Dance, perhaps more than any other art form, is transmitted from one artist to another, one generation to the next.
Unlike music, which has a brilliantly refined, widely known notation system, dance has only the useful but clumsy and rarified system known as Labanotion that cannot fully capture the expressive subtleties of choreography. And while in recent decades video has become an invaluable tool for documenting dance, it also lacks the nuances of body-to-body transmission.
That is why Gemze de Lappe -- dancer, choreographer, teacher and longtime protege of Agnes de Mille, the woman who changed the way dance was used in the Broadway musical -- is such a treasure. And that is why, seemingly ageless at the age of 91 -- still fleet, disciplined, razor sharp and funny -- she has become such a focus of the Lyric Opera's production of "Oklahoma," for which she has recreated de Mille's original 1943 choreography, including the crucial 15-minute "Dream Sequence" ballet. To be coached by de Lappe is like consulting a dance oracle.
I first met de Lappe in New York in the late 1970s when, as a young dancer, I was part of the Isadora Duncan Centenary Company, which recreated the work of that pioneer of modern dance. De Lappe had originally trained with Irma Duncan (one of Isadora's six adopted daughters), as well as the groundbreaking Russian choreographer, Michel Fokine, in whose New York company she danced.
I was in awe of this calm, fastidious woman who still moved like a dream and was such a part of living dance history -- a woman whose Broadway credits included the role of Simon of Legree in the original production (and film version) of "The King and I," choreographed by Jerome Robbins. And after watching her on stage at a Lyric rehearsal of "Oklahoma" a couple of weeks ago -- demonstrating and fine-tuning every move of her dancers -- I remain so. -- Hedy Weiss