Dennis Nahat and Ian Horvath, Choreographers, 1943–1990 (Ian)
1981 CLEVELAND ARTS PRIZE FOR DANCE
Cleveland Ballet, early in its history, became known as “The Dennis and Ernie Show.” The nickname reflected the showmanship and flair of resident choreographer Dennis Nahat (above left) and founding artistic director Ian (“Ernie”) Horvath (above right).
The exciting team took the city by storm with US, the dazzling cavalcade of American dances they co-choreographed in 1976 to celebrate the United States bicentennial. The sassy showpiece was performed at the company’s debut that year, and it became the ensemble's signature work.
Nahat and Horvath also collaborated on The Gift (1976), a family-oriented Christmas show, and The Ozone Hour (1978), a doomsday rock ballet. Their spectacular version of The Nutcracker (1979) featured a detailed scenario by Horvath, clever choreography by Nahat, and storybook scenery and costumes by resident designer David Guthrie. The lavish production set the tone for the large-scale ballets that gave the ensemble its unique look and style.
The bulk of the company’s repertoire was created by Nahat, an exceptionally versatile and facile choreographer in the classical, contemporary and theater dance idioms. Horvath choreographed a few pops ballets, including Laura’s Women (1977) to songs by Laura Nyro and The Piano Man (1982) with music commissioned from jazz pianist-composer Dick Hyman. By the time the partners were awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1981, they had developed an eclectic collection of ballets and sparked Cleveland Ballet's rapid growth into one of America’s largest classical dance companies.
Before Nahat and Horvath came to Cleveland in 1972 to open a school and start a company, they were principal dancers with American Ballet Theatre. They met when both were young dancers starting their performing careers with the Joffrey Ballet.
Nahat was born in Detroit in 1946. Trained in music as well as ballet, he was offered a scholarship in viola at Michigan State University; but he chose instead to accept a dance scholarship to New York’s Juilliard School of Music, where he studied choreography with José Limón.
Horvath was born in Lakewood in 1943 and grew up in Maple Heights. He studied ballet with Ruth Pryor and tap dance with Dave Morgenstern. After graduating from Chanel High School, he went to New York to continue his studies and dance on Broadway and in television shows. He and Nahat chose Cleveland as the site of their dream company because of Horvath’s hometown connections and the willingness of his mother, Helen Horvath, to run the company school.
Horvath left Cleveland Ballet in 1984. Returning to New York, he worked as a freelance choreographer for the José Limón Dance Company, Pacific Northwest Ballet and other ensembles. He died from complications of AIDS in 1990. In his memory, Dance/USA, the national service organization that he helped found, gives annual Ernie Awards to “unsung heroes” who exemplify his burning passion for dance.
The company subsequently rose like a phoenix under Nahat’s direction in San José, California, Cleveland Ballet’s second home. Having purchased the entire inventory of ballets, sets and costumes that had been created in Cleveland, Ballet San José Silicon Valley took responsibility for maintaining the living legacy of “The Dennis and Ernie Show.”
Cleveland Arts Prize
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