Gus Solomons Jr., creative presence in modern dance, dies at 84

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By Bryan Marquard Boston Globe Staff,Updated August 23, 2023

UnknownThe number of work commitments that filled each week for Gus Solomons Jr. in early 1964, when he was 25, would have exhausted many in the dance world he prominently inhabited with his powerful, 6-foot-3 frame.

Teacher, student, dancer, and choreographer, he was based in New York City and commuted to Boston to spend each Tuesday teaching. Performances with numerous dance groups in both cities packed his calendar, even before he made history as the first Black member of the legendary Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Recordings posted online include a 1968 GBH video of Mr. Solomons performing in Boston, and a 2017 New York Times video of him as an older dancer, finding ways to express creativity with an aging body.

Dance should fulfill “a part of you that wants to be acknowledged, that part that has been oppressed or been frustrated by the speed of things or by the noise or by the crowds or by what have you,” he said in the GBH video. “Not to escape from them, but to simply … find a way of coping with them.”

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  1. Jay Collier on September 10, 2023 at 9:51 am

    One of the reasons I stewarded this website for 15 years was to encourage constructive conversations such as these. Thank you!

    Here is one person’s perspective.

    I straddle two eras of media. I worked in analog video production in the 1980s as the broadcast monopolies were being broken by cable TV. However, I “cut the cord” of linear broadcasting over a decade ago, and now primarily use streaming services, including PBS Passport, NPR One, and Tune In.

    In the last century, linear broadcasting grew out of RF spectrum bandwidth limitations. We grew up in a world of information scarcity with only four television broadcast networks and were held hostage by the programming of each of those linear channels.

    Today, we live in a world of information abundance, where we can “program” our own experiences by selecting new and classic content that is enriching and entertaining.

    (Just as there were jewels and junk then, so too, are both available today.)

    I’d suggest that applying evaluation criteria from an earlier age to today’s environment is incomplete without looking at digital-first initiatives and distribution. For example, young people on social media made Downton Abbey a hit, and that was over a decade ago. We are now so much further into the transition from linear broadcast to online access.

    Perhaps it would be instructive to compare GBH’s online successes with other sources, especially as there are millions of options today, not just 4.

    I love my memories of professional highlights from early in my career. I also see how GBH was evolving then and continues to do so now.

    Perhaps the common thread of GBH’s DNA is the creative use of the media of each age, from orthicon tubes and turret lenses to YouTube, podcasts, and apps.

    For instance, it is fascinating to see how new generations have taken programming strands pioneered at GBH — home improvement, cooking instruction, international drama, music performance, experimental video, children’s storytelling, and many more — and raised them up to new heights.

    One other point. During the 2000s, Fred recorded interviews with some of the earliest GBH producers and directors and I edited a number of them for the website.

    However, although many alumni have made recommendations for new initiatives, few stepped up to do the actual planning and production work — with the exception of Christine and the phenomenal reunion 2018 volunteers; you know who you are and thank you!

    I suggest that a constructive strategy would be to reach out to recent GBH alumni who are doing the creative work of the 21st century and build bridges between our common interests.

    Well, there are my 2 cents :-)

  2. Jay Collier on September 10, 2023 at 9:15 am

    Hi Fred. I see your comments earlier in this thread. However, it appears you may have sent one via email to Christine who posted it for you; look for her name to find it. Submitting through the comment box is the best way to get published right way. (Only people who have never posted before — or who have new email addresses — need to be moderated to avoid spam. Yours have always been published right away. Perhaps you typed a different address?) It’s worth remembering this is a volunteer project and have patience.

    By the way, you wrote this: “We have a new leader at GBH. She has no idea of what took place back in the early days.” Do you know this for a fact?

  3. Larry LeCain on September 9, 2023 at 12:24 pm

    Author Sherry Turkle, Producer Terri Randall Ray Kurzweil, Elon Musk Alan Dershowitz…

  4. Nancy Mason Hauser on September 9, 2023 at 1:46 am

    I was so happy to read your post talking about Gus Solomons Junior, and the pioneering dance work he did with “City Motion Space Game.” Besides Peter Downey he was paired with two of the other most creative, innovative talents ‘GBH had back in the early days —the late Rick Hauser who produced the piece, and Mary Feldhaus Webber, who did the audio score. What an exciting time that was! Count me in to contribute memories of other innovative things that happened in dance at my time—thanks to your unbridled enthusiasm, visionary gifts, and being the best mentor and inspiration I could have ever had. You really made a major impact in my life, and many others as well.

  5. Fred Barzyk on September 7, 2023 at 11:48 am

    I sent in another comment last week. I wonder when it will show up.
    I have had a lot of people respond to earlier comments on GBH…some for and some against. Thanks for all your work.

  6. Ron Blau on September 6, 2023 at 4:45 pm

    Fred asks, “What has happened to that creative spirit?” Like the rest of you, I certainly feel that so much GBH work these past years has little to excite the parts of my brain and soul that respond to creativity. Some of it is excellent public television, but excellent public television, while worthy, is not nearly as mind-blowing as other stuff my Roku box leads me to.

    That said, I am still profoundly grateful for working on creative projects at this wonderful TV station oh so long ago. Hanging out with Peter Hoving and Mary Feldhaus-Weber piecing together “The Grandfather” (which you can still see on Peter’s YouTube channel) … Rick Hauser and Mary F-W editing “Nine Heroes’ … traveling with Austin Hoyt and editing “Multiply and Subdue The Earth.” These were not formulaic, they were one of a kind and we didn’t know that they would succeed or fail until we finished them. That’s kinda the definition of creative: if you know it’ll work before you make it, then it’s not truly creative.

  7. Syrl Silberman on September 5, 2023 at 10:55 am

    I think the idea of looking back to move forward is an important one. If it does happen, you an count me in.

  8. Jack Caldwell on September 4, 2023 at 2:49 pm

    Fred, our forever creative leader, You are SPOT ON that GBH needs to learn the history of why it became a premier leader in BROADCASTING! Gather as many “old timers” as you can find, put therm in a room with the newbies, and talk for a day. (and record it) Can GBH return to the roots of WGBH? Is there an interest, a will to do so? Is there an attitude of, “Thanks for your yesterdays. We’ll take care of today and tomorrow.” I really don’t know the answer, but, like you, let’s hope the right people are listening. (I submitted a similar plea a week or so ago. Have not seen it pop up.)
    ps. Living like 60 at 91 — and remembering those wonderful yesterdays.

  9. Harriet Reisen on September 3, 2023 at 9:30 pm

    right on, Fred.

  10. Bill Charette on September 3, 2023 at 3:52 pm

    Fred you nailed it. Come out of retirement and help turn the creativity spigot back on that poured out decades worth of game changing programing.

  11. Alex Pirie on September 2, 2023 at 9:11 pm

    Small is beautiful? Size probably plays a role, but also personality. Hartford was a spirited risk taker with a vision and he had a team of similarly inclined. A few years after I left, I ran into a still GBH’er and we noted the shift in personnel – In the late 1960’s a good 75% of a staff of a little over 100 were engaged in production, by the 1980’s, with a staff of more than twice the size only around 10% were in production, the rest was administrative. The pivot, although there were other elements, my opinion, into the Calderwood corporate years, was the decision to cancel a documentary on the evils of oil in foreign affairs (a Don Fouser show, I forget the series name, he quit) because of, you know, an upcoming sponsorship. It wasn’t heaven back then, but it was creative, exhausting, innovative, grueling, and lots of fun! Still smile at the memory of Richard Burton making a sweeping exit from an Elliot Norton interview into Dan Beach’s film editing lair in the basement of the MOS. Dan, if I remember correctly, was very gracious. ;-)

  12. Fred Barzyk on September 2, 2023 at 7:10 am

    We have a new leader at GBH. She has no idea of what took place back in the early days. If enough of us send in calls for a return to those early creative and experimental ways, she might be moved to investigate further. Imagine a massive response presented to her by the Alumni.

    I picked AI because it is not political, will influence everyones lives and there is money being thrown at it everywhere. I know of a university that received a grant of $50 million to study the effects of AI on our world.

    So, here we go with more ideas… the event would be called “AI- The Future Is Now!” Expand the “teach in” to more colleges in Boston and suburbs.
    Those “teach ins” would be recorded and become an archive of the early concerns about AI. Then add to the major “teach in” the latest AI robot.
    This robot would not only respond to the questions of the debaters but to all the questions from the students. At the end, have as many robots that are available to enter the auditorium with their reps. The students could then ask reps each questions they have on their mind.

    The debate could fully use Social Media. Here is a link to one video that shows how a simple error of technician could screw up the whole world.
    It’s call KARA.

    Hoping to hear from many of you.
    Fingers still crossed.

  13. Larry LeCain on September 1, 2023 at 6:25 pm

    Great Idea Fred!

  14. Jack Gill on September 1, 2023 at 2:25 pm

    To Fred et al

    How about a GBH alumni monthly/weekly/daily production. Step up to the plate and aim for the fence.
    Fred, you are up!

  15. Dan Beach on August 26, 2023 at 1:17 pm

    Amen, Fred and others. The commercial tilt of this massive organization cannot overwhelm my deep affection for early ‘GBH with its 30 or so employees. I am proud to have been a tiny part of its early years. But I wince when from my present home in FL (I cannot bear to spell out the whole state name), I see the ‘GBH logo and the enormous merchandising, and realize how much I miss the days of inventiveness, creativity, and experimentation. Normal evolution, probably. But sad.

  16. Karen Johnson on August 26, 2023 at 11:42 am

    Thanks, Fred. Mine too. I suppose we can chalk the changes up to something like, when a small hungry place grows big and rich. But does it have to happen, or keep on once it does? How fun it would be to be back, and free!

  17. Chas Norton on August 25, 2023 at 10:47 pm

    I would love to learn more about your aesthetic and practical memories of this really special ‘sort of stereo’ tv broadcast.
    I think it deserves many more remembrances of something that was really a spectacular broadcast event.
    Thanks for your comments – we need many more.

  18. Russ Fortier on August 25, 2023 at 4:48 pm

    City Motion Space Game, was somewhat more than a dual channel production. The piece comprised two 60 (?) minute reels of Gus Solomons dancing in various locations around Boston.
    It aired like this: Reel A was broadcast on WGBH Channel 2 simultaneously with Reel B on WGBX Channel 44. At the conclusion of the reels, Reel B was played on channel 2 and Reel A on channel 44. For full effect, the entire production could be watched on two monitors; each one playing a channel — ch. 2 Left and ch.44 Right.
    The program was shot on a Marconi Mark VII 4 channel color camera. Peter Downey directed and I was the principal cameraman.

  19. Chas Norton on August 25, 2023 at 3:42 pm


  20. Claudia Allyn Downey on August 25, 2023 at 2:27 pm

    WOW! Never knew my ex-husband of almost 20 years, Peter Downey, was a director! AND of “City-Motion-Space-Game!! I’ll be sure to tell our daughters! Thanks, Fred!!

  21. Christy George on August 25, 2023 at 2:11 pm

    Right on, Fred. And the Ten O’Clock News would’ve covered it all!

  22. Christine Lear on August 25, 2023 at 1:58 pm

    A tribute to Gus Solomons Jr. and a cry for change.

    In 1961, Greg Harney offered me a directing job at WGBH.

    I agreed only if he would let me direct a drama. After a brief pause, he said “yes”

    The deal… I would have to produce the drama with no out-of-pocket costs to WGBH. I got the studio and crew, but I would have to pay for everything else.
    I went to work and found an all-volunteer cast, donated costumes and paid $10 for the TV rights. The play was called “Five Days”
    I needed someone to choreograph the soldiers in the play. That is when I met Gus. A young architect student at MIT and aspiring dancer, he volunteered his talents. The drama was live on tape and somehow it survived the fire and still exists in the WGBH archive. Gus was great and helped the show.

    A few years later, Gus became the star of one of WGBH’s most experimental shows. It was called “City-Motion-Space-Game”
    This was a double channel program (audience was asked to put two TV’s next to each other, one set to Ch. 2 and the Ch. 44)
    It was directed by Peter Downey. It pushed the boundaries of dance and TV viewing. It was an important step in the creative spirit of WGBH. It captured the moment when dance was going thru major changes. And WGBH was there.

    What has happened to that creative spirit?

    It seems to have morphed into something that is stuck in the past. When I ask people about GBH, they say they like the food shows and the English dramas. The break-thru shows of the past… Nova, Frontline, This Old House, Antique Road Show… are more than 20 years old. When I mention fund raising, it’s only people of a certain age who watch endless reruns of Do Wop, Financial Advice, Self Help, and are interested in a set of CD’s of music shows pulled from the archives.
    (Fact: Last year more vinyl was sold than CD’s)

    If the same spirit that existed in the 1960’s was still around, I suspect that GBH would be planning a major “teach in” on AI. They would produce a live debate between two opponents on the value and impact of AI. It would be staged before a huge student audience at some University in Boston.
    Companion specials would be planned for Nova, Frontline and American Experience. It would be a major event for the country.

    GBH would again show its belief in exciting programming and it would gather untold PR.

    It could become real if that spirit of creativity returns to GBH.
    My fingers are crossed.

    ~Fred Barzyk

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