When dancer Margaret Mullin learned about all of the things Cleveland Ballet co-founder Ian “Ernie” Horvath had done for both the dance community and AIDS activism during his short life, she knew she had to share his story.
“Oh my God, how have I not heard of this person?” the professional dancer said of Horvath, a Cleveland-area native and co-founder of the Cleveland Ballet.
Horvath — a tireless ballet advocate, dancer and choreographer — died of AIDS at age 46 in 1990 and had been largely forgotten, Mullin said. She considered that unjust.
“I think I have to share all of this with the world. I can’t know this and not share it,” Mullin told herself in 2012.
That was the year Mullin, a soloist with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, took on the mission of making a documentary about the life and work of Horvath, who was the first artistic director of the fledgling Cleveland Ballet from 1972 to 1983. Horvath was born in Lakewood and raised in Maple Heights.
Mullin was inspired to learn all she could about him years after seeing Horvath’s dramatic “Laura’s Women” performed by Verb Ballets of Cleveland at Ballet Tucson, where she was studying at age 13.
Several years later, the Tucson native also watched Margaret Carlson, producing artistic director of Verb Ballets, set the extraordinary dance for Ballet Tucson, which was founded by former Cleveland Ballet dancer Mary-Beth Cabana.
The 1974 dance, Horvath’s first work, tells the story of three women caught in a world of poverty, loneliness, addiction and mental illness. It is inspired by the life and music of blues singer Laura Nyro.
“It’s a sad story that’s really beautifully told and masterfully told,” said Mullin, 30. “I think abstract storytelling is kind of a dying art in dance. Not a lot of people know how to do it well anymore.”
As a dancer with the renowned Pacific Northwest Ballet, Mullin has worked for 11 years with many famous choreographers on an incredible repertoire.
“I still couldn’t stop thinking about ‘Laura’s Women,’ ” she said.
Fast forward to now, when Mullin is in the final stages of creating the documentary “No Dominion: The Ian Horvath Story,” with Nel Shelby Productions. The documentary features interviews and archival material about Horvath as well as performances of the first and last dances he choreographed — “Laura’s Women” and “No Dominion.”
Top dancers from five ballet companies filmed the dances three years ago in Seattle, including Mullin, Verb Ballets’ Lieneke Matte, and dancers from Joffrey Ballet, Boston Ballet and Ballet Tucson. Verb Ballet’s Carlson had an instrumental part in the documentary, casting and setting the dance “Laura’s Women.”
As a founding member of the Cleveland Ballet, Carlson was an original cast member of “Laura’s Women.” She was one of five original dancers in the company, which also included Horvath, Dennis Nahat, Naomi Sorkin and Pamela Pribisco.
Now, Carlson is the regisseur, or producing rehearsal director, for “Laura’s Women,” and for “Piano Man,” another of Horvath’s surviving ballets.
The bulk of Mullin’s documentary has been funded by a Princess Grace Award. She is now working on raising additional funds to complete interviews and edit the film. In the meantime, Carlson has decided to share portions of the documentary with Northeast Ohio, to which Horvath was so closely tied.
“What if we were to bring back to life both works?” Carlson asked of doing live performances of “Laura’s Women” and his “No Dominion” from 1988.
Verb Ballets will perform Horvath’s two dances in the program “No Dominion: Celebrating the Life of Ian Horvath” at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Akron-Summit County Public Library Auditorium, 60 S. High St. The event will include excerpts from documentary interviews as well as a panel discussion on the AIDS epidemic and its impact on a generation of dancers who were lost to the disease. (A similar program will be offered at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland.)
To see a clip from the documentary, go to http://nodominionfilm.com. The Akron program is supported by Peg’s Foundation and the Akron Community Foundation.
Nahat and Horvath both danced for the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre before coming to Cleveland when they were in their 20s to found the Cleveland Ballet, where Nahat was associate director. They purchased Ruth Pryor’s dance studio in Cleveland, which became the official school of the new Cleveland Ballet.
Born Ernie Horvath, the dancer assumed the stage name Ian while he was with the Joffrey Ballet. Horvath also danced on Broadway in “Sweet Charity,” “Funny Girl” and “Fade Out-Fade In” in the 1960s.
Horvath left the Cleveland Ballet in 1984 and worked as producing director of the Jose Limon Dance Company from 1987 to 1990. “No Dominion,” an all-male dance that he created for the Limon company in 1988, is a reflection on his impending death from AIDS.
“Ernie was a visionary. And as a visionary he often saw things way ahead of everybody else and then he would get very frustrated when people didn’t jump onto the same page with him,” Carlson said.
“He was a perfectionist. There was just no leniency,” she said of Horvath’s dance work. “He was very, very driven.”
Horvath was passionate about ballet’s success in the United States and championed it as an art form in this country. He was a dance panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. He also was a founding member of Dance USA, the largest national service organization for dance, which has given out an annual “Ernie” award since Horvath’s death to honor unsung heroes of the dance world.
Horvath was also one of the founders of the Carlisle Project, created to nurture a future generation of choreographers after many were lost to AIDS. Horvath’s AIDS activism included “Dancing for Life,” an AIDS fundraising event at the New York State Theater in September 1987. He also appeared in a TV program on AIDS produced in 1988 by Eye on Dance.
For her documentary, Mullin, the director and producer, started piecing together Horvath’s life with the help of archival material that his sister, Debby Horvath of Tucson, Arizona, allowed her to borrow.
“It’s extraordinary. I can’t believe all that he did,” Mullin said.
For the documentary, she reset Horvath’s “No Dominion” with the help of an old VHS tape that the Jose Limon Company sent to her. Now, she’s excited that Horvath will be celebrated in his native Northeast Ohio with this weekend’s Akron and Cleveland programs.
In January, Mullin set “No Dominion” on Verb’s four male dancers as well as two guest male dancers in Cleveland. The piece is set to Sir William Walton’s cello concerto.
“It’s not a common thing,” she said, “for an artist to have the clarity of mind to create a beautiful dance that deals with their own mortality.”
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.