Master teacher Matt Mattox died on Feb. 18 in France

One of my nice teachers has found his life to come to an end, but the memories shall stay for long with many of his pupils.

He was a great classical and Jazz ballet teacher. In the classical ballet I loved his variations and he could inspire us to bring out the best, requesting to have your own personality to give an other dimension to the variation.

Bob Boross Master Classes - Matt Mattox Freestyle Jazz Dance Technique

Matt Mattox & Bob Boross

His death on Feb. 18 was confirmed by Bob Boross, a former student.

Born in Tulsa in 1921 Harold (Matt) Mattox studied under Celli in New York, E.Belcher, Nico Charisse, Loring and Cole. He found his way onto Broadway where he  and got his débuted in Annie get your gun, N.Y. 1946.
As a dancer, Mr. Mattox was celebrated for his “ballpoint ease, pinpoint precision, and catlike agility,” as Dance magazine wrote in 2007. He was perhaps best known to moviegoers as the young, bearded Caleb Pontipee, one of the marriageable frontiersmen at the heart of the 1954 film “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” directed by Stanley Donen and choreographed by Michael Kidd. some other films in which he appeared “Yolanda and the Thief” (1945), “Till the Clouds Roll By” (1946), “Guys and Dolls” (1955) and “Song of Norway” (1970). On television, Mr. Mattox danced and choreographed for “The Bell Telephone Hour,” broadcast on NBC starting in 1959. He also choreographed the Broadway musical “Jennie,” starring Mary Martin, which opened in 1963; and a Metropolitan Opera “Aida” in 1959.

Matt Mattox teaching many of our generation in Köln at the Cologne International Summer Course

In several musicals and films he draw attention with his articular personality, but he will be remembered mostly for his marvellous classes. Though he was not as well known as some of the celebrated Hollywood dancers of his era, he was by all accounts every bit their peer. He was a great teacher who drew pupils into the Jazz world world wide. In the Dance Centre we had to make sure we got some space or place in his favoured classes of Fee Jazz. Perhaps it where not so many who recognised his skills as classical ballet master, but for us this was a great experience of lively variations. In between the classes he also could tell us lovely stories of Jack Cole his work-method and how he saw the mastery of movement finding its way after the second world war. He also told us about his interrupting his studies for service as a fighter pilot with the Army Air Forces in World War II and how it influenced him as a person. It somehow made him a loveable man, sweet and tender.

Combining his own extensive training in ballet with tap dance, modern dance and folkloric dance traditions from around the world, he created a new, fluidly integrated art form he liked to call “freestyle dance.” For him you could do anything with the body, but we learned that when we choreographed we always had to respect the dancers body, always taking care we would not him or her do something which could harm his or her body. His instructions for teaching where also very clear on that matter, and I can imagine he would have come very frustrated a few years later when he watched what certain teachers demanded from too young bodies.

It is a pity his nice company Jazzart, founded in London in the early 1970s and later reformed in Paris, never get the deserved attention and that not more companies took on some of his interesting choreographies, though he did not always manage to get the very nice variations he made into a good sound constructed ballet.

He did say he never repeated himself, but his Jazz clazzes became in the years automatically structured to a standard set exercises, he gave everywhere and notated in his Jazz Class book . (We knew it by heart).

” I, for example you heard me say “what did I do today?” I’ve forgotten already! Never, never….never; I do an enchaînement in a class, I go axway from it, and one hour later someone says “what we do? Or I say “what did we do today?” And they have to remind me, I dont remember, I dont remember because I dont want to repeat myself…oui…because if you repeat yourself that’s, that’s … that’s cheating! The idea of beeing a teacher … you have to invent inside your own capacity to keep developing. If you can’t grow then your students are not “gonna” grow, oui … and if the teacher stops beeing a student they might as well quit! Oui! Because working with your students you learn … yourself … many things … “tu comprends mon englais” ….mhhh ok!

– A series of numbered steps we did regularly in Jazzclass –

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Since the early 1980s, he had lived in Perpignan, in the South of France.

Although his star has faded somewhat in America due to his long absence, his legacy remains in the choreography of Graciela Daniele, Margo Sappington, Alan Johnson, Robert North, Raza Hammadi, and Anthony Van Laast. His technique can be seen in Frank Pietri, Charles Kelley, Elisabeth Frich, Renato Greco, and Jane Darling, as well as literally tens of thousands of teachers and students who have studied with him during his 40 years of teaching. Mattox is a primary figure in the evolution of the jazz dancer from a high kicking chorus girl to a concert caliber performer, and of jazz dance from the dance halls to the concert halls. Although somewhat obscure, Matt Mattox is a jazz dance legend.

Mr. Mattox seemed always moving around teaching everywhere, which perhaps brought him too often away from house and to difficult to have an easygoing married live. He married several times.
In 1975, after meeting the Catalan jazz dancer Martine Limeul, he moved Jazzart to Paris. Having divorced his wife, the Broadway actress Jean Marie Caples, who performed as Jean Mattox, he moved with Limeul to southern France. They married in 1981, establishing the Matt and Martine Mattox dance school, where he demanded that his students “live what you are doing as a dancer. Don’t be a moving statue. Look as if you’re having a ball.”

In 1994 the French government appointed him a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Mattox continued to teach a weekly class at his studio, despite increasing frailty, up until last year. “He always said, ‘I’m going to die on the dance floor,’ ” says Boross.

His survivors include his wife, Martine Limeul Mattox; three sons, Matthew, Christopher and Timothy; and grandchildren.

Mattox taught us the curving lines of lights and I do hope many of his pupils could give his inspiration on to many later generations.

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Please do find:

A short video clip of Matt Mattox (562K)

Matt Mattox
A star performer fated never to be a named character in Hollywood musicals, Mattox had a strikingly wiry, athletic frame and a remarkably fast way of moving . As a result he was top of the list for the leading choreographers in most of the golden-period musicals.

Matt Mattox, un homme … un professeur … un maître, a great man … a great teacher … a great master …

Matt and Martine Mattox at Jazzart Workshop – 1997
who directed a “stage” at Western Kentucky University, and called it “Jazzart” after Matt’s company.

Films and series of Matt Mattox

Legendary Freestyle Jazz Dance Pioneer, Matt Mattox, Dies at Age 91

Matt Mattox , “Enseigner le jazz”

Matt Mattox: A Dancing Life

My favorite brother of seven, Matt Mattox

In Memoriam Matt Mattox (1921–2013)

  • Jazz Dance (todoslarisa.wordpress.com)
    The term “Jazz” was first applied to a style of music and dance during World War I.Jazz in a dance form, however, originates from the vernacular dances of Africans when they were brought to the Americas on slave ships.
  • The Difference Between Ballet, Lyrical Dance and Jazz (porplatakom06.wordpress.com)
    Jazz dancing is a fun and energetic dance style. Combining fancy footwork, quick turns and big leaps, jazz dancers quickly gain attention because not only of their fluid movements, but also the grace and balance in which these movements are performed.
  • Dancer Eva von Gencsy’s legacy is all that ballet-jazz (theglobeandmail.com)
    When Ms. von Gencsy died April 11 at 89, another pioneer of Canadian dance slipped from our midst. Not only was she prima ballerina in the formative years of companies that would later become the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, in 1972 she co-founded Les Ballets-Jazz Contemporains (later Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, and now Ballets Jazz Montréal).
    +
    Mr. Macdonald, later a distinguished choreographer and director, got to know Ms. von Gencsy through Radio-Canada performances. He introduced her to jazz dance, and to Luigi, New York’s master jazz dance teacher. She went on to teach for 13 years in the Banff jazz dance program, which Mr. Macdonald established in 1962. “Eva became addicted to jazz dance,” he said.
    +
    Haitian-born Eddy Toussaint fell in love with Ms. von Gencsy when he saw her perform in a ballet-jazz piece she had choreographed for Expo 67. He became her student. During his university summer vacations, they rented an apartment in New York and took ballet and jazz classes all day. “I couldn’t believe that a white ballerina could move like a black person,” he said. “Eva could have fit right into a black nightclub act.”
  • Boston Ballet Presents Rooster, Awake Only, Second Detail: Forsythe, Bruce and Elo In Various Ballets Genres (artandculturetoday.wordpress.com)
    Well disposed towards modern dance, the Boston Ballet, under the leadership of its current artistic director Jorma Elo, has pushed the boundaries of classical ballet by shedding the old school emphasis on pointes. The program features three diversely choreographed ballet pieces: Rooster by the British Christopher Bruce, Wake Only by the Finnish Jorma Elo, and The Second Detail by the American William Forsythe. Rooster and The Second Detail were both choreographed for the first time in 1991.
  • Terpsichorean Tuesdays: Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (irreverentescapades.com)
    The robust choreography is so beautifully filmed – it must have been to do with the fact that the director, Stanley Donen, was also a dance guy.
  • Ballet in Guangzhou ! (toutsurladance.wordpress.com)
    In America upper classes will skip the floor part. But in china all classes must have floor, barre and center.
  • Boston Ballet Presents George Balanchine’s Charming Classic Coppélia (prweb.com)
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  • Frederic Franklin (telegraph.co.uk)
    Frederic Franklin, who has died aged 98, was a Liverpool boy who rose to partner the starriest ballerinas of ballet’s golden age, outlived them all and – thanks to his exceptional memory – became a priceless historical link to the Ballets Russes period.
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    Remarkably, Franklin joined American Ballet Theatre at the age of 80, performing veteran character roles such as the Tutor in Swan Lake — which he performed on ABT’s London tour in 2009 aged 94.
  • Why Do I Have to Take Ballet? (meganbettis.com)
    Becoming a professional dancer is like building a house from the ground up. You can’t start by adding the roof and interior decorations; rather, you must start by creating a solid foundation to support the structure and make it last.

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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2 Responses to Master teacher Matt Mattox died on Feb. 18 in France

  1. Debra Levine says:

    Beautifully done blog post, thank you for linking in artsmeme.com.

    Like

  2. Anna Rosenschild-Paulin says:

    Very grateful for your most complete post on lovely teacher Matt Mattox which brought back happy memories of the 70’s and 80’s when I was a pupil of his in Paris and all over France. Many thanks!

    Like

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