talent. To anyone who has taught dance classes, however, to have one’s class accompanied by a truly talented musician, this could not be further from the truth. Pianists and other musicians have aided generations of dancers to hone their musical skills while also training their bodies. These musicians do more than just accompany the class, they help breathe life and energy into the movement, and the exceptional ones also inspire the teachers. One such unsung hero is Lawrence “Reed” Hansen.

Lawrence “Reed” Hansen: The Sacrosanct Accompanist—a musical journey through Martha Graham’s dance technique, was produced and directed by Terese Capucilli. The film is on the roster of the Dance + Camera West Festival and will have its west coast debut screening at 12 noon on April 14th at the Laemmle Santa Monica on 2nd  Street.  There will be a short introduction by Tonia Barber, followed by a  Q&A hosted by Bonnie Oda Homsey with Capucilli.

Capucilli’s film is important for several reasons. It is a film that celebrates the life, talents and contributions of someone who has inspired a host of dance professionals. Reed Hansen explains in loving detail how and why he selects the music he plays for class. This is quickly followed by a demonstration with beautifully trained dance students at the Martha Graham and Juilliard Schools. As important, however, are the rare scenes with Martha Graham and her company performing, and the footage and photos of modern dance pioneers and professionals like Virginia Tanner, Martha Hill, Norma Dalby, Helen McGehee, Mary Hinkson, Ethel Winter, Bertram Ross, Hanya Holm, José Limón, Betty Jones and more.

Lawrence “Reed” Hansen: The Sacrosanct Accompanist is also a tribute to those who have kept the Martha Graham dance technique and legacy alive, and from watching the students perform Graham’s floor exercises, these teachers have done a brilliant job. There is footage of Capucilli and others teaching the students at Juilliard and the Graham school to Hansen’s accompaniment, and one can sense their love for this man and his devotion to dance.

Lawrence “Reed” Hansen at home – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hansen was born in 1932 in Salt Lake City, Utah; the second child of six children. He fell in love with the piano in the 4th grade upon hearing a classmate perform Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu at their school’s talent show. He began lessons four years later and continued to study piano and voice at the University of Utah. It was there that Norma Dalby heard Hansen playing during a piano lesson and took him to meet Virginia Tanner, a very well-known teacher of dance for children. Tanner, Hansen said, gave him the wonderful advice “to let his fingers dance over the keys.” It was advice that freed him to use the entire keyboard. It is a treat to watch him demonstrate the difference.

There are beautiful photos of a young Hansen that drift by to a recording of his singing an old African-American spiritual Rocka Mah Soul in 1955. Feeling the need to leave Salt Lake City, Hansen moved to New York City in 1958, carrying with him a letter of recommendation written by Virginia Tanner to Martha Hill. This letter helped him get a job as dance accompanist at the Juilliard School, where he has been ever since.

In the film, Hansen states that he was most inspired by the classes of Helen McGehee and that Hanya Holm said to him, “Put a fire under it!”. There are many treasures of what he learned from different dance teachers throughout the film. There is footage of Hansen accompanying a composition class taught by modern dancer Elizabeth Keen who performed with Helen Tamiris/Daniel Nagrin and Paul Taylor, and who later formed her own company. Hansen has played for many great teachers who taught at the Juilliard and Graham schools, as well as touring with the Martha Graham Dance Company to play for company classes.

Bonnie Oda Homsey

Bonnie Oda Homsey is a former principal dancer with the Martha Dance Graham Company and the founder of the Los Angeles Dance Foundation and the American Repertory Dance Company. Since 2000 she has been the Chair of Dance for The Princess Grace Foundation USA. On the topic of Reed Hansen, she wrote: “Reed was without doubt my favorite accompanist at Juilliard and the Martha Graham School.  His accompaniment stirred my imagination with visceral responses in dynamic, tone, quality, phrasing.” Homsey said: “At first, I did not much like Graham Technique preferring Humphrey/Limón. Reed was a big part of guiding understanding of the why/what of Graham Technique.”

For current and future musicians who might wish to play for dance classes, Hansen explains in detail what and why he chooses certain music for each of the Graham floor exercises. One wonderful quote from Hansen is regarding where he finds the beat for this technique. He states that when you first start seeing the Graham Technique, what you notice is a lot of arms. He says, however, that “the beat is not in the arms. The beat is in the pelvis. The arms are an afterglow of the beat. So never go by what the arms are doing, but by what the pelvis is doing.”

Terese Capucilli teaching a Graham class – Lawrence “Reed” Hansen accompanying – Photo courtesy of the artist

Not everyone’s attention will be held as Hansen takes the viewer though many of the Graham floor exercises, explaining what meter, tempo and quality they require, but for the dancers and musicians in the audience this is indeed a “musical journey through Martha Graham’s technique.” As a former member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, I found poetic irony in the scene where Hansen is giving a demonstration on accompanying dance classes to a small group of musicians. At one point, he begins to pluck and strum the piano keys. This made me smile because the Graham School is now located in the former Merce Cunningham Dance Studio on the top floor at Westbeth, where for many years John Cage worked with the Cunningham company. Merce Cunningham was a member of the Graham Company from 1939 to 1945 before he formed his own company in 1953. John Cage was an American composer and pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments.

Dance students at the Juilliard School of Dance in NYC – Photo courtesy of the artist

This unique film glides back and forth between rare black and white footage of the old and new Graham Studio. It travels between performances by dancers such as Martha Graham and Bertram Ross to the students at Juilliard demonstrating the exercises as Hansen plays. Martha Graham invented an entirely new dance technique and formed her company in 1926 and it was this amazing woman who called Hansen her sacrosanct. Martha Graham died in 1991, one year after choreographing her final work, Maple Leaf Rag. She was 97 when she passed.

There are no other films like Capucilli’s Lawrence “Reed” Hansen: The Sacrosanct Accompanist —a musical journey through Martha Graham’s dance technique. To my knowledge, it is the only film that looks at a particular dance technique through the eyes of the accompanist and so thoroughly gives an insight into the techniques of playing for dance classes. In Capucilli’s film one hears dance sing through the fingers of this incredible musician. It is a stunning tribute to Lawrence “Reed” Hansen, as well as to devoted teachers like Terese Capucilli who strive to keep the Martha Graham legacy alive.

About the Producer/Director

Born in Syracuse, New York, Terese Capucilli is an acclaimed interpreter of the roles originally performed by Martha Graham. She was a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company for twenty-six years (1979 – 2005), and among the last generation of dancers to be personally coached and directed by Ms. Graham. Capucilli became associate artistic director in 1997 and from 2002 to 2005 served as artistic director, with Christine Dakin; playing a role in seeing the organization and its dancers through the rebirth of the company. She is currently an Artistic Director Laureate.

A Special Projects Grant from the Princess Grace Foundation—USA was awarded to Capucilli in 2014 in support of this film. Capucilli also serves on the faculty of the Juilliard School.

Poster for film – courtesy of the artist

More about the film:

Lawrence ‘Reed’ Hansen: The Sacrosanct Accompanist—a musical journey through Martha Graham’s dance technique was filmed at The Juilliard School and The Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance, NYC where Hansen played for dance classes for many, many years.

On making this film, Ms. Capucilli wrote: “The necessity to document his vast wealth of knowledge drove me to set up a single camera in the studio in 2014. For years, I had been thinking about how essential it was to capture Reed in his element. Reed has a deep-rooted sensibility of the union between teacher, student and accompanist. Through masterful improvisation, his lifetime development of the musical underpinning of Graham’s formalized physical language, its progressive vocabulary, transitional phrasing and nuance, has enriched the artistry of generations of dancers and forged the way for other dance accompanists. His contribution to the preservation of the methodology for teaching Martha Graham’s codified technique and philosophy is unprecedented.”

Music for the film is improvised by Reed Hansen using original and familiar theme variations captured in the spontaneity of the dance studio. It was filmed in single takes and without rehearsal.

What several well-known dance artists said about the film:

This amazing film tells the story of a magnificent pianist, Reed Hansen, who was the accompanist for Martha Graham for many years. He is a superb musician who understands Ms. Graham’s technique and dynamics perfectly. His great insight into accompanying dance is here for all the world to see.” — Lawrence Rhodes, Artistic Director Emeritus, Dance Division, The Juilliard School, NYC

An inimitable film of a life of passion and the making of art…a poetic masterpiece…a gift to the preservation and legacy of the Martha Graham Technique…”  –  Jacqulyn Buglisi, Graham educator since 1971, Graham School, modern chair Ailey School

Lawrence ‘Reed’ Hansen: The Sacrosanct Accompanist removes the veil from the very specialized yet undervalued world of the musician in dance. A heartfelt and meticulous tribute to a very unique and gifted man who inspires us all!” — Paula Jeanine Bennett, Dance accompanist & composer, The Juilliard School, Ailey School

Every teacher, every dancer and every accompanist should be required to study this film before teaching, taking or playing for, a Graham Technique class. Important, entertaining and revealing, it is a wonderful teaching tool. Reed is a superstar of a musician for dance.” – Linda Hodes, Former Co-Artistic Director, Martha Graham Dance Company.

Thank goodness Terese Capucilli had the understanding and fortitude to capture this essential piece of the Martha Graham legacy. Thanks to Terese, generations to come will have access to the artistry and insight that Reed developed by collaborating with Graham herself.” — Janet Eilber, Artistic Director, Martha Graham Dance Company

For a trailer of the film, upcoming screening information and dancer, teacher and accompanist resources, click here:

Film website, click here.

What: “Lawrence ‘Reed’ Hansen: The Sacrosanct AccompanistA musical journey through Martha Graham’s dance technique. There will be a short introduction by Tonia Barber, followed by a Q & A hosted by Bonnie Oda Homsey.

When: Saturday, April 14 – 12 noon

Where: Laemmle Santa Monica, 1332  2nd Street, Santa Monica, CA. 90401

For further Information contact:Terese Capucilli  terese@sacrosanctaccompanist.com

Copyright ©2016 Terese Capucilli

Feature Photo courtesy of the artist.

To view the LA Dance Chronicle Calendar of Performances, click here.