Chapter 11- Emerging American Dance in 1930-1944
I. The 1930's were a period when America saw the transition from Russian Ballet to American Ballet with its own identity that sought to both maintain the classics as well as appeal to audiences with new contemporary dance. New York City became the dance capital of the country. Modern dancers and choreographers experimented with a new dance form to express their techniques and philosophies.
A. The 1930's included the beginning of World War II (1935) and the end of the Great Depression with women becoming part of the work force.
1. The Lindy Hop was a popular dance of this time created by a barely five foot tall African American start whose stage name was Shorty George (George H. Snowden).
2. The Lindy Hop was the first form of swing dance that evolved to jitterbug by Cab Calloway. The jitterbug migrated its way to Europe by American men who had been drafted and stationed there.
4. Latin dances were popularized by movie stars and band leaders in the 1930's.
a. In 1936 the rumba was introduced to American audiences at the Chicagos
worlds fair. The rumba has its roots in the 19th century and is a sensual dance performed in 4/4 time and the steps vary in timing.
b. The Samba was also brought to America at the worlds fair in 1939. The Samba is from Brazil and became a popular couples dance performed in 2/4 time at a medium tempo.
c. Cuba band leader Desi Arnez of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez is credited with popularizing the Conga around 1939. It is an easy, single file dance.
II. A new style for American ballet dancers and choreographers began to emerge using stories and themes from American folk heros and the West.
A. Lincoln Kirstein launched a campaign to overthrow the comfortable Russian ballet in America and to promote the development of America ballet which took more than a decade to come into being.
B. Adolph Bolm (1884-1951) was a Russian dancer, choreographer and teacher who left Russia to eventually form Ballet Intime (1917) a group of 12 dancers that toured the United States. He choreographed for several movies as well as being ballet master for the Chicago Civic Opera and the San Francisco Opera.
C. Agnes de Mille (1909-1993) was the niece of the famous movie director Cecil B. de Mille. She graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles and traveled to London to begin her dance career with Ballet Rambert. She returned to America and in 1940, she joined Ballet Theatre and began to stage her choreography. Her famous work Rodeo premiered in 1943 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo with her as the leading role and after an instant success, she then began to choreograph for Broadway. de Mille made a huge impact on musical theatre, using her concept of creating dances that functioned as an integral part of the plot.
D. Antony Tudor (1909-1987) was born in London and began his career with Ballet Rambert. In 1940 he began his long association with Ballet Theatre as both dancer and major choreographer. His “psychological ballets” using economy of movement and stylized gestures to tell a story became the core of the company’s work during the war years. He taught at the dance division at the Julliard School and later at the University of California at Irvine. His “psychological ballets” using economy of movement and stylized gestures to tell a story became the core of the company’s work during the war years. He taught at the dance division at the Julliard School and later at the University of California at Irvine.
III. As our discussions have moved into the 20th century and dance in America and how it developed to its own style and identity, this leads us to examining how ballet companies came into being. In addition to the major ballet companies, there are many regional companies and groups formulated out of colleges and schools as well as many prolific and talented choreographers, but for our purposes, we are going to review The America Ballet Theatre, The New York City Ballet, The Joffery Ballet, The San Francisco Ballet and the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet.
A. The America Ballet Theatre was founded in 1937 as the Mordkin Ballet and reorganized with the new name Ballet Theatre. Lucia Chase was the director for forty years and it was renamed the American Ballet Theatre. The directors of the company were Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith from 1940-1980, Mikhail Baryshinkov from 1980-1992 and Kevin McKenzie from 1992 until the present.
1. Lucia Chase (1907-1986) was an American dance and wealthy widow who loved the ballet. Chase and Richard Pleasant founded and co directed Ballet Theatre in 1940. Pleasant resigned after the second season and Lucia Chase was the sole director for five years before scenic designer Oliver Smith became co
director with her until 1980.
2. Mikhail Niolaevich Baryshnikov was born January 27, 1948. He is a Soviet-born Russian American dance, choreographer and dancer who is ranked with Vaslav Nijinsky and Rudolf Nureyev as one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century. Mikhail Baryshnikov danced in the Kirov Ballet in Lenigrad and he defected to Canada in 1974 to allow him more opportunities in Western dance. He freelanced with many companies before he joined the New York City Ballet as a principal dance to study George Balanchine’s technique. He then joined the American Ballet Theatre where he later became artistic director.
Baryshnikov has developed his career to include acting on stage, films and television as well as spearheading many of his own projects. He has been associated with promoting modern dance and he is probably one of the most widely recognized contemporary ballet dancers. He began studying and training for dance in 1960 and his career advanced to having major roles choreographed for him. While still performing with the Kirov Ballet, New York Times critic, Clive Barnes referred to him as “the most perfect dancer I have ever seen.” He was a principal dance with the American Ballet Theatre from 1974-1978 while still
performing as a guest artist with the New York City Ballet. He also toured with modern dance and ballet companies around the world for fifteen months having several roles created for him, including Rapsody by Jerome Robbins, the choreographer for the play West Side Story. From 1980 until 1990, he stayed with the American Ballet Theatre as artistic director and dancer, In 1986, Baryshnikov became a naturalized citizen of the United States. From 1990 to 2002, he was the artistic director of the White Oak Project, a touring company he co-founded with Mark Morris. In 2004, he launched the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York.
His reason for defecting from the Soviet Union was artistic. He was shorter than most dancers and therefore unable to garner the lead roles and although extremely talented, was given secondary parts. Also, the Soviet dance world staged mostly nineteenth century works and deliberately shunned the creative choreographers of the West. Baryshnikov was able to see the works of 2oth century choreographers when he was on tour and wanted to work with these innovators of dance technique and choreography. Baryshnikov’s version of “The Nutcracker” is one of the only two versions to be nominated for an Emmy Award. The other version is Mark Morris’s “The Hard Nut.”
Although never married, Baryshnikov has a daughter with actress Jessica Lange. When they first met, he spoke very little English and they had to
communicate in French. He is currently in a long-term relationship to former ballerina, Lisa Rinehart and they have three children together.
3. Kevin McKenzie (1954- ) is an American dancer, choreographer and current director of the American Ballet Theatre. He performed as a guest for many companies including the Bolshoi. His career as a dancer and choreographer with The American Ballet Theatre was somewhat overshadowed by Baryshnikov who arrived at the company at the same time, although McKenzie mastered the repertoire of the danseur noble and received critical acclaim and many awards.
B. The San Francisco Ballet is a ballet company founded in 1933 as part of San Francisco Opera Ballet. Helgi Tomasson is the current director. SFB is the first professional company in the United States.
C. New York City Ballet was founded in 1948 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein with musical director Leon Barzin and founding choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. New York City Ballet came out of earlier troupes: The Producing Company of the School of American Ballet (1934) the American Ballet (1935) and Ballet Caravan (1936) which merged into American
Ballet Caravan (1941) and came directly from the Ballet Society (1946).
1. George Balanchine (1904-1983) created more than 426 ballet and has been called “The Father of American Ballet.” His career in ballet began as an accident while accompanying his sister to the auditions for the Imperial Ballet School in 1914 (Russia). He was accept but his sister was not. He was also a skilled musician and continued his studies at the Conservatory of Muxic and graduated from the Imperial Ballet School with honors. Diagehilev saw him performing while Balanchine was touring Germany and invited him to join the Ballet Russes as a dancer. He restaged a few ballets for the company and began his career as a choreographer. Balanchine’s unique style was abstract and neoclassic. He formed Les Ballets in 1933 which lasted for one season. While on tour in London, Balanchine met American arts patron, Lincoln Kirstein who invited him to come to America.
While starting a ballet company, Balanchine also choreographed for musical theater and very much admired American Tap dance Fred Astaire and his style of dancing. He was married at nineteen to a dancer Tamera Geva and later to another dancer, Maria Tallcheif and then Tanaquil Le Clercq whom he divorced because he was in love with Suzanne Farrell. He created many ballets for her and many
ballerinas quit because of his devotion for Farrell who had married a New York City Ballet dancer, Paul Meija. Both of them quit the company and went to Brussels, but Suzanne Farrell later returned to the company as a dancer. Balanchine was married and divorced four times to dancers and women were his muses. He never had children and died in 1983 after years of illness. His illness was diagnosed after his death: Cruetzfeldt-Jacob disease. In 1978, Balanchine received the Kennedy Center Honors Award.
D. Los Angeles Chamber Ballet was founded by principal dancer and choreographer from the New York City Ballet, John Clifford around 1974.
Although they toured extensively with high critical acclaim, they disbanded in 1985. In 1986, Mr. Clifford was approached by leading dance agent, Garry Lindsey to establish a smaller touring sized group “Ballet of Los Angeles” and they toured from 1987. Los Angeles Ballet was reborn in 1985.
E. The Joffrey Ballet was founded in 1956 and is considered one of the foremost ballet companies in the world. From 1995 to 2005, the company was known as the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. In 1956, most touring companies were performing
reduced versions of ballet classics. Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino formed a unique six dancer ensemble touring the country in a station wagon with a U-Haul trailer performing ballet created by Joffrey. For a time, the Joffrey Ballet was a resident company of New York City with a second home in Los Angeles and in 1995 established a permanent residency in Chicago. Joffrey Ballet is known for bringing modern dance choreographers; Twyla Tharp, Laura Dean, Mark Morris, Alvin Ailey, Mark Hain and Moses Pendleton (Pilobolus) to choreograph for the company as well as staging classics by Tudor, Massine, Nijinsky and Nijinska.
1. Robert Joffrey was born in Washington in 1930 to a Pashtun Afghani father and an Italian mother. His given name was Abdulla Jaffa Anver Bey Khan. He
started tap dancing at the age of nine and his teacher recommended ballet. He studied with Mary Ann Wells who became one of Joffrey’s greatest inspirations. At a young age, Robert had a great imagination for the creation of ballet and was eventually known as being gifted teacher. He met Gerald Arpino (age 22) when he was sixteen years old and they became artistic collaborators with a vision that resulted in one of the foremost Ballet companies in the world. The Joffrey Ballet was the first American company to tour the former Soviet Union and the first dance company to perform at the White House. Robert Joffrey died in 1988 from
liver complications and Gerald Arpino served as artistic director until 2007 when he retired but continued as a consultant. In 2007, Ahsley Wheater assistant artistic director and ballet master for the San Francisco Ballet and former Joffrey dancer became the artistic director.
IV. Emerging Modern Dance
In the early 1930s the Denishawn and Duncan schools provided the early training for modern dancers and choreographers. Choreographers of modern dance were developing new theories and techniques away from ballet and the uncertain political climate had influence on artists seeking to make a personal statement through their art. The Works Project Administration developed the
Federal Theatre Project to provide for new voices to be heard.
A. In the early stages of modern dance, women were the leaders who directed the form and the developing techniques.
1. The four leading figures in modern dance, known as the Four Pioneers were
a. Hanya Holm
b. Martha Graham
c. Doris Humphrey
d. Charles Weidman
2. Bennnington College summer dance festivals provided a place for instruction and staging of modern dance with choreographic statements inspired by fold legends, social protests, and theatrical expressions of culture and ethnicity.
3. Martha Graham (1894-1991). As Ruth St.Denis is known as the First Lady of Modern Dance, Martha Graham is known as the Mother of Modern Dance. She was born in Pennsylvania and devoted her life to performing and creating dances.
Graham enrolled in the Denishawn School in 1916 and joined the company three years later. She left in 1923 and performed two seasons in the Greenwich Village Follies and then taught for a year at the Eastman School for Dance and Dramatic Action. She continued to teach and began developing her technique of contraction and release. Her early works for performances were solos and gradually she expanded her dances to include full productions. Her thematic material began with the Southwest and its culture, then shifted to psychological and literary themes. She then choreographed dances inspired by Greek myths. In 1972,
Martha Graham retired from the stage but continued to teach and direct her company until her death. She choreographed 181 dances during her career.
4. Doris Humphrey (1895-1958) was born near Chicago and taught ballet to earn money. She was a gifted dancer and when she auditioned for the Denishawn School, she was immediately accepted into the performing company. Ruth St. Denis relied on her for her creativity and ability to visualize music. In 1927, Humphrey left Denishawn with Charles Weidman to establish and school and company in New York. She lectured at the New School about the emerging dance form of modern dance. Doris Humphrey retired from performing in 1945 for health reasons but continued to contribute to modern dance, becoming the artistic
director of the José Limón company and assisting him in developing as a choreographer. Her technique is the theory of fall and recovery and is based on the relationship of the body and gravity and the alternating resistance and yielding to the gravitation pull. At the insistence of her students, Humphrey wrote a book The Art of Making Dances and it has become a classic for all modern dancers with invaluable insights into the choreographic process based on her theories of mans relationship with his environment as well as the application of the theatrical elements of the stage for dance performance.
5. Charles Weidman (1901-1975) was born in Nebraska and began his career dancing during the interludes between silent movies. He began studying at Denishawn at the age of 19 where he met Doris Humphrey. After eight years of performing with Denishawn, he left the company with Humphrey to establish their own school and both of them taught and lectured at Bennington College. The Humphrey-Weidman school dissolved in 1945 and Weidman formed his own company and toured. His choreography abstracted mime and gesture and he was skilled in the mime and satire although he had many works which were purely movement.
6. Hanya Holm (1893-1992) grew up in Germany and was interested in music and drama and attended the Institute of Emile Jacques-Dalcroze. She was first a student, then a company member of German expressionistic dancer, Mary Wigman. Holm was recruited by Sol Hurok in 1936 to come to New York and to start a branch of the Mary Wigman company there which was later named the Hanya Holm Studio and later the Hanya Holm School of Dance due to the negative association of Wigmans name because of tension between America and Germany. She taught at Colorado College, The University of Wisconsin, and Alwin Nicholais School in New York. Holm taught German Modern Dance which
came into being about ten years before American Modern Dance and was based on the use of space, emotion and feeling to create movement. This approach allows for any style of dance to be used for the creation of choreography and was attractive to teachers and professional dancers because it allowed for the use of any technical style.
V. At this point in our discussion, I think it is important to include the development of the Jazz style of dance.
Lecture on Jazz Dance from The Dance Experience
I. Jazz Dance is eclectic and inclusive.
A. Combines movements from
sexually charged dynamics to create his unique demanding style
which was known as jazz dance by people who were aficionados
of his technique.
F. The Blues (musical) dancers adapted the musical characteristics of
1. Altering the emphasis or energy.
2. Adding improvisation
a. Blues music and blues dance is not about entertainment
but about expressing human emotions and feelings.
G. Theatrical fusion of white Broadway dance and black dance.
1. White Broadway imitated black dance.
2. Black dancers danced for white choreographers.
3. Integration- both white and black dancers had opportunities
to study each other’s techniques and methods.
H. African American dance pioneer Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was a dancer, choreographer and social activist whose ambition was to make African-American dance a respectable art which was in conflict with the newly established modern
dance community. She influenced many emerging artists of the 20th century.
1. Experience on Broadway and film.
2. Doctorate in Anthropology.
3. Codified a repertoire of movements.
I. Racially mixed faculty and students of dance institutions:
1. High School of the Performing Arts (New York).
2. Dance Theatre of Harlem..
3. Julliard School.
4. Graham School.
5. Alvin Ailey School.
J. Integration phase of Broadway dance coincided with the era
of the American Rock and Roll music.
1. Elvis Presley.
2. Little Richard.
3. Dick Clarks American Bandstand.
a. Animal imitations.
1. The monkey.
2. The pony.
K. Concert Dance:
1. Ballet, using jazz dance styles, mostly inspired by the music.
a. George Balanchine.
1. Broadway choreography.
b. Jerome Robbins choreographed for Broadway.
2. Modern Dance
a. Hubbard Street Dance founded by Lou Conte.
3. Jack Cole is sometimes known as the father of modern jazz
a. Danced with Ted Shawn and later Doris Humphrey.
1. Cole seemed to exemplify the philosophy of
b. Cole’s style included difficult knee work, thrusts,
powerful gestures juxtaposed against sparseness of
L. Jazz dance is still open to many definitions but regardless of
interpretation all jazz dance includes roots that can be traced to
the African continent and it is passionate, sensual and erotic and
bi-cultural but what it is not is vulgar, narcissistic or cute.
8. Helen Tamiris (1905-1966) was born in New York city as Helen Becker and later took the name of Tamiris. She studied with Fokine and joined the opera ballet at the age of 16. In the 1930s she married her dance partner, Daniel Nagrin and they
formed the Tamiris-Nagrin Dance Company in 1960. Many of her choreographic inspirations were about oppressed people and the need for social justice.
V. Personalities who contributed to the development of American Dance
A. Louis Horst (1884-1964) was a composer, musician and mentor to the first
generation of American Modern Dancers, serving as an accompanist for the Denishawn School. He taught choreography and lectured at the New School and Julliard. He worked with Martha Graham for twenty years as a musical advisor. His choreographic approach was based on pre-classic dance forms from the 16th and 17th centuries. He wrote two books about dance and found the Dance Observer the first journal to be devoted exclusively to modern dance.
B. John Martin (1893-1985) was a drama critic for the New York Times and became the newspapers dance first dance critic in 1927. He was a champion of the new
form of dance (modern dance).
C. Federal Theatre Project was part of the Works Progress Administration which was developed during the depression to provide work for theatre professionals. The program supported many modern dance companies during this time and this was the first time that dance had received federal funding.