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This past spring, the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation had the pleasure of supplying video footage of Charles Weidman’s Lynchtown to the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine (CNDC) in Angers, France. The video footage was included in the Dance is a Weapon NDG 1932/1955 exhibit in the lobby of the Le Quai performance space from May 16 to June 17 and was free to the public. Julia Jurgilewicz, Charles Weidman Dance Foundation’s administrative assistant, and Weidman Dance alumna Claire Westby, happened to be performing at Le Quai on May 19th with Liz Gerring Dance Company and were able to stop by the exhibit. Julia recounts her tour experience, from exploring the Loire valley to taking Cunningham class at the CNDC with Robert Swinston, and visiting the Dance is a Weapon exhibit:
Getting to Angers, France was an adventure in itself. I was able to dust off my French to change some of the dancers’ train tickets to stay in Paris for a few hours. We locked up our bags at the station, then walked along the Seine river, saw the Eiffel Tower, and got a delicious Parisian breakfast. The train to Angers yielded picturesque views of French countryside chock-full of roaming cows, ancient stone houses, and rolling hills.
Angers itself is a quaint town complete with the glorious Cathédrale d’Angers, the sturdy 13th century Château Angers, and the steady Maine river which clips the town in two. We were fortunate enough to have the first few days off to explore the Loire valley. We took a long van ride through ancient villages to the town of Saumur where we saw the fantastical Château de Saumur and explored and ate lunch at the sprawling Château Villandry.
So far this trip sounds more like a fairy tale than the sometimes grueling, hard work of a dance company’s tour, but we were not without our sweaty rehearsals and long soaks in baths. Liz Gerring Dance Company is an extremely athletic company that allows its dancers to focus on strength and endurance. The company explores non-narrative movement derived from pedestrian gesture and athletic training. The hour-long work we were performing in Angers, Horizon, is a feat of of just that, or as Robert Johnson of New Jersey Arts put it, Horizon “is a dance for heroes.”
Before rehearsals, we had the pleasure of taking Cunningham class from Robert Swinston alongside his company’s dancers. Swinston was appointed the artistic director of the CNDC Angers in 2013, where he teaches Cunningham class, re-stages Cunningham’s dances, and creates his own works. Liz Gerring Dance Company and Swinston’s company were able to show-and-tell their dances in the studio and hang out after rehearsals to compare living and dancing in Paris and NYC. I had a great time practicing my French with these dancers and seeing the juxtaposition of Cunningham and Liz Gerring’s work.
The performance of Horizon took place at Le Quai, an amazing arts space along the Maine River. The center seeks to include dance, theater, opera, world music, and more. The facilities are a treat compared to the often cramped dressing rooms of NYC theaters and there is a great restaurant on the roof of the building. Le Quai is also a hip hang out space for the community; our first day there a skateboard and tattoo festival was going on out front.
After the performance, I had some time to check out the Dance is a Weapon exhibit in the lobby of the building. It was a great exhibition with audio/video media, iconic photos, and colorful information banners. I was excited to see pictures of Charles Weidman and Martha Graham among other modern dance pioneers. Between the exhibit about early American modern dance in a home that features Cunningham’s legacy, and performing work by the next generation of contemporary choreographers, I had an array of dance influences melding to create an amazing experience.
In Liz Gerring’s Horizon, the dancers explore non-narrative, athletic movement to an original soundtrack by Michael Schumacher and set by Robert Wierzel. The collaborative nature of the work is reminiscent of Merce Cunningham’s creations that often incorporated multiple artists, from sound designers like John Cage to visual artists like Andy Warhol. The movement is both contemporary and inclusive of codified modern dance techniques. The NYTimes describes the work as “fluently combin[ing] modern technique with a postmodern and quasi-analytical scrutiny of pedestrians and athletes.” The dancers use similar theories from Weidman technique including fall and recovery, flattening and curving of the spine, and released and suspended movements. At the close of Horizon, I do a series of repeated falls across the stage reminiscent of the falls in Weidman’s Brahms Waltzes.
Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman were interested in how gravity and momentum affected movement, an idea that is explored in rehearsal for Liz Gerring Dance Company. All affectation is stripped away, and we are asked to fall, throw, lunge, run, and jump honestly. While ballet and modern techniques are inherent in our bodies, the movements are results of gravity working for or against us and how much momentum we are allotted. Sometimes we are asked to spring from one shape to the next without “winding up”, or conversely, we are asked to gather all of our energy and hurtle across the space. This cause and effect theory is intrinsic in Weidman’s “kinetic pantomime”, though he played with the order and explored reversing these properties under a narrative context.
When I was studying for my Bachelors of Fine Arts degree at NYU, I had the pleasure of performing Weidman’s Easter Oratorio and Brahms Waltzes. A great lesson I took from learning these works was the importance of timing and duration of movement. A lot of attention was placed on how long a développé or suspension took or how still we were while holding a position. Liz Gerring’s work Horizon is centered around the duration of movement and the sustaining of shapes. Often times the music is adjusted live to our performance of the work as each movement and section can vary slightly in timing. While Weidman used these methods to convey an idea or feeling, Horizon uses timing and duration to give the audience an experience similar to a natural time lapse film- abstract, evolving, and surprising.
* For more detailed information on the characteristics of Humphrey-Weidman technique, see “A Reaffirmation of the Humphrey-Weidman Quality” by Svea Becker and Joenine Roberts, 1983, Dance Notation Journal vol 1 no 1 (available on the internet at the Dance Notation Bureau Theory Bulletin Board).
The end of our tour included a train ride back to Paris where the company parted ways, some for the States and some for more Parisian nights. I was able to do some traveling through Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid. Now all back in NYC, the Liz Gerring Dance Company is now gearing up for the premier of their new work (T)here to (T)here at Baryshnikov Arts Center November 10-12th, 2016.
From the President, Board of Directors
It is with sadness that I tell you Tom McNally – friend, musician, dancer, teacher, colleague, and member of the Board of Directors died Saturday May 23, 2015. Tom was 103 years old.
Early on in his life Tom developed a passion for music and dance. He told us about how as a young man he found his way to the Denishawn compound in the Bronx, but not having the nerve to go in, threw himself on the ground. Tom became a part of the first generation of American modern dancers to step forward on their own in Bennington, Vermont during the mid-nineteen twenties. He became a studio musician and accompanist for many of the founders of American modern dance, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Jose Limon, and May O’Donnell. Tom continued as accompanist and performed with the Humphrey-Weidman group in the 1930s including Humphrey’s La Valse. He told us about going to the Humphrey-Weidman studio on the top floor of a factory building in Manhattan, and once, when he played for one of Martha Graham’s classes, he complimented her on her fine teaching – she took it as an insult and said she was a performer, not a teacher. Tom was the longest serving member of the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation Board of Directors, and was involved in the production of our award-winning documentary Charles Weidman: On His Own in 1990 and the CWDF’s presentation of our Humphrey-Weidman Gala at The Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in New York City in 1994. He was an avid theatergoer for music and dance and still attended performances into his 100s. Tom was a great raconteur who loved to tell stories about the early Bennington years and all the luminaries from that period of modern dance in America. He had a wonderful delivery and style, and during our board meetings he would often have us listening and laughing as he recounted all sorts of anecdotes about those early years.
In recent years Tom taught music at LaGuardia Community College and the Brooklyn School of Music, played organ at Lower East Side Trinity Church, and sung with Collegiate Chorale. He attended all our productions of performances of Charles Weidman’s work including: Easter Oratorio performed in New York City at the 92nd Street Y Legacy Series in 2010; Brahms Waltzes and Lynchtown performed in 2011 at the 92nd Street Y for the 110th anniversary of Charles Weidman’s birth, the 75th anniversary of Lynchtown, and the 50th anniversary of Brahms Waltzes. He was a tireless supporter in his dedication to the legacy of Charles Weidman and The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation. We miss him very much.
The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation, Inc.
The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation would like to invite all who knew Tom to send us your remembrances of him, whether through music and dance or not, which we will post on our website, Facebook page, and blog. We want to do this to pay tribute to his dedication to Charles Weidman and the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation and to celebrate his long life. Send your remembrances to: email@example.com or to our mailing address.
“A portrait of a community consumed by violent passions.”– Jack Anderson, NYTimes, 1985.
On April 28, 2014, Minerva Tapia Dance Group from Tijuana presented a concert as part of Jean Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theater‘s Live Arts Festival at the White Box Theater. The dance group performed Charles Weidman’s Lynchtown, staged and directed by Weidman alumnus, George Willis. Mr. Willis was eighteen when he started dancing with Charles Weidman in California, first in Hermosa Beach and then Hollywood. He came into modern dance as a body builder and after his first class, he was “hooked.” Mr. Willis trained with Weidman for three years on scholarship until Weidman returned to the east coast. During that time, he performed Weidman’s Lynchtown, Fables for our Time, Flickers, and The War Between Men and Women.
Just ten days before the Live Arts Festival performance in California, Lynchtown was performed here on the east coast in New York City. The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation hosted Preservation of the Charles Weidman Moving Image Archive, a fundraiser for their project with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. New Jersey based contemporary dance company, Nimbus Dance Works, performed Lynchtown at the event, staged by Margaret O’Sullivan and Samuel Pott.
The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation is thrilled that Weidman’s Lynchtown is being learned and performed across America and around the world! Lynchtown, the third dance in the Atavisms suite, was first performed in 1936 and depicts a lynching that Weidman witnessed as a child. It deals with problems of racism, mob mentality, and injustice that are still widely relevant today. We at the Foundation hope that Lynchtown will continue to be studied and performed in universities, schools, and by professional companies around the world for years to come.
Post by Julia Jurgilewicz.
“…in Lynchtown (from his Atavisms suite) grim horror was the keynote. In this work, the audience witnessed not only the injustice with which a minority group of our population has been treated but also the primitive blood lust, the sadism which supposedly civilized persons reveal when a scapegoat for their savagery is found. Lynch Town strikes home, it strikes the very being of the American, for the trembling evil of the lynchers themselves and the evil of the lookers-on who share vicariously in the horrible thrill seem to vibrate across the footlights and attack the complacency of those who sit in the safety of the theater. The dancers move with racing frenzy, halting to look at death with lust and, perhaps, with fear. A figure stretches forward to get a better view of murder, and horror stretches along the invisible waves of art communications to remind the beholder that the battle for ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ is not yet won.” -From Walter Terry, The Dance in America, Harper & Row, 1956
On May 7, in historic downtown Jersey City, Tachair Bookshoppe hosted a fascinating, multimedia lecture by Dr. Jeff Friedman. “Weidman’s Lynchtown: American Dialectics, Moral Questions and the Art of Persuasion” considered Weidman’s work from a dazzling array of perspectives including Laban Movement Analysis, Piaget’s ideas on the development of morality in children, and Cicero’s importance of gesture in Oratory.
Nimbus Dance Works dancer, Yuko Monden, demonstrated movement from Lynchtown as Dr. Friedman related them to Laban’s concepts of free flow, bound flow, weight, spoking and arcing. The entrance walk of the lynch mob is an example of “bound flow”, while Monden’s final exit as she leaps off the stage is “free flow.” Using archival footage, Friedman also showed how the lynch mob’s entrance creates a “wall of movement” that physically and emotionally separates the audience from the victim.
Dr. Friedman went on to discuss Weidman’s early interest in comedy and satire. Archival photos of The Happy Hypocrite (1931) and The School for Husbands (1933) (choreographed with Doris Humphrey) were used as examples. Dr. Friedman’s comments on the social significance of satire were especially interesting.
The lecture was followed by a lively discussion on a wide range of topics including the psychological challenges faced by performers in portraying such evil, the choice of the smallest dancer to portray “the Incitor” character of the mob, how the dances in Atavisms (Stock Exchange, Bargain Counter, and Lynchtown) relate to current events, mob behavior, and how best to teach about fascism.
If you missed Dr. Friedman’s lecture, you still have one more opportunity to attend on May 23 at 7pm at the Highland Park Public Library, 31 North Highland Park, Highland Park, NJ. For live performances of Lynchtown, don’t miss Nimbus Dance Works’ Jersey City spring season, “UNPLUGGED” May 30,31, and June 1 at the Barrow Mansion, 83 Wayne Street, Jersey City.
Words by Nadira Hall
On May 17th, 2013, dance lovers and connoisseurs will have a rare opportunity to see the choreography of Pauline Koner. Preeminent Koner expert, Evelyn Shepard, has lovingly and painstakingly reconstructed three important Koner works that will be presented at the 92nd Street Y’s Fridays at Noon series.
Dancefusion Company will perform Concertino (1955). The dance takes place in the time of the Renaissance where “a lady and her ladies-in-waiting are first at court” where they present themselves as “elegant, formal, conversational.” Next a solo reveals “the woman behind the elegant façade” and is followed by a lively dance where “the wear and tear of court formality are forgotten.”
Ryoko Kudo and Pablo Francisco Ruvalcaba of the Jose Limon Dance Company will perform Poeme (1962), a ”tender yet provocative” love duet,”influenced by Chagall*, whose women, when transported emotionally, fly in the air or soar upside down.”
360 Dance Company will perform The Shining Dark (1956), a trio inspired by the life of Helen Keller. In Pauline’s words: “ I had long been thinking about Helen Keller whose only medium of communication was movement—the manual alphabet…so I dug in and learned the manual alphabet”. The dance is comprised of four sections: “World of Nothingness,” “World of Awakening,” “Panic of Loss,” and “Remembered Image.”
While dance maverick Pauline Koner is impossible to categorize, we consider her part of the Humphrey Weidman family. Pauline Koner’s initial dance training was with Michel Fokine. Early on she pursued her own solo career, while also performing extensively with Michio Ito and then Yeichi Nimura. In the mid 1940s, seeking guidance in the choreographic process, she began a long association with Doris Humphrey. Especially memorable for her role as Emilia in Limon’s Moor’s Pavane, Koner was also a guest artist with the Jose Limon Dance Company from 1946-1960.
Less known is Koner’s association with Charles Weidman. Inspired by Abner Dean’s** drawings, Pauline became intrigued with creating a satire on “the insanities, complexities and hilarities of living.” As the characters “crystallized”, she naturally thought of Weidman. “I approached Charles with trepidation. After all he was a senior member in the hierarchy of modern dance. Charles accepted and I was thrilled.” Thus, Amorous Adventure was born. Pauline played “A Kind of Wife” and Charles ”A Sort of Husband”, while Lucas Hoving portrayed “Variations from the Norm.” After it’s premiere in 1951, Winthrop Palmer wrote: “Pauline Koner’s Amorous Adventure …was a delightful spoofing of comic eugenics and the battle of the sexes with never a moment of social significance, for which it deserves a gold medal…”
Also a noted teacher, Koner developed her famous course “Elements of Performing.” Her elegantly articulated concepts of breath, suspension, rebound, and weight could easily be part of a primer on Humphrey Weidman technique.
Don’t miss this chance to see Pauline Koner’s artistic creations. Films will be shown in the lobby starting at 11:00 AM, followed by live performance and panel discussion at noon.
Friday May 17, 2013
92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center
1395 Lexington Avenue, NY, NY
To learn more about the event, visit the 92nd St Y website here.
All quotes from Solitary Song by Pauline Koner, Duke University Press, 1989
Also recommended: Elements of Performance by Pauline Koner, Harwood Academic Publishers, 1993
*Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was a Russian born artist known for his use of many artistic mediums including painting, stage sets, book illustrations, and ceramics to name a few
**Abner Dean (1910 – 1982) was an American cartoonist who often depicted extremes of human behavior
Today is a very special day! It marks the 85th anniversary of the first presentation of Charles Weidman’s work!
On March 24, 1928, Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey presented their first concert at the Brooklyn Little Theater (now called the Brooklyn Music School Playhouse). Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral (Cathedrale Engloutie) and Humphrey’s Color Harmony and Air for the G String were among the important works that premiered on the program.
Color Harmony, considered to be America’s first abstract ballet, was based on the color theory of light. Groups of dancers represented as different primary colors interact and mingle around the stage. Quoted from Doris Humphrey’s notebook, she describes the flow of the dance poetically; “Through the wild colors shoots a silver arrow–it separates the couples–it draws them one by one into form—all the flaming colors are laid down in rhythmic patterns—in a pyramidal form—up high steps to a climax, where a silver streak molds itself into a stream of light that goes up into infinity.”1 Also innovative for its time, Clifford Vaughan composed the music for the work after Humphrey composed the movement.
Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral is based on a Breton legend about a cathedral that periodically “rises out of the water. The ringing of the bells and the chanting of the monks are heard—silence when the cathedral sinks back into the sea.”2 In his performance, Weidman “indicated with a truly moving quality the surge of the sea depths, the rising and sinking of the submerged structure, and the tolling of the underwater bells.”3Opening and closing with swirling circular movements contrasted by sharp upward thrusting movements in the middle, the choreography foreshadows Humphrey’s 1931 Two Ecstatic Themes: Circular Descent and Pointed Ascent.
Weidman continued to perform Submerged Cathedral until his death in 1975. In 1993-1994, Peter Hamilton recreated the choreography which has since been performed by Craig Gabrian (pictured above) at the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It has also returned to its first home, the Brooklyn Little Theater, where, in 1996, the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation presented the Brooklyn Music School with a plaque commemorating the first concert. Again in 2003, for the 75th anniversary, the program included Easter Oratorio, Fables for Our Time, Submerged Cathedral and Two Ecstatic Themes.
The CWDF was thrilled when Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz proclaimed March 24th Humphrey Weidman Day. Celebrate Humphrey Weidman Day today and remember the great modern dance pioneers and all they established for the future modern dancers of the world. Thank you Charles and Doris!
1from Doris Humphrey’s notebook, quoted in Days on Earth, the Dance of Doris Humphrey by Marcia B.Siegel
2from Weidman’s program note, quoted in Reclaiming Charles Weidman by Jonette Lancos
3Soaring by Jane Sherman
Photos at Little Theater by Larry Hall
Words by Nadira Hall
Post by Julia Jurgilewicz
The CWDF Board of Directors is comprised of Weidman alumni from various moments on the timeline of the Weidman legacy. One of our beloved members, Thomas McNally, has built quite the resume in his years involved in the modern dance, art, and culture scene. In addition to performing with the Humphrey Weidman Group in the early 1930’s, he has been an accompanist for Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Jose Limon, May O’Donnell, and at the Humphrey Weidman studio. In recent years he has taught music at LaGuardia Community College and the Brooklyn School of Music, played organ at Lower East Side Trinity Church, sung with with the Collegiate Chorale, and participated in poetry readings.
This past June, Tom saw the reconstruction of Charles Weidman’s Fables for our Time performed in the Mary Anthony Dance Theater Studio Showing. This is what he saw.
A Review of Mary Anthony Dance Theater Studio Recital
June 23, 2012
On a recent June evening of an unseasonal New York City hot spell, a recital in Mary Anthony’s studio confirmed the vitality of Charles Weidman’s unique endowment as dancer and mime. There were even echoes of the Denishawn tradition that spawned the establishment in New York City of his choreographic style along with that of his partner, Doris Humphrey and the revolutionary technique and performance of their fellow at Denishawn, the incomparable Martha Graham.
The program opened unconventionally with Alexandra Len’s Where the Light, with emphasis on the “where” of the title for before dancing in the dark, Miss Len distributed miniature flashlights to the audience who not only participated in the performance, but defined the dance at whim. Within the first half of the program, there were two echoes of Denishawn. The first was a piece called Dual, implying duet, by Amelia Dawe Sanders to music of Philip Glass. The Denishawn feature was a bolt of scarlet cloth in which the two principal dancers were at times separately enwound. Occasionally free of the cloth and tussling to claim it, the piece echoed the famous Soaring of Doris Humphrey- her opus involved a large square of colored fabric as a constraint in a charming dance for a quartet of females.
This dramatic Dual was followed by two excellent solos, each danced expertly. Incident, danced and choreographed by Delia Cadman to the music of David Lang, was economical and intense like all effective modern solos and commanded the audience’s attention. The equally fine and effective solo which followed was entitled Soft Shock by choreographer Emma Lee and danced by her to the music of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Following these solos in the first half of the program were two small group dances. Cross Currents, choreographed by Lina Dahbour to an extended piece by Beethoven, was the second echo of Denishawn, acknowledging composition with props. The props consisted of several pieces of wood placed on stage before the dance began. In the course of the dance, any of these props were picked up by one of the three dancers and disposed of choreographically. Finally, one dancer left alone on stage incorporated a number of the props, acquiring them and then freeing herself while dancing. Perhaps this movement came from a study in abstraction? Speaking of abstraction, the second of these group dances, I Would (excerpts) choreographed by Rachel Cohen, exploited every conceivable movement of the five dancers on stage. Considering the elaborate vocabulary, one would like to see the complete work of which this was a selection.
Performed Saturday night were three of the four programmed 1947 Fables for our Time, inspired by James Thurber’s similarly titled collection and choreographed by who else–the outstanding, preeminent genius, the American mime and dancer, Charles Weidman. The music was by Freda Miller, the narration by Kian Ross and Mary Anthony, costumes by ex-Denishawn dancer and pianist, Humphrey-Weidman moral support, spouse of Jose Limon- Pauline Lawrence.
“The Unicorn” featured Jennifer Deckert as the wife, Andre Megerdichian moving lyrically in a fine approximation of Charles’ role as the Husband, Mary Staub as the Psychiatrist and our own Craig Gabrian as the Policeman. In “The Moth and the Star” Daniel Lupo played the young Moth and Fred Timm the Old Moth. In” The Courtship of Arthur and Al”, a jarring production for 1947, the Pretty Little Beaver was Rachel Cohen, Arthur was portrayed by Fred Timm and Al’s Playmates were Eva Hansson, Olga Mikhaviova, and Stephanie Van Dooren. The role of Al was danced very well by one of the tallest (is not the tallest) of male modern dancers Pascal Rekoert, doubling as videographer for the night. On this occasion the spirit of Charles was alive and one could almost see him, wearing handsome, formal, 19th century garb and hear him chanting his hail and farewell “Carry On!”
The last piece of the evening was a delightful surprise- a reconstruction choreographed by our presiding hostess, Mary Anthony. It was entitled Lady Macbeth, to music of Debussy and danced by Mary Ford who, for herself and the applauding audience, profusely acknowledged the choreographer. All these years, Mary Anthony has been working to preserve the tradition of early modern dance in our capital of much modernity in the arts. All the performances of the night were excellent and contributed to the glimpse of Charles’ characteristic deft and penetrating evocation in miming and dance. Thank you Mary Anthony!
Interested in reading James Thurber’s “Fables for our Time”? Browse here.
To find out more about Mary Anthony Dance Theater you can visit the website here.
Post by Julia Jurgilewicz