As part of Cleveland Magazine's 30th anniversary celebration, the editors have chosen 52 of their favorite stories from the magazine's archives, and wish to share them with you.
A new story will appear every week at Clevelandmagazine.com. It might be controversial, comical, nostalgic or nonplussing. But it will be Cleveland.
From Cleveland Magazine, May 1988
Beneath the slow subtraction of light from the early evening's silver and violet sky, Ernie Horvath is walking through Greenwich Village, talking about sex and dance, laughing about the chaotic birth of the Cleveland Ballet. Under the marquee of the Joyce Theater a flock of dance patrons are politely shoving their way through the doors for a sold-out performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Horvath slips into the crowd, makes his way toward the lobby.
New York is the city Ernie Horvath loves and Cleveland is the city he left; in the latter, balletomanes are converging beneath the State Theatre's white-gold marquee for the Cleveland Ballet's half-million dollar production of Romeo and Juliet. They've come to see how Dennis Nahat, with whom Horvath cofounded Cleveland Ballet, has translated Shakespeare's play of rapture and loss into dance and mime, performed by dancers fluent in a physical language most of us can't speak.
Nahat is one of America's premier balletic choreographers, and this evening he also is playing the role of Mercutio. As if he's holding reins to bits hidden in each audience member's mouth, whenever Nahat moves, heads obediently swivel.
At the Joyce Theater, Ernie is a little bored with the performance, distracted by thoughts of a piece he is choreographing for a CBS television documentary on human sexuality. During the second act, he looks at his watch, pulls a small, gold pillbox from his jacket and swallows two 100-milligram capsules of AZT, which he has been taking since October 1987, when he was diagnosed with AIDS Related Complex.
Beneath the harsh, achromatic lighting, the sweat on the Cunningham dancers' skin looks like glitter, but their faces are impassive. Cunningham's choreography is concerned with form and the architecture of dance, not human themes and relationships, even when a man is on top of a woman it isnt sensual, simply two objects in an interesting configuration. Horvath doesnt care for this kind of dance for dance's sake.
Two forces that some consider contradictory have always defined his own work, whether in his dancing or in his choreography. First, the Marist brothers at Chanel High in Bedford Heights taught him that as Saint Thomas Aquinas believed all great art is moral and concerned with human truths. The second force that is almost always present in Horvaths work is sexuality; sex as essence, sex as motivation.
Ernie Horvath left the Cleveland Ballet in spring 1984. In the 10 years he was with the company its growth was wild, exceeding every expectation. Horvath and Nahat were the blood and bone of the ballet company: Ernie as artistic director and Dennis as associate artistic director and principal choreographer. The Cleveland Ballet now ranks among the natiors five most prominerit companies. When Horvath left the company it was also the end of the 22-year relationship he and Dennis had as lovers and artistic collaborators.
Since leaving Cleveland, Horvath has served as producing director of the Limon Dance Company; as associate director of a national developmental program for balletic choreographers called the Carlisle Project; and as a choreographer for Cleveland Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and New World Ballet of Caracas, Venezuela. He is the first Cleveland artist of national stature to talk of his personal war with AIDS.
After the Cunningham dance concert, Horvath is in his apartment in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, listening to Beethoven's first piano concerto, rubbing the prescription drig Mycelex on his neck and forearms. "People who are sero-positive" AIDS virus carriers who are asymptomatic "and people who have AIDS Related Complex," Horvath says, "can be susceptible to minor skin problems like psoriasis and all kinds of weird fungal infections." A smile rises to the surface of Horvaths face, then recedes. "I have to have a sense of black comedy about this disease, yes?"
Downstairs, the apartment's
mailbox still reads Nahat/Horvath. Dennis moved into the apartment with Ernie
in 1962, when both were dancers
Joffrey Ballet. It was the late Bob Joffrey Who decided that whether Horvath
liked it or not he would be known professionally as "Ian" Horvath, believing
the name Ernie wasn't elegant enough for a ballet dancer.
The Horvaths lived in several places in and around Cleveland when Ernie was growing up; they'd move into a deteriorating house, fix it up, sell it for a small profit and move on. "My father was like the Frederic March character in Death of a Salesman" Horvath says. "He kept believing in the American dream and it kept turning into a nightmare for him. But my brother, sister and I never suffered because everything my parents had they used for our needs."
Horvath began classical dance training at the late age of 14, hoping ballet would loosen the ropes and ribbons of his short and muscular body, in stilling greater grace and fluidity. Horvath had never seen a ballet; he wanted a career in musical. Eventually, Horvath would be known as "the boy with the beautiful feet." His high insteps and strong metatarsal arches seem to have been made for the pouncing and balance classical dance requires. Flexed, his feet resemble hands or claws. The rest of his body was a little eccentric for ballet; somewhat stocky with thick thighs, a gymnast's buttocks and a square torso. He still walks in the manner he uses to dance, terre a terre, rooted to the ground and almost stepping into it, as if to descend a stairway that no one else can see. His dark hair is now rimed with gray, but age hasnt eroded the hard jaw and angular lineaments of his Eastern European face.
During his summer vacations from Chanel High, he danced and worked as an apprentice for the now extinct Musicarnival, a theater intheround in Warrensville Heights. He was noticed by visiting Broadway dancers Eliot Feld and Michael Bennet and they suggested he seek work in New York. Instead, Horvatth's parents convinced him to accept a scholarship from Butler University in Indianapolis, a school with a renowned dance department. Horvath went for one semester, loathed Indianapolis, found the dance program undemanding, and thought incessantly of New York. "I was a freshman, the best male dancer in the department, and was getting all the principal roles,"
Horvath says. "Plus, I was going throughwell, it wasn't a sexual identity crisis because I was gay when I dropped out of the womb but I was missing someone I'd been involved with in Cleveland, and I was in Indianapolis, not the best place in the world if you're homosexual, yes?
"When I was eightyears old," Horvath
says, shaking his head, "rolling around with some other kid, they'd be saying,'Oh
man, Ernie, I wish you were Karen or Susan; and I'd be thinking, 'Well, I'm very
glad you're Mike or Jimmy.' Sexually, I was precocious."
Sex and death, William Butler Yeats believed, are the only two topics worthy of adult consideration; in AIDS, we find the two lying together like lovers in a bloodstained bed, refusing to separate themselves, forcing us to look at the two things Yeats's belief to the contrary we have the most trouble talking about.
Horvath's story, in particular, focuses in on our sad, complicated failure to grieve for some AIDS victims because Ernie Horvath isn't the helpless, newborn child of an intravenous drug user, and he wasn't infeacted by a tainted blood transfusion. He is a devoutly sexual gay man, uncondemning of his former promiscuity "I've had more sex than I ever could have imagined and I wouldn't trade that for anything" and he refuses to believe the waning of his immune system is a symbol of immorality.
"What if the kind of sex you most enjoy was the kind of sex you couldn't have?" Horvath asks. If a person is sero-positive, any exchange of body fluids with a sexual partner involves risk. Because of his limited experience with anal intercourse the most effective means of sexual transmission of the virus Horvath believes he knows when he contracted the disease.
"I allowed it to happen with a European man, a dear friend," Horvath says, his mouth slightly tremulous, asif broken open by force. "It was years ago, back when I had only vaguely heard of something they were then calling 'gay cancer.' Since then, three of my European friend's former lovers have died. Physically, he's still fine, though he's sero-positive. Mentally, he's destroyed. He feels like a murderer. When I told him about myself, his reaction was strange: He was very angry, he started shouting, he wouldnt believe it. Then he broke down in tears."
Horvath's sexuality and his desire to be around those who are accepting of his proclivities "Prejudice makes me sick. I have no tolerance for people whose greatest pleasure is in believing there are others less worthy than themselves." has been a constant in his life. Feeling alienated in Indianapolis because of his sexual orientation and unimpressed with his success at Butler University, Horvath convinced his parents he should drop out of College and move to New York City.
He worked bad jobs, lived in hellholes, and was eventually accepted as a student at the Joffrey School of Ballet. He danced all day, worked all night at sleazy restaurants and got so little sleep he felt like one of the undead. His parents sent money when possible. Then, in the span of one week, he auditioned for a place in the chorus of three Broadway musicals, Hello Dolly, Funny Girl and Fade Out, Fade In.
He won offers from all three productions. His heart felt huge and fed on his elation for days.
He chose Fade Out, Fade In, starring Carol Burnett and directed by musical theater legend George Abbott. Production delays ensued, and he was told it would be months before the show would be put together.
"I was in a state of despair," Horvath says. "It was Easter Sunday and a friend who lived in Morningside Heights invited me to come to her house for dinner at 3 p.m. I didn't have the 15 cents for the subway. At 10:30 in the morning I left my place in Alphabet City and started walking. An hour later, I was only in the theater district. I was hungry and believed I would be dead before I got there."I was walking by I promise this is true the George M. Cohan statue near Times Square. I look up and see this bill slowly floating down toward me." Horvath looks up, his eyes moving back and forth as if he can still see that bill descending. "It hit the ground and I stamped my foot on it* " Horvath slams a foot down on his apartment floor. "It was a 20. I said the hell with the subway and took a cab. I had a wonderful dinner and my friend lent me enough money to tide me over until a place opened up in Funny Girl, starring this girl no one knew named Barbara Streisand."
He was 18 years old, and between his work on Broadway and in television he had won a role in the dance chorus of The Ed Sullivan Show he was grossing $1,000 a week. But the ease and rote mechanics of dancing in musical theater began to wear on Horvath and the thing he's most repulsed by in life, boredom, raised its sedated head.
He was looking to leave musical theater, and when he was offered an apprenticeship with the Joffrey Ballet, he accepted. Horvath believes ballet has a "religious absoluteness most of life doesn't possess. in classical dance there's absolutely only one way of doing something, You want to emulate an aesthetic in your mind's eye that is perfection. It isn't rote repetition because you're striving for an aesthetic that doesn't exist in reality. There's an inner sensibility of projecting line and form, you're concerned with elevation and musicality, with feeling space to a dancer, space has a tactile presence and filling it. Ballet is hard, but its absoluteness is attractive."
There is, perhaps, a resonance to be lunch and Dennis would be sitting at the found between his love of ballet and his lack of apprehension of death: "I believerdead is dead and that's that. Death is nothingness. I even find something wonderful in the absoluteness, death," he claims. "So little of life has any absoluteness."
Roger-Max Barrow, the man Horvath has lived with since leaving Cleveland Ballet, is in the apartment's small kitchen, developing photographs in the sink. On the wall above the sink are two identical red and black clocks; one shows the time in New York, and when necessary, Barrow adjusts the other to the time in whatever city Horvath is working.
Horvath is standing in the living room, rotating a circular rack of postcards that he refers to as Roger's soft-porn collection; many of the cards depict men with lathed bodies in states of undress. He sits down and takes two more capsules of AZT, a drug that interferes with an enzyme the virus needs to replicate itself.
"I admit of course that death is usually not without mess," Horvath says, looking oward the kitchen where Roger is working. "There is pain and there is suffering. You're a burden to those who love you. I'm not looking forward to that."
Horvath says he's had two great loves in his life, Roger-Max Barrow and Dennis Nahat. Horvath met Nahat just after he became a member of the Joffrey Ballet, when he went to Julliard with Bob Joffrey to see a young dancer that dance patriarch Antony Tudor had told them about. Joffrey asked the lithe and regal dancer to join his company. Dennis Nahat agreed and within a year he moved into Horvath's apartment.
In 1964, Horvath left Joffrey to dance with the American Ballet Theater, arguably the nation's premier company. Nahat followed in 1966. By the time they were 20 years old they were world class dancers.
Horvath has several stories about the days when he and Nahat were together in New York. He would come home for lunch and Nahat would be sitting at the dining room table with one of the homeless women from the neighborhood, sharing with her an extravagant meal he had prepared. During the performance of the first of three repertory pieces a ballerina landed on Nahafs big toe, breaking it. The company manager prescribed straight vodka. Horvath says Nahat was plowed and danced like a wild man but got through the two remaining dances; he was later carried from the theater. Horvath and Nahat once helped out an emotionally and financially distraught ballerina by allowing her to live with them for a few weeks. Horvath came home one afternoon to find her standing at the kitchen sink with the faucet running, holding her arms out, both wrists sliced, blood everywhere: "Oh Ernie," she said, "this feels so good. I need to do this once in a while. It's so cleansing." Horvath wrapped her wrists and took her to Bellvue Hospital.
It's a Saturday afternoon and Horvath, 43, is standing next to the sink where the distraught ballerina cleansed herself about 20 years ago. He is removing bottles and packets of medicine from his old refrigerator and placing them into the newer model two men have just hauled into his kitchen. These medicines comprise a chemical barrage he is throwing at the retrovirus that has begun to disassemble his immune system.
Around Thanksgiving 1986, Horvath caught a cold that made his lungs feel like paper, gave him a dry cough that sounded like ice being scraped from a windshield. In January 1987, while at the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle choreographing Matrix, a piece for Bartok's third piano concerto, Horvath was admitted into a hospital 20 minutes after he went to see a doctor about his worsening cold.
The preliminary diagnosis
was pneumocystis, a devastating pneumonia frequently observed in AIDS patients.
Doctors feared Horvath would die within the week. But the lung biopsy for pneumocystis
back negative. "Ah,
no big deal," Horvath says.
"Just a touch of heterosexual pneumonia."
What Horvath didnt immediately share with his family was that the results of bloodtaken while in the hospital showed that while he was asymptomatic, he was carrying the AIDS virus.
He became an outpatient in the Community Health Project, an all-gay, satellite operation of Bellvue Hospital. They drew his blood every 10 days to monitor his T-helper cells (white blood cells that produce antibodies), a way of measuring the virus's activity. In August 1987, he took a blood test and without receiving the results immediately went on tour to Europe withthe Limon Dance Company. While in Europe he was in bed, a dreamless carcass, 18 to 20 hours a day, getting up only to eat and watch rehearsals and performances.
He returned to New York in October, on the morning of the Dancing for Life AIDS benefit featuring 13 of America's foremost dance companies performing at City Center. Horvath had been working as a board member of Dancing for Life and Roger-Max Barrow was its chairman of fund-raising and distribution.
That same morning Horvath called the Community Health Project for the results of his blood test and they asked him to come to their offices. A T-helper cell level between 600 to 1,200 is considered normal, below 200 categorizes a person as having AIDS Related Complex. Horvath was informed his T-helper cell count was 67.
If someone is physically elegant we may compare them to an animal a cat, a deer recognized for its kinetic grace. But a dancer knows that his body has a capacity for premeditated grace an animal cant fathom. As Ernie Horvath sat stunned amidst 4,000 people that evening at City Center, watching the world's most beautiful dancers, he tried not to fathom the capacity his own dancer's body now possessed to ruin itself. He had moved on the infection continuum frombeing sero-positive but asymptomatic, to having AIDS Related Complex. And the medical community believes, as Horvath knows, that virtually everyone with AIDS Related Complex will become sick with full-;blown AIDS and eventually die.
"When Ernie told us, my heart fell and I it's very difficult for me to talk about;'his mother, Helen, says over the phone from Arizona, where she and Ernie's father have retired. "Everyone who has a gay son fears this. Anyone with children, gay or not. We're hoping and praying. And I know and I know that God is good." Her voice collapses, then she apologizes for crying. "Everything happens for a reason. Ernie is someone who can help other people by talking about this. I hope people in Cleveland will understand."
It was Helen Horvath who, in 1972, called Ernie and Dennis in New York and told them Ballet Russe, the classical dance school in Cleveand that Ernie had first attended when he was 14, was for sale. She knew Dennis and Ernie had talked of their own ballet company and wondered if this might be the first step toward doing so. At the time Horvath and Nahat were in their late twenties, in the elated primes of their careers with the American Ballet Theater. They laughed at Helen's suggestion.
But after a few days of dreaming and thinking it over, it didn't seem as funny. Horvath and Nahat were aware that while Cleveland didnt have a "dance habit," it had a rich cultural history and the museum and the orchestra were proof the city could support world class arts institutions.
They were also under the mistaken impression they were purchasing a profitable school with an enrollment of about 200 students. Helen, Ernie and Dennis bought Ballet Russe, not knowing the school was actually gagging on its debts and had only 40 students.
But with Helen as administrator, Horvath's former teacher Charles Nicoll as head instructor, and with Horvath and Nahat flying in from New York as often as their schedule with American Ballet Theater permitted (Horvath came to Cleveland on a permanent basis in 1974 and Nahat followed in 1976), the school, now called the Cleveland School of Ballet, flourished.
Success came with surreal speed. By 1974, the school had a performing troupe and, in 1976, the Cleveland Ballet made its debut as a classical ballet company in the soldout Hanna Theater.
Durign the company's formative years, Horvath and Nahat danced most of the principal male roles. Horvath split his time between working in the studio and overseeing the company's administration. Nahat was ensconced in the studio, training dancers, choreographing repertory pieces.
Ballerina Ellen Costanza remembers that despite their mercurial temperments, Horvath and Nahat had very few grisly arguments in the studio. "Dennis and Ernie," she says, "were wonderful collaborators."
"There were a few times,
though," she says, "when everyone in the studio just stayed out of the
way." She recalls that after a demanding and lengthy dance Nahat had choreographed,
dancers' rib cages
were heaving, their calf muscles
were clenching, and Horvath began screaming at Nahat: "Murderer! You murderer! You are a murderer!"
"Like a child who didnt know what he had done wrong, Dennis couldn't understand
Ernie's anger; he found the piece quite beautiful," Costanza says, wiping
a tear from the white blade of a cheekbone, trying to stop laughing.
"We each had a role;' Horvath says. "Dennis hates words. He distrusts them. I think, in some ways, I was Dennis' words. Dennis would have an idea and I would help him communicate it."
Costanza agrees: "That might be why Dennis doesn't talk much anymore. He does'nt have someone to bring the words out of him."
In 1982, the Cleveland Ballet found itself without a chief executive officer, so by necessity and inclination Horvath began to devote himself exclusively to the company's business needs. When the ballet's current president, Andrew Bales, was hired a year later, Horvath felt a little lost. It was no longer vital that he run the business end of the company, and Nahat had assumed complete sovereignty in the studio.
Concurrent to the loss of a specific domain within the company, Horvath saw his personal relationship with Nahat dying out, and he missed New York's lavish, manic atmosphere. And he'd accomplished what he had hoped far when he cofounded the ballet: Created a major arts institution and nurtured it so that its roots ran deep and were manifold.
In December 1983, Horvath tendered his resignation from the Cleveland Ballet.
According to Horvath, "When Dennis and I broke up he was devastated. He could never have imagined an end, professionally or personally. It just never crossed his mind, it was for life, he was sure."
But Nahat, who does not wish to talk of his personal relationship with Horvath, says Horvath's departure from the company was not unexpected. "I was not shocked. If anything, knowing Ernie, I was surprised his tenure lasted as long as it did. He thinks in terms of projects. To build a company one must have patience, and Ernie does not, not in supply."
AIDS is not a disease that discriminates based on the sexual preference or occupation of its victims, but the arts have been particularly debilitated by the human catastrophe of AIDS. There is no inclusive count of how many artists we have lost, but two examples of AIDS' effect on the performing arts are numbing. Beverly Sills, general director of the New York City Opera, was quoted by The New York Times in June last year as saying that within recent months, two dozen members of the opera had died of AIDS-related illnesses and she had delivered 10 eulogies during that time. And, according to Gary Parks, news editor of Dancemagazine, his publication has run the obituaries of 23 people who died of AIDS-related illnesses in the last two years.
In Cleveland, AIDS 'impact on the arts community is less clear. A Cleveland Ballet employee died of AIDS about two years ago and a former dancer died of an AIDS-related illness about four years after leaving Cleveland.
"I have no knowledge," Nahat says, "of any current dancer having this affliction, suffering this agony. Yes, there have been people in the company afflicted and we have helped them individually. It is a private matter, just as it would be if someone suffered a heart attack or had cancer."
As to how he felt when he was informed that Horvath had AIDS Related Complex, Nahat says, "I've had so much bad news and bad things happen in my life. I've learned you have to go on. Of course I'm saddened, of course I'm hurt. You only want good things to happen, especially for those you love. But you must live with these things. I'm someone who tried to live in the part of life that is full of light. And I believe that all things work out in some positive way."
Horvath does not feel that Nahat's response is cold. "It's very positive, actually. He's going to go on. The world is going to go on. We feel pain when we feel loss, but if we dwell on it, it's pretty futile, yes? And I doift view death as negative, but nothingness."
Horvath has choreographed a ballet, No Dominion, that has death as its subject matter. He believes it is his best work. Set to Frederic Walton's cello concerto, it is an AIDS parable. To roughly paraphrase the dance's narrative: Each of the two principal dancers begin the ballet with a lover, separate from them, bask in the rituals of promiscuity, find one another, fall in love. One is stricken and dies.
Horvath is in a Cleveland School of Ballet studio, watching a videotape of No Dominion, taped during its premiere at New York's Joyce Theater last February. It is late March and Horvath is in Cleveland for the rehearsals of Piano Man, a repertory piece he originally choreographed for Cleveland Ballet in 1982; it is being restaged by the company in early May.
No Dominion takes its title from "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," a poem by Dylan Thomas, who was homosexual and drank himself to death. Horvath reprinted two lines from the poem in thedance program on the night of the ballet's premiere.
Though lovers be lost
love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
Horvath is watching the small black and white screen, commenting on his choreographic phrasings and the promiscuous nature of life as the two principal dancers seduce and embrace one another. He is tired but cannot know if it is the normal exhaustion of working hard or a manifestation of his disease. He does not drink anymore, does not smoke. He is exploring nutrition and meditation as ways of confronting what is occurring inside his body. Some of the drugs he takes are available only from the medical "underground," experimental drugs that show the potential to act against the virus's ravages but are not federally approved.
Horvath wants to live long
enough "Just because I don't fear death's nothingness
doesn't mean I want to be a victim."
to witness and partake of a treatment
that will manage and subdue thevirus,
as diabetes is controlled by insulin.
One of the lovers in No Dominion is dying. The dancer is posed with his head thrown back as if sucking the breath from Deaths mouth, then mimes a gorgeous seizure and contracts to the floor, folding into himself like a drowsy child. The living lover cradles the corpse in his arms. Light falls on the body of the dead lover. He rises, slowly and gracefully dances off stage, reappearing again behind a scrim, still painted in light. Horvath says, "This is showing something that stays alive after it's like an apotheosis, yes? life after if there is life after death."