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Dance in France: A Look at Charles Weidman’s Influence on Contemporary Dance Today

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:

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“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.

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The Eiffel Tower on our first, cloudy morning in Europe.

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.

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Cathedral d’Angers

View from across the river Maine.

View from across the river Maine.

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The grounds at Chateau 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.” 

The Liz Gerring Dance company in residency for Horizon. Photo by Miguel Anaya.

The Liz Gerring Dance Company in residency for Horizon. Photo by Miguel Anaya.

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. 

Liz Gerring outside Le Quai Angers.

Liz Gerring outside Le Quai Angers.

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.

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Photo of Charles Weidman in Race of Life included in the Dance is a Weapon exhibit.

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Julia post-performance at the Dance as a Weapon exhibit.

Julia post-performance at the Dance is a Weapon exhibit.

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.

Liz Gerring Dance dancers using flat back in Horizon.

Liz Gerring Dance Company dancers using flat back in Horizon.

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.

Charles Weidman exploring kinetic pantomime.

Charles Weidman exploring kinetic pantomime.

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 stage at Le Quai post "Horizon" performance.

The stage at Le Quai post Horizon performance.

Myself (on the right) as a student learning Weidman's "Brahms Waltzes". Photo courtesy of Oberon's Grove.

Myself (on the right) as a student learning Weidman’s “Brahms Waltzes”. Photo courtesy of Oberon’s Grove.

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.

"(T)here to (There)" choreographed by Liz Gerring Dance premiering November 10-12th.

(T)here to (T)here choreographed by Liz Gerring premiering November 10-12th.

Me on the top of Mont Serat in Barcelona, Spain.

Me on the top of Montserrat in Barcelona, Spain.

 

 

 

Charles Weidman and the New Dance Group

“The story of the New Dance Group is one of constant experiment, of continued branching out, of conceiving new ideas and coming to new conclusions”1

The New Dance Group was founded in 1932 by Nadia Chilkovsky, Miriam Blecher and other students from the New York Wigman School who wanted dance to focus more on social and political causes. New Dance Group stated in their first program that “Dance is a Weapon of the Class Struggle”2 and sought to offer inexpensive dance classes to all ranges of workers and people alike. Classes cost ten cents and consisted of one hour of Wigman technique, one hour of creative work and one hour of discussion.

New Dance Group Class Schedule

New Dance Group Class Schedule 1959-1960

New Dance Group Class Schedule 1959-1960

New Dance Group Class Schedule 1959-1960

Gradually the interest in the proletariat “was replaced by a more general sense of humanity”3 and the curriculum branched out to include Humphrey-Weidman, Graham, eurythmics, percussion, folk, ballet and tap, in addition to the original Wigman and Holm technique.

Weidman's "Classroom Modern Style"  Millie Hirsch Rockefeller an, Lucy Biberman

Weidman’s “Classroom Modern Style” Front: Millie Hirsch Rockefeller and Behind: Lucy Biberman

By 1934, Charles Weidman was giving studio talks and appearing on New Dance Group programs. Other Humphrey-Weidman men such as Bill Matons, William Archibald and Jose Limon were also early participants. Humphrey-Weidman technique became a staple, taught by Beatrice Seckler, Nona Schurman, Bill Bales, Joe Gifford and others. Weidman continued his association with the New Dance Group at least until 1960, when he founded his own “Expression of Two Arts” studio on 29th Street.

"Mostly About Women" with Charles seated in front

“Mostly About Women” by Charles Weidman. Top row from left to right: Murray Berkowitz, Millie Hirsch, Lucy Biberman, Joe Whiteaker, Louis falco. Bottom row:Jack Wiener, Miriam Pandor, Charles Weidman, Marsha Gevins, Loretta Abbot, Ralph Davis, Charlotte Walsh.

Weidman's "Mostly About Women"
Weidman’s “Mostly About Women”. Top row left to right: Millie Hirsch, Joe Whiteaker, Lucy Biberman, Murray Berkowitz, Patricia Nachman. Bottom row: Ralph Davis, Loretta Abbot, Jack Wiener, Charlotte Walsh

At the 92nd Street Y’s extraordinary celebration of the New Dance Group this past February, we had the opportunity to learn about Weidman’s later work at the New Dance Group. Dancer and dance educator, Millie Hirsch Rockefeller, presented photos, programs and class schedules from this time, as well as information on two dances not previously included in Weidman chronologies, “The Convert” and “Mostly About Women”.

Portion of program showing "Mostly About Women"

Portion of 1959 program showing redicovered dances: “Mostly About Women” and “The Convert”

Millie Hirsch Rockefeller as The Reluctant One in "War Against Men and Women"
Millie Hirsch Rockefeller as The Reluctant One in “War Between Men and Women”

New Dance Group closed their doors in 2009 and now, unsuspecting dancers take class and attend rehearsals in what used to be New Dance Group studios, now DANY Studios operated by The Joyce Theater.

For more information on New Dance Group, check out this article by Victoria Philips.

1Lloyd, Margaret. The Borzoi Book of Modern Dance, Dance Horizons, 1949.

2Philips, Victoria. New Dance Group (1932-2009), Dance Heritage Coalition, 2012.

3King, Eleanor. Transformations, Dance Horizons,1978.

Words by Nadira Hall

Post by Julia Jurgilewicz

Charles Weidman and the New Dance Group

“The story of the New Dance Group is one of constant experiment, of continued branching out, of conceiving new ideas and coming to new conclusions”1

The New Dance Group was founded in 1932 by Nadia Chilkovsky, Miriam Blecher and other students from the New York Wigman School who wanted dance to focus more on social and political causes. New Dance Group stated in their first program that “Dance is a Weapon of the Class Struggle”2 and sought to offer inexpensive dance classes to all ranges of workers and people alike. Classes cost ten cents and consisted of one hour of Wigman technique, one hour of creative work and one hour of discussion.

New Dance Group Class Schedule

New Dance Group Class Schedule 1959-1960

New Dance Group Class Schedule 1959-1960

New Dance Group Class Schedule 1959-1960

Gradually the interest in the proletariat “was replaced by a more general sense of humanity”3 and the curriculum branched out to include Humphrey-Weidman, Graham, eurythmics, percussion, folk, ballet and tap, in addition to the original Wigman and Holm technique.

Weidman's "Classroom Modern Style"  Millie Hirsch Rockefeller an, Lucy Biberman

Weidman’s “Classroom Modern Style” Front: Millie Hirsch Rockefeller and Behind: Lucy Biberman

By 1934, Charles Weidman was giving studio talks and appearing on New Dance Group programs. Other Humphrey-Weidman men such as Bill Matons, William Archibald and Jose Limon were also early participants. Humphrey-Weidman technique became a staple, taught by Beatrice Seckler, Nona Schurman, Bill Bales, Joe Gifford and others. Weidman continued his association with the New Dance Group at least until 1960, when he founded his own “Expression of Two Arts” studio on 29th Street.

"Mostly About Women" with Charles seated in front

“Mostly About Women” by Charles Weidman. Top row from left to right: Murray Berkowitz, Millie Hirsch, Lucy Biberman, Joe Whiteaker, Louis falco. Bottom row:Jack Wiener, Miriam Pandor, Charles Weidman, Marsha Gevins, Loretta Abbot, Ralph Davis, Charlotte Walsh.

Weidman's "Mostly About Women"
Weidman’s “Mostly About Women”. Top row left to right: Millie Hirsch, Joe Whiteaker, Lucy Biberman, Murray Berkowitz, Patricia Nachman. Bottom row: Ralph Davis, Loretta Abbot, Jack Wiener, Charlotte Walsh

At the 92nd Street Y’s extraordinary celebration of the New Dance Group this past February, we had the opportunity to learn about Weidman’s later work at the New Dance Group. Dancer and dance educator, Millie Hirsch Rockefeller, presented photos, programs and class schedules from this time, as well as information on two dances not previously included in Weidman chronologies, “The Convert” and “Mostly About Women”.

Portion of program showing "Mostly About Women"

Portion of 1959 program showing redicovered dances: “Mostly About Women” and “The Convert”

Millie Hirsch Rockefeller as The Reluctant One in "War Against Men and Women"
Millie Hirsch Rockefeller as The Reluctant One in “War Between Men and Women”

New Dance Group closed their doors in 2009 and now, unsuspecting dancers take class and attend rehearsals in what used to be New Dance Group studios, now DANY Studios operated by The Joyce Theater.

For more information on New Dance Group, check out this article by Victoria Philips.

1Lloyd, Margaret. The Borzoi Book of Modern Dance, Dance Horizons, 1949.

2Philips, Victoria. New Dance Group (1932-2009), Dance Heritage Coalition, 2012.

3King, Eleanor. Transformations, Dance Horizons,1978.

Words by Nadira Hall

Post by Julia Jurgilewicz

Pauline Koner Centennial Celebration

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.

Pauline Koner

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.”

"Dance" by Marc Chagall

“Dance” by Marc Chagall

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.”

Danelle Morgan in Pauline Koner's The Shining Dark; photography © Jashiro Dean

Danelle Morgan in Pauline Koner’s The Shining Dark; photography © Jashiro Dean

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.

Jose Limon rehearsing with Pauline Koner

Jose Limon rehearsing with Pauline Koner

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…”

Drawing by Abner Dean

Drawing by Abner Dean

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