AIDS claims dance-film director Ardolino

November 23, 1993|By Jennifer Dunning | Jennifer Dunning,New York Times News Service

Emile Ardolino, an Oscar-winning maker of dance documentaries who went on to become a Hollywood director of films including "Dirty Dancing" and "Sister Act," died on Saturday morning at his home in Los Angeles. He was 50.

The cause was AIDS, said Cindy Gilmore, a longtime colleague and co-producer at Ardolino Productions.

Mr. Ardolino, whose new film of George Balanchine's "Nutcracker" is to be released tomorrow, was considered a dance-film maker of exceptional sensitivity.

He had an eye and an imagination that seemed to understand intuitively how to lend the immediacy of film to an art that often requires the distance and framing of a stage. When watching dance on television, "you can be in five seats at the same time -- every time you change an angle," he said in 1982.

Mr. Ardolino always managed to convert the most hardened film crew members; by the end of work on his dance films, they would be blithely conferring with him about arabesques, chaine turns and pirouettes.

"I do love dance," he said in a 1987 interview about "Dirty Dancing," his first major Hollywood film.

"I do love music. It was a script in which the dance was used to move the plot along, to reveal character, and the story didn't stop; in addition to which, I saw a subtext of body language throughout. So I related to all that immediately."

A director known for his soft-spoken though firm way with actors, Mr. Ardolino was also something of a humanist.

"I am interested in scripts about character, mainly, whether it's a comedy, a romance or a drama," he said.

"I like audiences to feel something when they come out. I don't want them to come out numb. I really want them to feel and to think, mostly feel."

Mr. Ardolino, who was born in Maspeth, Queens, developed an intense love for Broadway shows in adolescence and said he spent all his money on tickets, sneaking in for second acts when he couldn't afford admission.

He saw the original production of "Gypsy" 25 times, he told friends. Mr. Ardolino appeared in many theater productions as a student at Queens College.

He studied dance with Matt Mattox and had a few acting jobs, including the role of the Boy in a road company production of "The Fantasticks."

He founded Compton-Ardolino Films with Gardner Compton in 1967, working as an editor, a director and a producer of documentaries, industrial films and multimedia stage productions through 1974. He won an Obie Award in 1969 for his films for the original Broadway production of "Oh! Calcutta!" and created films for the Joffrey Ballet's "Astarte" and the New York City Opera's "Makropoulos Affair."

He also designed the original multimedia concept for the Broadway production of "Jesus Christ Superstar."

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