“Gone too soon. Richard Fein passed away this week. As a performer in one of Elliot Feld’s works, NY Times critic Jennifer Dunning said it best: “Half Nijinsky faun, Half Apollo, his is a stunning performance”. Some called him a “dancer’s dancer” because he fused musicality, strong technique and interpretation so well.” – Don Hewitt
On July 3, 2022, the dance community lost yet another extraordinary artist and renaissance man who was from the Los Angeles area, Richard Fein. He was only 69 years old. I learned of Fein’s passing via a posting on FaceBook by one of his earliest teachers Don Hewitt, dancer, teacher, coach, educator, and mentor for countless dancers who grew up in L.A. With their permission, I have included remembrances and photos of Richard Fein provided by his brother Dan Fein; Don Hewitt; Elliot Feld, choreographer and artistic director of Feld Ballet; dancer and choreographer Jeff Satinoff, dancer Jennifer Grissette Laemmerhirt; Megan Murphy, a principal dancer from the Feld; dancer and friend Zan Dubin-Scott; and choreographer William Forsythe. It was Zan Dubin who spent a lot of time and energy helping me connect with all of those who have contributed to this article.
Richard was a teenager at Palisades High School when he began his training with Don Hewitt and Joey Harris in Santa Monica, CA. After leaving Los Angeles, Fein performed with several ballet companies: National Ballet of Canada, Pennsylvania Ballet (1977 – 1979), Feld Ballet (1979 – 1983), AterBalletto in Italy (April – September 1984), and Ballet Frankfurt (1985 – 1990). “When in New York, he often studied with Gabriela Taub Darvash. Richard performed with a number of other leading companies here and in Europe. Many roles were created on him and he was a muse to many,” Hewitt wrote.
In 1985, dance writer Lewis Segal wrote a review of a performance at the Ford Theatre that included Fein and ballet dancer Thais Leavitt titled ‘Reunion L.A.’ Leavitt also began her dance training in Los Angeles. “It’s always shocking when a dancer with whom I worked dies before I do,” Elliot Feld wrote this about Richard. “Premature and out of turn. Richard’s dancing in “Circa,” a dance we made together, remains impressed in my mind’s eye, as physical, unmannered, unadorned, joined at the hip with the dark timbre of the Hindemith music, unfailingly elegant and true. Great dancing. He lives there. His death is a sorrow in my chest.
“Richard left the Feld Ballet in 1983 to dance as a guest artist. I remember attending gala performances to watch him on stage with other great dancers at the time. It was during that time that his very close friend, Jeff Satinoff, choreographed “Bend to the Bitter End” with him. A swaggering and brilliant solo which as his brother Dan Fein wrote was a tribute to their father who was an avid sailor.”
Satinoff wrote that he felt like he had known Fein his entire life. “I shed plenty of tears when he passed. Richard was fun to create work on. “Bend to the Bitter End” was the first piece I made. Of course it was for Richard. The whole experience was a special moment of my life.”
In 1984, Grissette Laemmerhirt visited Fein in Reggio Emilia, Italy who was a guest artist with Aterballetto. “At that time, the (not yet) famous William Forsythe was there working on Love Songs.” Forsythe invited the two to dinner and asked them if they wanted to join the company in Frankfurt, that he was taking over leadership. Excited about the offer, they both decided to move to Frankfurt in the summer of 1985.
“Bill [Forsythe] went to work right away using Richard,” Grissette Laemmerhirt said. “That January he made a duet with us called How to Recognize Greek Art which was our first experience in improvisation as an element in the work.” Grissette Laemmerhirt noted that although she struggled with this in the beginning, Fein took to it as if he had done it his whole life. “Bill cast Richard in all the leading roles, like Steptext. They created the role of Roger in “Impressing the Czar,” She added.
Fein was “brilliant in all of them and left not only lasting impressions on the audience but on his fellow dancers.” She recalls that one fellow dancer in the company, Antony Rizzi said, “Richard taught me so much. He taught me that failing is not failing but an opportunity to do something else.”
“Elliot created Summer’s Lease on us and he was an absolute joy to work with. Smooth, attentive, chivalrous. I was so lucky to have that experience with him. Blessings to all that were touched by him.” Said former principal dancer with Feld Ballet, Megan Murphy.
In 1985, Grissette Laemmerhirt followed him to Frankfurt where they both danced principal roles with Ballet Frankfurt. “Richard was a major force in my life. He taught me all things Fein,” she said.
As another example of Fein’s generosity, Satinoff shared this story:
“18 year old Stephen Galloway, who wore thick black rimmed glasses would whip his glasses off in the wings and go out and dance practically blind. Then scramble for them when he reached the wings again. Richard helped him get contact lenses. Stephen recalls, “After my first performance of ARTIFACT with my lenses, Richard asked me how it was to see on stage. I said it was amazing to see the audience, and he said, THEY are amazed to see YOU!!
Fein retired from dancing around 1989 after badly injuring his knee, and according to Jeff Satinoff, he bought an old van and traveled Europe until he moved back to the states. Fein spoke four languages: Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, German.
Once he retired from dancing, Fein earned his undergraduate degree at Cabrillo College (1991 – 1993), a Bachelor of Arts in Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology at University of California, Santa Cruz (1993 – 1995); and received his training as a Doctor of Osteopathy at the University of Health Services (1995-2000). In 2003 Fein was a Physician at the Maine General Medical Center. “He had a son named Gabe. Richard was a unique and special person that was not on this earth long enough but his kindness, wit and artistry will remain in all who were fortunate to know him,” said Hewitt.
In a more recent email, Don Hewitt shared these additional memories of Richard Fein.
“Flashback: One day, I heard someone playing the piano in the studio. It was a young teenage boy and I think he was playing a Rachmaninoff Concerto, and very well. He said he had heard I was a good ballet teacher and he wanted to be like Edward Villella. He trained with me for nearly 4 years. Starting in the adult class, and being very focused, he advanced quickly,” He wrote. That young man was Richard Fein.
“Richard was always generous and respectful to everyone,” Hewitt continued. “To illustrate: Richard invited me to teach Elliot Feld Co. when they were in Pasadena. Another time, I took five students to NY to see the complete season of Elliot’s company at the Joyce. We found that he had arranged for housing, through a patron, in a beautiful brownstone in Greenwich Village for all of us. He was very thoughtful, kind and his artistry came from his considerable intelligence and depth of character.
I was able to arrange a performance for him in Los Angeles at the Dance Park series at the Ford theatre. His partner was Thais Leavitt, also a former student of ours that was then dancing with the Dusseldorf Ballet. (Note photo and review by Sasha Anawalt) The performance was called “Reunion.” Lewis Segal also praised them in the LA Times. You can find that online. Several other LA based artists participated and it was sponsored by LADDA.”
To read a wonderful and informative two-part article written in 2012 by Don Hewitt for The Dance History Project of Southern California titled “Notes On Ballet: History and Teaching in the L.A. Area”, please click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Richard Fein with the Feld Ballet (Circa 1980) – Photo by Lois Greenfield