Jonathan Gray pays tribute to Jack Anderson
It is with great sadness I record the death of the New York-based dance writer, historian, and poet Jack Anderson, who died in hospital on 20 October 2023, at the age of 88. He had been in poor health for several years, and his death was announced by the dance writer George Dorris, his husband and life partner of 58 years, with whom he co-founded Dance Chronicle magazine (1978–2007).
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1935, Jack was one of the leading American dance critics who emerged during the second half of the 20th century – he was largely self-taught because the study of dance history and dance writing was not available as an academic discipline at university at that time. An English literature and philosophy graduate, Jack developed a passion for dance from an early age and contributed to several dance periodicals, first with the UK-based Ballet Today, and later with Dance Magazine (where he worked from 1964 until 1970). He also wrote for New York Theatre-Wire, and Dancing Times, to which he contributed for nearly 50 years. Jack was also one of three dance critics – alongside Anna Kisselgoff and Jennifer Dunning – at The New York Times, from 1978 until 2005, and he also served on the dance panel of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1975 to 1978.
Among his most important books on dance were The Nutcracker, a look at the history of the ballet and its development as an essential element of Christmas celebrations in the USA; Art Without Boundaries: The World of Modern Dance; and The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the company whose performances had made a huge impact on Jack when young. Jack was also a poet, and his 11 volumes of poetry included Getting Lost in a City Like This, and, most recently, Backyards of the Universe. He was the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts literary prize.
I got to know Jack when I began working at Dancing Times in 2005. Always punctual with the delivery of his regular monthly column, “Notes from New York”, he was also one of the very few dance writers I did not have to spend much time editing because his text was always so clear and concise. Eventually, I got to know both Jack and George personally during their regular trips to London, especially at the lunch parties hosted for the pair by David Leonard and Richard Holland of Dance Books – they were always occasions full of laughter and happiness.
Jack and George finally married in Toronto, Canada, in 2006, at a time when it was still not possible for same-sex couples to marry legally in the USA. They were often intrepid travellers, holidaying not only in North America and UK, but travelling to Europe and beyond. I would see them from time to time in New York and also in Florida during visits to see Sarasota Ballet, especially for that company's wonderful Frederick Ashton Festival in 2014. I last saw Jack in October last year, at his and George's flat in Lower Manhattan whilst on a visit to see New York City Ballet. Jack, although frail, was as alert and perceptive as ever, and I am relieved to know he died peacefully, with George at his side.
Jack Anderson: born 15 June 1935 – died 20 October 2023.
Jonathan Gray was editor of Dancing Times from 2008 to 2022.
He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. He was on the Curatorial Staff of the Theatre Museum, London, from 1989 to 2005, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet's productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times and The Guardian, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.