Ballet Spotlight: Touch Me

By Sheri Candler

In 1977, Gerald Arpino started working on a solo ballet piece, a first for the company thus far. He chose Christian Holder on whom to set the ballet, a gospel piece to a recording by Reverend James Cleveland and the Charles Fold Singers. Holder remembers the process in an interview excerpt from the film.

“It was actually a complete 180 because initially Jerry’s idea was to have a David Bowie type character come off stage with the platform shoes and the silver lame, the whole thing. He would enter his dressing room and peel off the layers of his costume, of his stage persona, to spiritual music and have an epiphany, basically.  That was the original idea.  But we had just done a piece which was very theatrical called Orpheus Times Light where I was in a silver lame dance belt and some silver paint and being very flamboyant. We played around in costumes and the first costume version of Touch Me was some sort of parachute fabric that he tied on me which made a huge skirt.”

“So I thought couldn’t it just be a man on a spiritual journey?  I had always been taken by the beginning of one of Jerry’s pieces called Secret Places which starts in silence; just the two figures crossing, walking, walking and then the walks escalate and then they meet in the music, the Mozart music begins.  So I thought well, couldn’t it be a disciple, somebody in a retreat somewhere and he’s just walking.  And then he hears the message.  He hears the word and that becomes the solo.  So that’s how it starts.”

“I always wanted to do a piece that made a universal statement and Jerry was right there with me.  I wanted it just to be a spiritual message because it is Baptist music. I didn’t grow up with that, I grew up Church of England.  We celebrate Christ very differently, more reserved. So it wouldn’t have been real for me to have approached it perhaps the way a Black American dancer would have approached it.  It is a Joffrey ballet piece, not a modern piece.  It wasn’t Alvin Ailey,  so I wanted to keep it sort of within the arena of something a bit more classically oriented with regard to line and form.  For me, that was perhaps one of the most special pieces I did in the company.”

Touch Me-Choreography – Gerald Arpino

Music – Rev. James Cleveland and the Charles Fold Singers

World Premiere: June 1, 1977, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, California, with Christian Holder.

Here is a clip of Touch Me featuring  Pierre Lockett

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