Gary DeLoatch, a leading dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which chronicles the black experience through modern dance, has died. He was 40.
DeLoatch, who had been scheduled to dance next Saturday night at UCLA, died Friday in a New York hospital. The Ailey company said only that DeLoatch had had a long illness.
A high school gymnast in his native Philadelphia, DeLoatch was considered the company's best dramatic dancer. He was critically praised for such roles as Charlie (Bird) Parker in the dance Ailey created for DeLoatch in praise of the jazz saxophonist.
Discussing his performance as "Bird," which he danced in San Diego's Spreckels Theater and Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre in 1985, DeLoatch described the work as "acting without words." One part, he told The Times, was "a full-out nuts scene in a straitjacket."
DeLoatch regretfully shaved his signature beard and mustache for the Bird role, telling The Times his facial hair made him feel "like Samson. I actually feel I dance better with it, because I feel more secure."
Times dance critic Chris Pasles noted that DeLoatch in his performance of "Tell It Like It Is" at the Wiltern in 1989 "brought extraordinary authority, power, presence and weight of character to the work."
DeLoatch received his early dance training from Faye Snow and Joan Kerr at the Settlement School of Music in Philadelphia, and later studied at New York's Dance Theater of Harlem.
He first joined the Ailey troupe as a rehearsal director in 1978, and within a year was performing solo roles.
Proud of his assignments, DeLoatch nevertheless railed at the company's accent on drugs, violence and despair in black America.
"Is this how we see men?" he said to The Times. "Is this how we're looking at our fathers? Are there no heroes for us? Some of our evenings are so depressing I wouldn't ask anyone to see them. Why send people home crying?"
He choreographed his own first ballet for the Ailey company, "Research," in 1983. Despite mixed reviews, it was dropped, he claimed, because it was "too nice."
"I wanted a ballet where everybody lives happily ever after," he told The Times. "They do sometimes, they really do."
DeLoatch is survived by his companion, Stephen Smith of New York, and his mother, Margaret Ella DeLoatch, two sisters and a brother, all of Philadelphia.