Aug. 31, 1938 – Vincent Warren
Warren was a brilliant ballet dancer and was also the great love of poet Frank O’Hara’s life. After his intense, early relationship with O’Hara ended, Warren went to Canada where he became a much-admired dancer and an important Dance historian. He was a stunner who drew comparisons to Rudolf Nureyev. He danced for Igor Stravinsky and danced the title role in the ballet version of The Who’s Tommy.
O’Hara’s Having A Coke With You is one of my favorite poems ever. I wondered about the person lucky enough to be the recipient of this warmly droll, tender, lovely love poem. It seems that it was for the handsome young ballet dancer O’Hara fell in love with in 1959.
O’Hara was 33 years old and Warren was 20 when they met that summer. The dancer began appearing in the best of O’Hara’s poems, including Poem (A la Recherche d’Gertrude Stein), Poems (So Many Echoes In My Head), and, of course, Having A Coke With You, where the poet references Warren’s elegance as a dancer with: “the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism.” In Steps, O’’Hara writes of Warren:
“oh god it’s wonderful / to get out of bed / and drink too much coffee / and smoke too many cigarettes / and love you so much.”
Most of O’Hara’s poems don’t use O’Hara’s lover’s name because Warren was afraid that his mother would read them and realize he was gay. Although, the clever O’Hara encodes Warren’s name down the left-hand side of You Are Gorgeous And I’m Coming from Love Poems (Tentative Title) (1965).
Everything changed in 1966, when O’Hara was killed in a jeep accident on the beach on Fire Island. O’Hara’s death devastated Warren, but it was also a turning point that pushed him to become a serious artist.
Here are the last lines of O’Hara’s Les Luths (1959) which was written for Warren:
and I am feeling particularly testy at being separated from
the one I love by the most dreary of practical exigencies money
when I want only to lean on my elbow and stare into space feeling
the one warm beautiful thing in the world breathing upon my right rib
what are lutes they make ugly twangs and rest on knees in cafés
I want to hear only your light voice running on about Florida
as we pass the changing traffic light and buy grapes for wherever
we will end up praising the mattressless sleigh-bed and the
Mexican egg and the clock that will not make me know
how to leave you
Poem (A la Recherche d’ Gertrude Stein) was also written for Warren in 1959:
When I am feeling depressed and anxious and sullen
all you have to do is take your clothes off
and all is wiped away revealing life’s tenderness
that we are flesh and breathe and are near us
as you are really as you are I become as I
really am alive and knowing vaguely what is
and what is important to me above the intrusions
of incident and accidental relationships
which have nothing to do with my life
when I am in your presence I feel life is strong
and will defeat all its enemies and all of mine
and all of yours and yours in you and mine in me
sick logic and feeble reasoning are cured
by the perfect symmetry of your arms and legs
spread out making an eternal circle together
creating a golden pillar beside the Atlantic
the faint line of hair dividing your torso
gives my mind rest and emotions their release
into the infinite air where since once we are
together we always will be in this life come what may
Warren danced with New York City’s Metropolitan Opera Ballet and then, most famously, with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal. He is remembered as someone who was especially cultured and elegant.
Dancer/filmmaker Marie Brodeur takes on his rich life in her award-winning documentary, Un Homme de Danse (A Man of Dance) (2015), writes:
“He had an incredible memory,” He was a real name-dropper with anecdotes about everyone from Maurice Béjart to Andy Warhol. But it wasn’t done to boost himself, it was just the life he had lived.”
As he grew older, Warren went from glorious dancer to formidable Dance scholar. His real legacy is the Bibliothèque de la danse Vincent-Warren, the largest dance library in Canada, built mostly from his own acquisitions and housed in Montreal’s École supérieure de ballet du Québec.
Warren was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the youngest in a family of 14. When he was 10 years old, he saw the classic ballet film The Red Shoes (1948). He became obsessed with the movie and with ballet. He enrolled in ballet class when he was 11, and at 18 he moved to New York City, with a scholarship to the American Ballet Theatre School. He received a second scholarship to study at the Metropolitan Opera’s ballet school when he turned 19 years old, and in 1957, he was given a spot in the company’s corps. He danced with the Met until 1959, and then he went to the Santa Fe Opera Ballet, where Stravinsky was a guest conductor.
Warren also explored Modern Dance and participated in the experimental Judson Church movement, where he met O’Hara, the leading poet of the postwar New York School. O’Hara introduced him to his circle of artist friends, including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
I first made note of him when he appeared with Margaret Mercier in the Academy Award-nominated short film Pas de deux (1974) by the legendary animator Norman McLaren.
Warren and Les Grands Ballets had a popular triumph with Tommy, a ballet version of The Who’s rock opera, created by the company’s resident choreographer, Fernand Nault. The production premiered in 1970, played on Broadway and toured extensively, bringing youth audience to ballet. Warren: “I remember smelling marijuana from the stage.”
When Warren retired from dance at 40 years old, he turned to teaching ballet at Les Grands’ school, and taking over the course in Dance History, even though he had no academic degree.
He remained a devotee of Ballet, Modern and Contemporary dance. Later in life, he also studied Indian Classical Dance and was invited to lecture in India.
Warren was taken by cancer in 2017, at 79 years old. His obituaries, his Wikipedia page, and IMBD bio, all leave at the O’Hara part.