Meeting the Master, Rudy Perez 1929–2023

As of six months ago, “Meeting the Master” might evoke the histrionic single by Michigander rock band Greta Van Fleet. It’s not unlike Medium Medium’s “Guru Maharaj Ji” from four decades before, which I’ve described as “either a snide putdown, or a pedestrian description, of the teacher-student dynamic.” I added: New York Times’ Robert Palmer writes that the song “manages to be understanding and wryly humorous.” (The epitome of this polarity might be The Beatles’ “Sexy Sadie,” written by John Lennon about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.)

Last month I wrote to my filmmaker friend Albert Gasser about

all the gurus I’ve “followed,” secular and non-, among them César Chávez (UFW), Arthur Janov (Primal Therapy), Rudy Perez (dance performance), Charles Cameron [literary and spiritual mentor], Tarkovsky (you introduced me to him), Roman Catholicism, Robert Adams (Advaita Vedanta), Lowell May (IWW), Guy McPherson (abrupt climate change). 

To that list I would add my wife Andrea Carney, whose writings salt-and-pepper this blog. And from the New World and Old World respectively, Ricardo Reyes (art and culture) and Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (compassion on a tightrope). And my spiritual mentors Milania Henley and Rev. Bruce MacKenzie. And to that original list I added, to Albert, “If I spouted the party line, I hope usually it was for a brief while. But oh, what I learned.”

Rudy Perez died yesterday morning after a severe asthma attack that took him to the ICU. A year ago I had my first such attack, mild by comparison, but scary enough for an ER session, and as the doctor told me, “You can deal with a lot of things, but not being able to breathe…?”

Breathing—inspiration—is the ether of an artist’s engine, and Rudy wore his on his sleeve. “C’mon, people,” he exhorted in one workshop, “ABT will be here soon,” meaning American Ballet Theatre’s L.A. residency in the 1980s. In 1981 he devoted an entire program to, well…, “In Collaboration.”

Although he didn’t recall it in our conversations, I know that Rudy’s solo “Remain in Light,” for which Rob Berg and I did the score, had its seed in the then-recent appearance of Butoh master Kazuo Ohno, essentially bringing Rudy out of physically-challenging performing retirement.1 Earlier he had dedicated a work, Where Angels Coast (1985), to Butoh dancer Yoshiyuku Takada of Sankai Juku, who had fallen to his death in Seattle during a performance of one of their signature pieces, hanging from suspended ropes. Rudy admitted of his own signature solo Countdown that

it’s my response to Martha Graham’s Lamentation where she does this solo bound in this stretching cloth.”2 But my solos are really very, very personal. That particular piece says a lot about me: how I restrain myself, how I let my emotion out, how I almost start screaming, and all that sort of stuff. Or I can show a lighter side, just poking fun or something. It’s who I am. People who know me can see that. But I’ve made who I am into works that are signature pieces. Like Coverage [1970], my hardhat solo. That’s a whole biographical piece.

Robert Palmer’s remark, about a post-punk band from Nottingham, stands—regarding an angry, tubercular Nuyorican kid from the Bronx who took up dancing as a hobby: Rudy “manages to be understanding and wryly humorous.”

And, so, Rudy inspires me.

Header image:
Rudy Perez,
Spiritual Offering,
Siteworks, Cotsen Auditorium,
Skirball Cultural Center,
February 2, 2003

  1. Last month in Los Angeles Rob and I worked with Scott Fraser on mastering the score for Made in L.A., for which “Remain in Light” was the powerful finale. I had hoped to see Rudy then but he didn’t feel up to it. We had planned to release the score digitally in the coming weeks, and Rudy’s passing brings a poignant punctuation to the project.
  2. Rudy said as much to his email list, 06 Jun 2017.

4 Replies to “Meeting the Master, Rudy Perez 1929–2023”

  1. Great post, David. I know from your previous posts that he really inspired you. So sorry to learn of his passing.

  2. Very nice tribute, David. I only know about him from all your fond remarks about him and his work. Also sorry he is gone.

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