Forsythe has taught Horton at AAADT since 1973 and continues to mine the technique daily for its legendary specificity and discipline. Photo by Nicole Tintle, courtesy of The Ailey School
Ana Marie Forsythe's eyes twinkle, and a smile plays at the corners of her mouth as she welcomes the 40-plus teachers who are enrolled for her two-week-long Horton teacher-training workshop at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater studios in New York City—plus me, a dancer and writer, taking part for the day. As we watch Genius on the Wrong Coast, a film about Lester Horton, the "princess of Horton" (as someone aptly refers to Forsythe) offers her own version of a director's commentary: She identifies faces as they appear onscreen and interjects her own narration ("Fortification 15—that's the one I hated so much," she says).
Horton relaxing after rehearsal with Sondra Orans, left, and Joyce Trisler. Photo by Bob Willoughby, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives
One of the first choreographers to have a racially integrated dance company, Lester Horton (1906–1953) developed a series of movement exercises that have now been codified as the Horton technique. He also introduced modern dance to the West Coast: His Dance Theater in West Hollywood was the first modern dance venue for performance and teaching in Los Angeles.
The Indiana native's introduction to dance might have occurred with a Denishawn performance, a touring Wild West show with Native American dancing or Anna Pavlova's company, depending on what story he chose to tell. (Horton had a flair for the dramatic.) After briefly studying ballet, he teamed up with director Clara Bates to choreograph, star in and design the costumes for The Song of Hiawatha, which put him on the dance map while still a teenager. A short stint with Japanese dancer Michio Ito led to the formation of the first of Horton's several dance companies, the Dance Repertory Group.