Stanley Love, Choreographer Who Celebrated Joy, Dies at 49


Stanley Love, an experimental choreographer who built a loyal following for creating dances instilled with joy, vibrant physicality and his wild imagination, has died. He was 49.

The cause has not yet been determined, the medical examiner’s office in Brooklyn said. Mr. Love was found dead in his home in the borough’s Williamsburg neighborhood on Aug. 22.

The choreographer, who created numerous works for his company, the Stanley Love Performance Group, embraced spectacle and pop music, dance history and social dancing. He was a staple of the downtown dance world and even off the stage, Mr. Love, tall and lithe, made an instant impression.

Lauri Hogan, one of his longtime dancers, recalled encountering Mr. Love when they were students at the Juilliard School. “He had on these pants that I would see him in many times — green-and-white polka dots — and a white turtleneck, and he had this very severe blunt bob and his purse across his body, which he wore most of the time in various forms. I was fascinated. He opened up looking at the world in this very vivid way.”

Mr. Love was drawn to unison movement and repetition, and viewed dance as a means of creating a collective energy that evoked a sense of ritual, and even the divine. “It’s not about everybody doing the dance step perfectly,” he said in a 2017 interview with Moriah Evans in Movement Research Performance Journal. “It’s so much more important than this idea of perfection, or winning.”

Mr. Love’s works included dancers of all skill levels, and he rejected the term “non-dancer.” “All you have to do to dance is dance,” he said in the interview. “It’s that simple. You don’t have to have a degree. You don’t need permission.”

While his adherence to structure gave his work a solid frame, both his philosophy and musical choices — from Prince to Queen to the Supremes — opened up dance to audiences who might not ordinarily see themselves reflected on a traditional stage.

Stanley Brian Love was born in Dexter, Iowa, on March 17, 1970. His mother, Linda Wells, was a customer service representative and agent associate for Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa. His father did not have a presence in his life.

He arrived in New York at 18 to attend the Juilliard School, having only started dancing a couple of years earlier. Like many in the performing arts, he was drawn to the city by the 1980 film “Fame.” He graduated from Juilliard in 1992.

Even as a student he was spontaneous about finding dancers. One day in the hallway at Juilliard, Ms. Hogan recalled, he asked her if she would dance in his work. “He took me into the studio right then and there and started teaching it to me,” she said. “I never stopped doing his work after that.”

Greg Zuccolo, a dancer who performed in Mr. Love’s pieces from 1993 to the present, met the choreographer through mutual friends. “Stanley was immediately like, ‘I’m doing a show — do you want to be in it?’ ” Mr. Zuccolo said. “He was that fast. There was never any sort of vetting process. He just didn’t care. He wanted numbers and people, and so I started going to rehearsals.”

Over the last 10 years, financial struggles prevented Mr. Love from having studio space, so he held rehearsals outside, weather permitting, at McCarren Park in Williamsburg.

“There were these little spots on the side that had shade,” Mr. Zuccolo said. “He would bring his boombox because he lived around the corner, and it was always so much fun. You got a lot of work done in three hours in your tennis shoes on the cement. He would start teaching the same thing over and over again no matter who showed up.”

While he didn’t adhere to a particular type of training, Mr. Love choreographed works that were complex, dense and fast and included many styles, Mr. Zuccolo said. “Stanley was so rigorous and so prolific that the material just flowed out of him,” he said. ”

For Michelson, Mr. Love’s body of work was important because of his ability to merge multiple elements — “who his dancers were, how he worked, what the music was, what the repetition was, what the timing was,” she said. “Never, ever in one of his works — even though I knew what was coming — was I not moved or surprised or alive and thoroughly, absolutely disarmed.”

“Stanley straddled the wall of light and dark, the prophet and the naïve, sobriety and insobriety,” she added.

Mr. Love is survived by his mother; his sister, Penni Wells; and his niece, Violette Beljaars.

As a dancer, Mr. Love filled space “with spinal twists, his long arms directed in space, then making angles, low side lunges, dramatic pauses and spinning,” Ms. Hogan said. “He’d finish with a pose and laugh.”

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