William Kolodney's Early Years
Quite soon after the new building opened in 1930, the president and the board recognized that the attendance levels at the culturally oriented programs were less than hoped or expected. The young men who joined 92Y (it did not become fully co-educational until the 1945 merger with the YWHA) did so for the recreational activities and not necessarily for the educational purposes stated in the YMHA's constitution. 92Y was viewed by its members as a service agency and not as a cultural cause, though the constitution specified as the function of 92Y "the improvement of the mental, moral, spiritual, cultural, social and physical condition of young men and the fostering of Judaism."
In 1934, William Kolodney joined the staff at 92Y as educational director. He came to 92Y from a similar post at the Pittsburgh YM-YWHA, where he had organized an educational program in 1926. Because the board felt that Kaufmann Auditorium had several disadvantages in attracting audiences (i.e., it was not located in Midtown, non-Jews might not feel welcome, 92Y was not known as a presenting organization), Kolodney set out to offer the unusual in order to attract patrons. His personal interests centered on poetry and modern dance, and it was on these fields that he concentrated his early efforts.
For his first two seasons, Kolodney offered drama readings, modern dance and solo musical artists on one major subscription series and a classical film revival series (which lasted until 1939, when the Museum of Modern Art instituted its film program). Subscribers increased, and the demand for tickets became so great that, in Kolodney's third concert season, the major subscription series was separated into divisions for chamber music, solo recitals and drama readings, major dancers and film.
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Modern Dance At 92Y
William Kolodney said, "Modern dance is the poetry of the dance field, as chamber music is the poetry of the music field." He believed that the arts could never have mass appeal and that, therefore, the attempt to popularize them would be a mistake. He did, however, want to reach as many truly interested people as possible and knew that the popularly held notion of modern dance as a cult would have to be dispelled in order to reach the potential audience.
The Board of Directors was originally opposed to Kolodney's creation of the Dance Center and Subscription Series. They felt that the public would never come uptown to 92Y for a whole series of dance, but finally acceded to Kolodney's persuasive reasoning. After winning the approval of Frank Weil, president of 92Y, and of Jack Nadel, the executive director, Kolodney formed a group of leading modern dancers to give a collective technique demonstration in Kaufmann Auditorium. The public was invited to send their names and addresses to obtain tickets and, in the process, provided the Educational Department with its first mailing list. The demonstration was well-attended and the series won final approval.
Modern dance quickly became a significant part of 92Y's performing arts program and a central forum for the art form. Among the important dancers of the early Kolodney era were Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille, Jose Limon, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, Charles Weidman, Anna Sokolow, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, most of whom eventually joined the teaching staff of the Dance Department.
Among the artists other than these big-name modern performers to perform under Kolodney's tenure were such young emerging artists as Carmalita Maracci, Pauline Koner and Paul Draper. The forerunners of the New York City Ballet, namely the Ballet Caravan and American Concert Ballet under the artistic direction of Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine, respectively, also had their New York debuts at 92Y during these early years.
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Vincent Maragliotti, Buttenwieser Hall Muralist
Mr. Maragliotti studied at the National Academy of Design and at Cooper Union before becoming the interior decorator for the Roxy, Majestic, Shubert and Strand Theaters. He also decorated for the Waldorf-Astoria and Biltmore Hotels.
Mr. Maragliotti was also commissioned by Pennsylvania and the William Penn Memorial Museum in Harrisburg to create a 2,400-square-foot mural depicting scenes from Penn's life for the museum's lobby.
His murals also decorate the halls of the state capitols of Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.
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Here are some highlights of what the Harkness Dance Center has been up to for the last 75 years:
New 92Y building at 92nd Street opens. The Teresa L. Kaufmann Auditorium is a prominent feature.
Jewish Dancer Benjamin Zemach institutes first season of classes and performance geared toward Jewish theme based dance.
Matilda Naaman teaches and performs modern-influenced dance at 92Y. Recital February 10, 1934.
Oct, 1934, William Kolodney named educational and club director at 92Y, a position he held until 1969.
Founding of the Dance Center with May, 1935 concert featuring Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm.
First year of Dance Center classes, with Graham, Humphrey, Weidman, Holm, Anna Sokolow and Bonnie Bird.
92Y hosts the First National Dance Congress and Festival.
92Y holds a Negro Dance Evening, marking Katherine Dunham's New York debut. Carmalita Maracci gives her first East Coast performance at 92Y.
Dance Teachers Advisory Committee is created to help with dance programming until 1953. Louis Horst chairs committee for many years.
Audition winners concert features African-American modern dance choreographer Pearl Primus.
Doris Humphrey returns as Dance Center advisor, named as first Dance Center Director in 1945. (Dies in 1958)
Anna Halprin performs.
Walter Terry begins dance laboratories with lecture-demonstrations at 92Y as educational activities. Participants from 1946-49 included Ted Shawn, Jerome Robbins, Valerie Bettis, Martha Graham, La Meri, Talley Beatty, Sol Hurok, Pearl Primus, ABT dancers and Broadway dancers. 1949-50: Terry organizes Dance Immortals presentations on such luminaries as Ruth St. Denis, King David-Muni Bharata, Noverre-Vestris-Taglioni, Petipa-Fokine, Isadora Duncan and others. 1950-51 Open Interviews with Terry and Robbins, Balanchine, St. Denis, Humphrey, Tamiris, Graham, Florence Rogge, de Mille. 1952-53, The Art of Performing interviews and demonstrations with Alicia Markova, Graham, Janet Collins, Primus, Bambi Linn, Rod Alexander, Igor Youskevitch and Nora Kaye.
First New York performance of Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane.
First performance of Hadassah's Shuvi Nafshi. Walter Terry holds the first of his Dance Laboratories, with eight evenings of lecture-demonstrations. Series continues to 1963. East-West Series established at 92Y in cooperation with the East-West Association of New York, promoting intercultural awareness.
Jewish Folk Dance classes begin weekly at 92Y under Fred Berk.
First New York performance of Katherine Litz's The Glyph.
Pearl Lang and company debut at 92Y.
Fred Berk leads Jewish Dance Repertory Group and classes in Palestinian and Jewish folk dance starting in 1947. By 1952, Jewish folk dance is a regular element of 92Y's curriculum.
The Merry-Go-Rounders children's dance company founded by Doris Humphrey, Bonnie Bird and Fred Berk.
Bonnie Bird named head of the children's dance department. Bird hires Joffrey, Alfredo Corvino.
Lester Horton company performs at 92Y in a rare New York engagement. His technique becomes the basis of Alvin Ailey's style.
Robert Joffrey's new company, especially created for the occasion, performs at 92Y.
92Y sponsors the first National Conference on the Teaching of Dance to Children.
Premiere of Anna Sokolow's Rooms.
Hebraica company founded by Fred Berk.
Paul Taylor performs Epic on October 20. In response, Louis Horst publishes his famous "blank review" in Dance. Taylor returned on December 20, 1958 with Epic, Rebus, Events 2 and Images and Reflections.
Merce Cunningham and company perform in a mixed bill at 92Y.
Premiere of Donald McKayle's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder.
450 dance performances held in Kaufmann Concert Hall.
Premiere of Alvin Ailey's Revelations.
15-28 dance performances annually. Paul Sanasardo, Yuriko and others.
Premiere of Anna Sokolow's Dreams.
Lucile Nathansen, director.
Limon Company in residence.
Pearl Lang premieres The Possessed.
Susan Schickele, director.
Sharon Gersten Luckman, director.
Don Redlich Company in residence.
Marcus Schulkind Company in residence.
Ballroom Dance Instruction & Open Dancing Hosted by Sandra Cameron begins.
The Dance Center first established a relationship with the Harkness Foundation for Dance beginning in 1985, providing funding for 92Y's developing ballet program. Funding from the Harkness Foundation soon grew to include support for a workshop series for professional dancers and other activities. Harkness House closes June, 1985.
Jane Kosminsky, director.
Fridays At Noon founded under Kosminsky.
Jews and Judaism in Dance conference and festival is held at 92Y.
Momix performs at 92Y.
Ilona Copen, director.
Sundays At Three founded under Copen.
David Parsons rehearses at 92Y and creates Brothers and Caught.
Cathryn Williams, director
Joan Finkelstein, director
Breaking Ground lecture series is established. Over the next few years, it hosts such guests as Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, Judith Jamison, Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, Bill T. Jones and Jerome Robbins.
Afro-Caribbean dance classes begin.
On December 8, 1994, an inauguration event was held to celebrate the re-naming of the center to the Harkness Dance Center, in commemoration of generous continuing funding provided by the Harkness Foundation for Dance.
In December, 1994, The Harkness Dance Project, an annual series of performances by established contemporary dance companies, debuts at Playhouse 91.
Young Masters Repertory Ensemble is created for teen modern dancers to perform and choreograph.
92Y hosts the Bessies, New York's dance and performance awards.
Founding of Dance Education Laboratory (DEL) by Jody Gottfried Arnhold and Joan Finkelstein.
Bill T. Jones performs with Max Roach.
DEL first offers college credit through SUNY Empire State College.
Harkness Youth Ballet is created for advanced teen ballet dancers to perform and choreograph.
Saturday night Latin Salsa dances start.
Renata Celichowska, director.
Doug Varone & Dancers named company-in-residence. 2007/08 season.
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Some of the artists who have taught, studied, performed, choreographed, rehearsed or spoken here include:
Alvin Ailey, Mary Anthony, Argentinita, George Balanchine, Talley Beatty, Valerie Bettis, Ronald K. Brown, Trisha Brown, Donald Byrd, Sean Curran, Alexandra Danilova, Agnes de Mille, Mark Dendy, David Dorfman, Katherine Dunham, Douglas Dunn, Jean Erdman, Eliot Feld, Molissa Fenley, Keely Garfield, Zvi Gotheiner, Martha Graham, Merce Cunnigham, Erick Hawkins, Stuart Hodes, Geoffrey Holder, Hanya Holm, Louis Horst, Doris Humphrey, Judith Jamison, John Jasperse, Robert Joffrey, Bill T. Jones, Larry Keigwin, Pauline Koner, Pearl Lang, José Limó n, Lar Lubovitch, Carmelita Maracci, Peter Martins, Kevin MacKenzie, Sophie Maslow, Donald McKayle, Arthur Mitchell, Meredith Monk, Mark Morris, Tere O'Connor, David Parsons, Francis Patrelle, Max Pollack, Eleo Pomare, Pearl Primus, Jerome Robbins, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Sybil Shearer, Mia Slavenska, Anna Sokolow, Helen Tamiris, Paul Taylor, Glen Tetley, Twyla Tharp, Doug Varone, Edward Villella, Charles Weidman and Christopher Wheeldon.
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Doris Humphrey and the 92nd Street Y: A Dance Center for the People
Dance Research Journal (Fall 1996)
In this article, I will speak about a subject I hold very dear - 92nd Street Y. Besides the coincidence of its being my current place of employment, 92Y has long been part of my life. I knew it both as a member of Don Redlich's company when we rehearsed there as 92Y's resident dance company, and as an audience member thrilling to the likes of Pearl Lang in Kaufmann Concert Hall. It is my hope to enlighten you about the nature of this extraordinary institution, its importance in the development of modern dance, and Doris Humphrey's deep involvement in its history.
Why 92Y? Or, to use the Passover phrase of inquiry, "Why is this Y different from all other Y's?" What were the convergences that would bring together a Jewish Community Center and the foremost practitioners of the developing modern dance? What benefit could the institution and the artists mutually realize? To unravel this complex fabric of relationships, it is useful to have as background a brief overview of the origins of 92Y and the philosophy expressed by its founders.
On March 22, 1874, a group of German-Jewish businessmen and professionals signed a charter creating a new organization in New York City. The wording of that document is as follows: "We the undersigned, desiring to promote harmony and good fellowship among Hebrew young men and to unite them in an organization tending to improve their social, moral and mental condition, do form an association under the name and style of the 'Young Men's Hebrew Association.'" Thus was born the first YMHA, with the express aim of serving the Jewish community, in particular the cultural and intellectual advancement of Jewish young men. From the beginning, the program offered social, recreational, educational and Jewish activities, held in a variety of venues. 92Y's first permanent home was a small building on Lexington Avenue and 65th St., but popularity forced a move. At the turn of the century a new building was erected on 92nd St., at which location 92Y remains to this day, in more recently built structures. It remains the oldest and largest continuously functioning Jewish Community Center (JCC) in the nation.
92Y's founders were educated men who brought with them the culture, art and spirit of inquiry of Western Europe, as well as the ethical values and respect for education inherent in Jewish teaching. In the 1880s, a massive wave of Eastern European and Russian Jewish immigrants was served by 92Y at a new downtown venue - this was considered by its Board to be "missionary work" - and these groups became a loyal core constituency along with their well-assimilated, wealthier brethren of German descent. During World War II, the Young Women's Hebrew Association, which had developed along similar lines since 1902, moved many of its activities into the 92nd Street Y's facility, and the newly co-educational membership exploded. In 1945, 92Y officially changed its name to the 92nd Street YM-YWHA, acknowledging the new demographics. By 1945, what we now call "community service," a central part of the stated mission of today's Y, had evolved as a comprehensive ideal involving the strengthening of both the body and the mind. As 92Y grew, it added to its gymnasium and dormitory a program of classes in music, dramatics, folk dance, literature, and Hebrew language, as well as forums and clubs well beyond the scope of the ambitious community center programs then in existence. It was at this juncture that Doris Humphrey became the director of 92Y's Dance Center.
This was not Doris's first experience at the 92nd Street Y. She had, in fact, been instrumental in creating the Dance Center in 1935. But to talk about dance at 92Y at all, we must first talk about one man, a brilliant, gifted leader whose vision would propel 92Y to citywide, and then national and even international prominence as a cultural center. That man was William Kolodney, hired in 1934 as the Social and Educational Director of 92Y. At that time, the structure of the organization provided that the Educational Department oversaw all classes and performances in the arts and letters, and the over one hundred clubs and social activities. As we shall see, Kolodney introduced an extensive new cultural program into 92Y, and as it grew he was relieved of his duties as Social Director, retaining the position of Education Director.
Born in Russia, Kolodney moved to the U.S as a young child. Among his degrees was a diploma form the Jewish theological Seminary Teachers Institute and his outlook favored the progressive education theories then being explored. He was an enlightened rationalist who believed in the ability of the arts to uplift the human spirit in the deepest and most meaningful way. He saw that there was a dwindling interest among young secular Jewish intellectuals in specifically Jewish programming, but that these same people had an intense interest in the newest expressions of poetic, philosophical and artistic endeavor. It was clear to him that this keen interest in artistic investigations into the nature of human experience was a natural modern secular extension of the Jewish search for spiritual purpose, and a continuation of the Jewish traditional love of study and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, Torah L'Shmo. Thus Kolodney's express aim as Educational director was to increase the cultural activities of 92Y, with a mixture of Jewish and non-Jewish arts as both the means to a new expression of American Jewishness, and to "provide a language of communication that unites people of various religious and ethnic backgrounds." Kolodney also observed the following:
Man, whom religion enthroned over all other creatures and whom science has put in his place, tries to regain the importance which religion gave him, through material possession, at the expense of poverty of the soul... It is here that the humanities and the liberal arts can make a creative contribution, and it is in this area...that a private institution like 92Y can serve a unique function.
He saw that in an era in which science and rational humanism had deflated traditional absolute models for the origins and purpose of mankind, the arts had a deeply significant role to play.
An additional factor in Kolodney's design was the new national problem of increased leisure time due to technological advances in the workspace. He argued that for this leisure time to be filled profitably, for the true relaxation if daily tension to be achieved, the "total personality" of the individual needed to be absorbed in an intense experience of the arts. Rigorous participatory study of the arts was to be considered as important as gymnasium workouts and social clubs as a wholesome form of recreation. Toward this end, Kolodney planned to experiment with greatly expanded programs in adult education in fine art, pottery and metalworking, poetry, and musical studies. Dance was particularly suited to this goal of deep, productive relaxation, as it engages the whole person in an endeavor that transcends the boundaries of everyday life and leaves the participant feeling refreshed in body and spirit.
Kolodney had to employ a variety of strategies to convince 92Y's Board to back his new program. There was fear - well-founded, as it turned out - that the new direction would change the nature of the organization from a Jewish center serving a local Jewish population exclusively, to a city-wide center serving a diverse population. And indeed, today with over three hundred events produced annually, a world-renowned classical music series, a first-class lecture series with world leaders as regular guests, the world-famous Poetry Center, a health club, a dormitory, a senior center, a renowned center for Jewish studies, outreach programs serving tens of thousands of schoolchildren, excellent fine arts and music education classes for adults and children, and a pre-school known as the "Harvard" of nursery schools, 92Y has become a major cultural and services resource for all of New York.
In the 1930s 92Y's programming was "based on the principal that the ethical and democratic traditions underlying American life were similar to, if not identical with, the ethical and democratic traditions at the root of Jewish life." A philosophy that sought to promote these American democratic ideals - individualism, realism, optimism, and universal education - through the spiritual experience of art was entirely consistent with the explorations of the modern dance choreographers and with the progressive thought of the period. That year, 1934, also saw the beginnings of institutional legitimacy for modern dance: the summer school at Bennington College was started, where the "Big Four" - Graham, Humphrey, Weidman and Holm - taught their ideas; the magazine Dance Observer, sponsored by Louis Horst, began publication; and some university programs began to offer courses in modern dance. Kolodney, already a fan of this new art form, asked the prominent New York Times dance critic John Martin for help in creating a center for modern dance at 92Y. Martin was to remain Kolodney's chief source of advice for the next thirty years.
Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Martha Graham, Louis Horst, and Hanya Holm were invited to participate in Kolodney's planed program. 92Y was to become a "home" for the modern dance, which both Martin and Kolodney felt was being inadequately served by the existing concert halls. The plan was to offer classes and recitals in the most important of the current dance techniques: Humphrey-Weidman, Graham, and Wigman. To test audience response, Kolodney organized a free lecture-demonstration in May of 1935 at 92Y's Theresa L. Kaufmann Auditorium (now known as the Kaufmann Concert Hall) with performances by Graham, Humphrey, Weidman, Horst and Holm and their groups. This "Symposium" was packed and the reaction was ecstatic. On the strength of the response, plans for the Dance Center proceeded the very next fall, with Anna Sokolow in addition to the performers just listed serving as dance faculty, along with Elsa Findlay, who taught Dalcroze Eurhythmics.
After initially attempting to create a professional training school, it became clear that the choreographers involved were training these aspirants at their own studios, and the focus was quickly shifted to the non-professional beginner through intermediate student, where it remains to this day. Thus a democratic point of view prevailed in the school - anybody who wanted to could take classes with the best teachers and have a deeply meaningful dance experience. This was consistent with Kolodney's mission of making a truly high quality arts education widely available to ordinary people.
A dance performance series was also started that fall, as part of the Major Subscription Series, including dance recitals, new films, and theater recitals. The dance groups presented included Graham, Humphrey, Weidman, Sokolow, Benjamin Zemach, Helen Tamiris, and Elsa Findlay. The films included, among others, Potemkin and All Quiet on the Western Front. The theatre groups included The Artef Theatre and The Group Theatre among others. Chamber music groups and soloists started performing at 92Y in 1936, and a poetry series was developed in 1939. The addition of the other lively arts launched what would become a major performing venue and cultural resource for New York City lasting through today, and a significant - perhaps the most significant - performing venue for dance for the next thirty-five years.
It is beyond the scope of this article to trace all the changes and developments in the dance presenting series over the years. However, in general it may be said that from 1935 on, Kolodney's policy was to invite a wide range of artists. Of course, the better-known artists who were sure box office draws, such as Graham, Humphrey and Weidman, were presented. However, Kolodney also presented the lesser-known young artists whom he felt should be supported to further their development and encourage experiments in the art form, first through the Dance Theatre, established in 1937, and then through the Audition Winners Concerts, begun in the 1942 season. Kaufmann was an attractive, affordable alternative to Broadway theatres, and though the stage was small, good sight-lines and acoustics and the intimate feeling of the house made it an ideal venue for smaller troupes and solo dancers. Over the years, the Kaufmann stage has seen dance performances by almost five hundred artists, many of them for multiple seasons. Everyone performed at 92Y - Anna Sokolow, Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, José Limón, Helen Tamiris, Katherine Dunham, Pauline Koner, Pearl Primus, Katherine Litz, Valerie Bettis and Daniel Nagrin, to name a few. From the mid-forties on, ballet, tap, and ethnic dance forms were added in greater numbers to the roster of modern dance groups, which such artists as Robert Joffrey, Jerome Robbins, Carmelita Maracci, Paul Draper, Ruth St. Denis, La Meri and Lakshimi making appearances. From the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties, 92Y presented many African-American groups, such as Alvin Ailey, Eleo Pomare, Talley Beatty, Donald McKayle, and female choreographers, such as Anna Sokolow (who started at the Y as a young dancer in 1935 and returned to the Kaufmann stage as a mature artist), Sophie Maslow, Muriel Manings, Pearl Lang, Sybil Shearer, and Mary Anthony. Fewer dance performances were held from the mid-sixties on, for reasons which we shall examine later, although those years did see performances by such artists as Paul Sanasardo, Lar Lubovitch, Jean-Léon Destiné and Don Redlich. Through all the years a thread of Jewish dance wound itself into the fabric, with performances of either folk-based dance or modern dance with Jewish themes by artists such as Benjamin Zemach, Fred Berk, and Pearl Lang. 92Y launched a good many careers; was the venue for many premiers including Sokolow's Rooms and Ailey's Revelations; saw the choreographic New York debut performances of many artists, with Erick Hawkins, Pearl Lang, Lester Horton, Alvin Ailey and Robert Joffrey being notable among them; and followed a policy of aesthetic, national, and racial diversity which contributed greatly to the creative cauldron that helped determine the character and development of much of what has happened in dance since.
Let us return now to 1944. The war was about to end. Young women were at 92Y in increasing numbers, and formed the bulk of dance students, as they still do. Dr. Kolodney wanted to hire a true director for the Dance Center, which until that time had been administered by a series of faculty members. Kolodney was looking now for a strong force from the dance world, a personality and talent capable of galvanizing a faculty and a following, and of leaving a lasting character on the Center. Whom would he turn to but his old acquaintance Doris Humphrey, with whose work and philosophy he felt such a kinship? This was a woman who was among the first artists contacted at the beginning of this great adventure ten years prior. By 1944, she was a beloved legend in her own time. Would she be interested in this job? For Doris, the timing turned out to be perfect. Over the ten years since the inception of 92Y Dance Center, she, like her colleagues Graham, Weidman, Holm and Sokolow, had spent less and less time teaching at 92Y after the initial year (sending company members instead) and more time on her own company, which had, nevertheless, performed at 92Y every year through 1942. Due to advancing arthritis, 1944 was the year that saw her last stage appearances. Although she was committed to helping José Limón with his company (serving as his Artistic Director), she was also ready to commit some teaching and directing time to 92Y, being particularly interested in working with young choreographers. She thus accepted the position, which she held until her death in 1958.
Kolodney wanted to change the dance class offerings, which by then included an eclectic mix of a variety of European dance styles, including the Jooss school and "European Body Culture," as well as Wigman/Holm, Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, Jewish folk dance, tap, ballroom, and a smattering of other ethnic dance forms. His idea was to offer only three kinds of dance activities: Humphrey-Weidman technique and composition for adults; Jewish folk dance taught by the now legendary Fred Berk; and a series of lecture-demonstrations run by Walter Terry on various aspects of the dance.
This indeed became the shape of the program. Doris and Charles initially taught the modern dance technique classes, which were later taken over by dancers trained in the Humphrey-Weidman and Limón techniques, most notably by Nona Schurman. This style of dance was taught at 92Y almost exclusively from 1944 to 1960. In 1944 (before assuming the directorship) Doris also started her famous class called "Dance Making for Choreographers," which ran for eleven years and touched so many of the next generation of dance makers. The format of this class consisted of Doris teaching parts of her dances and then analyzing them in terms of the use of music, the movement, the content, types of gestures employed and the spatial design. The class was as much a laboratory for Humphrey as for her students, a place to try and test her choreographic principals and beliefs. The accompanying photograph shows Doris engaged in teaching this class in 1948.
The children's program also grew under Humphrey, and really blossomed after she and Kolodney chose Bonnie Bird to chair the children's dance department. Bird, a former Graham company dancer who had briefly taught Graham technique at 92Y in the early years of the Dance Center, let go all of the children's teachers who were touring professional dancers. She felt strongly that the children needed teachers who were committed to being there all the time, not only when it was convenient to their touring schedules. Instead of the touring professionals, she gathered a small group of lesser-known teachers dedicated to exploring with her a new, creative approach to teaching dance to children, and they instituted a weekly meeting to develop their approach.
Prior to these explorations, children's dance teachers mainly taught steps, routines, and straight technique to mostly bored children and a handful of avid ones who would be destined to dance anyway. Bird wanted to discover a method that would excite all children to use dance as a language for expression. Toward this end, she experimented with making use of stories and imagery to excite children's imaginations and elicit movement forms and qualities. She later continued and extended this work under Lucille Brahms Nathanson, the next director of the Dance Center, and at the Laban Centre in London, where she was an influential presence until her death on April 9, 1995. The older children were taught an amalgam technique called "Ballet and Modern Dance," which used elements of both forms and added a period for creative work. Israeli folk dance was also offered for youngsters, and there was a performance workshop for interested teens.
Doris Humphrey's presence in 92Y Dance Center did not confine itself to the classes. She was a member of the Dance Teachers Advisory Committee, which had been active since 1939 and would continue until 1953. This committee advised on the selection of choreographers to be shown on the Audition Winners Concerts. The aspirants were chosen on the basis of one audition piece, and unfortunately some of them showed other pieces, of debatable merit, on their programs. In fact, so many young dancers were getting a chance to perform at 92Y, and with such mixed results, that by 1953 the audience was dwindling, and a radical step was taken. Kolodney decided to do away with the Dance Teachers Advisory Committee and to make Doris Humphrey the sole arbiter of taste in the choosing of winners. All companies, even seasoned ones, would now have to audition their entire program in front of her. There was, of course, a great debate and uproar in reaction to this policy. It proved unsuccessful and was abandoned after a few years. 92Y policy varied from artist to artist, ranging from giving a straight fee to giving a percentage of the full box office income. Around 1955, this was augmented by a policy of allowing self-producing choreographers to reserve the hall with a $100 deposit, with a guarantee of a percentage of the house, after $325 to cover 92Y's production and crew expenses was deducted. But despite these changes and upheavals, during her entire tenure at 92Y, Humphrey made her aesthetic judgment felt both explicitly and implicitly.
Perhaps the most visible innovation during Humphrey's directorship was the formation of the Merry-Go-Rounders, an adult professional company which performed a repertoire designed for children ages six through twelve, and of which Humphrey was co-founder, with Bonnie Bird, and Artistic Director until her death. Professional dancers were auditioned to comprise its ranks. In 1995 Bonnie Bird told an amusing story of rejecting Arthur Mitchell, who auditioned one year, as "very young and not yet ready," and she named many other well-known dancers who passed through either the audition process or the company. 92Y faculty assumed the entire task of running the company: Fred Berk, the Israeli folk dance teacher, assisted Bonnie Bird in the administration off the group; Bunny Mendelsohn was Production Coordinator; Lucy Venable was Company Notator; Eva Desca was Company Director, and Beatrice Rainer, Music Director.
The company performed the work of 92Y faculty members and guest choreographers within the context of a carefully conceived children's format involving audience participation throughout. The aim was to introduce children and their parents and teachers to the elements of dance through the metaphor of getting on a magic merry-go-round for an afternoon of engaging fun, storytelling, and high-quality choreography and dancing. This was audience-building at the grassroots level, what we now call "outreach." There was often a dance from somewhere around the world on the program, to teach children to appreciate the expressions of other cultures. This concern with international dance was also addressed in the classroom, by introducing the children to basic forms from a variety of countries, as well as Jewish folk dance. It was important to Dr. Kolodney that Jewish dance be represented on the Merry-Go-Rounders programs, since children could thus perceive the flower of Jewish culture through its art in the context of world dance. Even then, Jewish continuity in a secular world was seen to be a problem, and any way to address it was welcome. This concern is freshly evident at 92Y, where programming in support of Jewish continuity is currently being encouraged by the administration.
The Merry-Go-Rounders rehearsed for free in 92Y's studios in the morning, and performed at 92Y on Sunday afternoons. Bird brought in first Robert Joffrey and then Alfredo Corvino to teach company ballet class. These free classes, and the opportunity to perform, gave the Merry-Go-Rounders good word of mouth in the professional dance community as a desirable group to join. As the program developed, school groups were brought in to join the general public at the performances, and there was some touring to outlying school districts. The Merry-Go-Rounders, with an evolving cast, performed continuously for the next twenty years and touched countless children with the magic of a theatrical dance experience.
Another component of the dance activities under Kolodney's directorship involved Walter Terry's Dance Laboratories, started in 1947 as a monthly event in Kaufmann. These lecture-demonstrations featured discussions and demonstrations of various topics in dance, and were instituted as a calculated effort to educate the general public and build the most intelligent dance audience possible. Some of the topics were surefire hits, such as "Sex Dances of Mankind," presented in the 1951-52 season in five lectures. Well-known dancers were engaged to perform in these evenings, even further enhancing their appeal. In 1951, Terry added a new series of "Open Interviews," in which leading dancers such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Doris Humphrey, Helen Tamiris and Agnes de Mille discussed and demonstrated their unique approaches to dance. Terry's evenings continued for another twenty years.
That William Kolodney and Doris Humphrey should find in each other a deeply sympathetic response is not surprising. Doris, of all the pioneers of modern dance, had a democratic outlook. Nona Schurman, who took progressively more responsibility for teaching classes for adults during Humphrey's reign, remarks that the principle of fall and recovery was inherently democratic because it indicated a "willingness to [go out into space and] meet other people on their terms." Schurman also calls Humphrey's teaching "philosophy in action," noting that she taught basic principles from which new movement and choreography could be extrapolated, rather than handing down a set of codified moves as ballet and Graham technique did. Schurman further states the following:
Modern dance uses the natural rhythms of the human body and is content to teach, in the beginning stages at least, the more rugged type of movement - things that do not need an eloquent instrument to look right... [T]he average layman feels out of place in the ballet environment.
The democratic ideals of individual initiative and universal availability were supported by the very nature of this work. And the technique fit in well with the educational philosophy of 92Y and its aim of uplifting the moral character and spirit of its members. Humphrey-Weidman technique was also freer, more breath-based and more natural to the ordinary body than, for instance, Graham technique with its shape-oriented bound flow. It was thus easier and more enjoyable for beginning dance students, who formed the bulk of 92Y Dance Center's population. Doris's own words succinctly express this commitment to reach all kinds of people, from rank beginners to professionals. She says:
The majority of dance students come as young adults, awkward, shy, feeling a painful unacquaintance with their bodies, and a vague desire to be "graceful"; they come as lonely ones for social good times; as professional dancers, confused about form, longing to compose their own dances; as a layman, to learn the history and meaning of movement through dance seminars; and a few come in each category because they already know the power of the dance and seek to fulfill its promise of a finer physical and spiritual life. Of all these, one can say without question, that each has gained something beyond what he came for: the awkward girl finds more than improved coordination, the social aspirant discovers the joy of rhythmic oneness with others, dancers catch a glimpse of new patterns of communication, laymen see dance as a living art. The secret back of the integrating and revivifying effect of the dance on people is no mystery: it lies in the creative approach. That is to say, in no class is the dead hand of routine apparent; dance is not taught as "steps" only for performing in the traditional recital, but mainly for its value to the individual as an unfinished human being who can benefit from the dance to complete himself. Whenever possible, students are encouraged to embark on creative expression of their own.
When Doris Humphrey died in 1958, her legacy remained at 92nd Street Y. So strong had her presence been there that the entire character and feeling of the dance program was suffused with it. In the last fourteen years of her life, she gave a great gift to 92Y and its members and patrons, touching thousands of lives with her teaching, her philosophy and her artistic taste.
It should be noted that the performance series in Kaufmann Concert Hall started to shrink during the 1960s, the decade that saw the shift in perspective initiated by Judson Dance Theater's manifesto of rebellion against the very type of dance art that 92Y had been instrumental in promoting - that is, dramatic, emotive, subject-related, and closed-structured. It is ironic that 92Y, which for so many years had been a champion of avant-garde dance, was now seen as "old-fashioned." The sixties also saw the rise of public funding agencies, both federal and state, and the acceptability of informal, cheap performing spaces better suited to the more pedestrian, open-ended style of the new work. To complete the dance world's alienation form Kaufmann Concert Hall, it became a technical union space in 1976, thus no longer the "good deal" it had been for so long. By the late 1970s, dance performance had all but dried up at 92nd Street Y, except for a few sporadic performances.
In the years since Humphrey's passing, there have been seven directors of 92Y Dance Center. Although none has quite had the authority that Doris's stature as an artist conferred, each has brought changes and innovations to the program, in response to her own beliefs and changing times. I will conclude with a brief summary of these years to bring us up to the present.
Lucile Brahms Nathanson, who directed the Center from 1962-76, developed the strong interest and expertise in children's dance that she had displayed while on Humphrey's faculty, and both the children's classes and the Teacher Training Program became a focus of her work, in close partnership with Bonnie Bird. She and Bird were also the founders of the American Dance Guild, which is still functioning as a relevant service organization to the field.
Susan Schickele, director from 1976-78, presided over an experiment: having a company-in-residence - the José Limón Dance Company - whose members taught all the modern classes and rehearsed in the studios. The arrangement lasted for four years, falling apart for several reasons, including the difficulty of attracting enough students to support all the classes, and the Limón company's refusal finally to confine their New York seasons to the small Kaufmann Concert Hall stage. Susan also introduced a choreography class for teens and ballet for adults.
Sharon Luckman, director from 1978-86, brought the Don Redlich Dance Company in as company-in-residence. I was a member of the company at that time, and though we taught classes and performed in Kaufmann for a week run, the residency didn't last, due to many of the same reasons that ended the Limón company residency. Sharon, however, continued at 92Y and reworked the program extensively, adding jazz, tap, more ballet and modern classes, dance exercise and aerobics classes, and a professional workshop series taught by well-known choreographers. The Harkness Ballet Program for Children became a part of 92Y in 1985 under Sharon's watch, beginning a relationship that has only recently come into full flower.
Jane Kosminsky, director from 1986-88, in an attempt to revive 92Y's support for young choreographers, started the Fridays At Noon performance series. These were non-curated informal studio showings of new work or works-in-progress, followed by discussion, which continue today. To support the choreographic process, she initiated the Space Grant Program, donating free rehearsal space to selected choreographers. This program has grown into a major service to the field. Her series of performance workshops for emerging choreographers, the Dance Preludes, brought in renowned teachers such as Martha Myers and Doris Rudko to critique their work, and offered training in production. Jane also created a studio theater, complete with lights, black drapes and Marley floor, for fully produced performances. After one winter season, however, 92Y shut it down as too expensive.
Ilona Copen, director from 1988-91, started the Sundays At Three... Dance Previews performance series - also informal studio showings, but curated. These remain part of the program today. She expanded the ballet classes and re-introduced Graham technique. The latter proved unpopular among the adult students and was dropped by the next director.
Cathryn Williams, director from 1991-92, focused on raising the enrollment in the adult's and children's classes and was very successful in doing so, while continuing the commitment to professionals through the programs already in place. She also introduced a series of workshops, called "Special Topics in Movement," which were meant to draw a mixture of professional dancers and non-dancers. Still a professional arts administrator, her children study dance at 92Y.
I have been at 92Y since 1992, and not a day goes by when I do not think of Doris Humphrey and William Kolodney. Their great success lay in making 92nd Street Y relevant to both the dance world and the lay person's world, by reading accurately what each group wanted and needed, by providing a program that they believed in that could serve both constituencies, and by creating organs like Walter Terry's Dance Labs to bridge the often vast abyss between these two worlds.
Today's program offers one hundred classes a week to adults and children in a wide range of techniques - modern (mostly Hawkins, Limón and Holm-based), jazz, tap, ballet, Isadora Duncan, Afro-Caribbean, Flamenco, and ballroom - plus special classes in Alexander technique, dance for mature adults, movement for people with Parkinson's disease, dance exercise, Spinal Gymnastics, and alignment and fitness.
The professional workshops have continued - a total of about a dozen weeks during the year, taught by the artists whom young professionals most want to work with - and a series of Transformation workshops has been initiated with leaders in alternative uses of movement and theater. These latter workshops are an overgrowth of the Special Topics workshops mentioned above, but with a focus on different ways of using movement in performance. Teacher training has also been revived, with DEL (the Dance Education Laboratory), an umbrella program that includes beginner and advanced certificate courses for teachers of children's dance, a mentoring program for choreographers and dance teachers, dance education workshops open to the general public, and workshops to help dance companies develop their in-school residency skills. The Breaking Ground interviews with choreographers were started in 1993, with a series of guests including Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, Judith Jamison, Mark Morris, Bill T. Jones, Trisha Brown, Eliot Feld, Murray Louis, and Twyla Tharp. An Improvisation Festival in the fall and spring began in 1994. The Dance Center has been most fortunate in support from outside 92Y, most notably from the Harkness Foundations, which have given 92Y and extraordinary gift, naming 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center. This support has finally enabled 92Y to present fully produced dance performance again, at the nearby non-union Playhouse 91. In the current climate of shrinking public funds, 92nd Street Y as a private not-for-profit institution has emerged again as a valuable resource for the dance world.
Sixty years of continuous service to the community by the Dance Center Doris Humphrey helped found and to which she devoted so many years demonstrate the continued vitality and longevity of the dance program at 92nd Street Y. The Dance Center owes an incalculable debt to the prestige and legitimacy, artistic insight, the programmatic depth, and the inspired sense of its potentially deep value in people's lives conferred upon it by Doris Humphrey.
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Excerpts from Naomi Jackson's Book: Converging Movements
Democracy, Diversity, Dance, and the Jewish Encounter with America
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The Ninety-Second Street Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association (familiarly referred to as 92nd Street Y or simply 92Y), which stands at the corner of Ninety-second Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City, marks the intersection of two historical trajectories: it is a symbol of the accomplishments of American Jewry, and it is a reminder of the remarkable achievements of modern dance. Initially a community-oriented institution that catered to a local membership, from the mid-1930s through the 1950s 92Y was a major home for dance in New York. 92Y's active Dance Center offered classes in technique, choreography, and appreciation and an extensive performance series featuring both prominent and lesser-known dancers. Among the famous works premiered on 92Y stage were Anna Sokolow's Rooms (1955) and Alvin Ailey's Revelations (1960). In 1945, Doris Humphrey was named director of the Dance Center and was active in overseeing many of the program's affairs until her death in 1958.
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Producing On the Edge: 92Y as Debut Dance Hall and Alternative Performance Space
Throughout the years 92nd Street Y maintained an active educational program for children and adults. It is as a producing venue, however, that 92Y is best known. Between 1935, when Kolodney first began presenting dance, to changes in the 1960s that reduced the number of recitals, more than 450 dance performances were held there, and this figure excludes the many lectures, demonstrations, and film showings with dance as their main focus. Everybody, it seems, performed on 92Y's stage at one time or another. This is especially true of those in the modern dance field, although dance mimes ballet, and tap companies and dancers specializing in non-Western forms also appeared there. Some of the most celebrated performers include Angna Enters, Ruth St, Denis, Ted Shaw, Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Anna Sokolow, Agnes de Mille, José Limón, Pearl Lang and Merce Cunningham. All could be seen at the Kaufmann Auditorium in memorable performances. Agnes de Mille once observed that "it is the veritable cradle of the modern-dance movement. It cannot be praised too highly for the enormous sponsoring work it provided."
The sheer volume of dance presented at 92Y is noteworthy in comparison to other theatres of the time. What particularly distinguished 92Y within the New York dance landscape, however, was that it functioned as the place where many choreographers, dancers and their companies appeared in their first or near their first New York appearances. 92Y was not only a space for the already celebrated; it helped to make many people famous by launching their career. The spectrum is wide, encompassing many choreographers who have since become revered in the annals of dance history, from Pearl Primus, Katherine Litz, and Alvin Ailey to the Ballet Caravan, the Joffrey Ballet, and Lester Horton's Choreo '53.
Also setting 92Y apart was its ongoing support of dancers who, for whatever reason, were unable to find many performing opportunities elsewhere. Such dancers might be those unable to afford a Broadway theatre, who were insufficiently popular, or who worked primarily in other cities, or they might be from an ethnic or religious minority, such as African American or Jewish. 92Y's support of potentially marginalized artists also went beyond debut opportunities for the young to long-term relationships with lesser-known and minority choreographers, which sometimes extended over several decades. The African American dancer Pearl Primus returned frequently to 92Y after it had launched her career, and Jewish dancers like Anna Sokolow, Sophie Maslow, and Pearl Lang maintained lifelong connections to the institution even as they found performing opportunities elsewhere. Throughout the 1950s 92Y continued to support many female modern dancers, like Valerie Bettis, May O'Donnell, Betty Lind, Marie Marchowsky, Mary Anthony, Ruth Currier, and Natanya Neumann, who otherwise had limited outlets for their choreographic efforts.
As a frequent debut performance space for New York and world premiers, 92Y acted, in the 1930s and 1940s especially, as an incubator of new dance. It provided a space for dancers to experiment with elements of the modern style as it took hold and matured within America. The support of diverse artists, for its part, meant that the kind of new dance being developed often involved research into the integration of so-called ethnic elements, as minority artists made reference to African, Spanish, or Jewish elements in their work. At other times it was the presentation of diverse kinds of performers in one space, from tap-ballet dancer Paul Draper to the Spanish-ballet blends of Carmelita Maracci, that challenged a single, pursuit notion of the nature of contemporary dance.
From the position of the dance world, Jewish support of contemporary dance through the productions and audiences at 92Y was very important. The ongoing support of second- and third-generation modern dancers provided steady institutionalized support of the style of modern dance, helping to reinforce its status as a serious dance form. Perhaps more significantly, although not always evident, was the importance of 92Y providing a steady alternative to the increasingly commercialized downtown performance spaces and to the lionized "Big Four," who gained in reputation as the century progressed. In 1953, when 92Y briefly stopped offering its support to less-established artists, many cried out that this meant the complete eradication of a place that supported dancers in trying out new ideas, either to succeed or to fail. The point made clear how important 92Y had become in supplying the kind of generous patronage so crucial to the evolution of the art form.
For the Jews who values 92Y most closely reflected, the productions fulfilled their desire to participate in contemporary, general culture within a Jewish framework. These Jews had largely (though not exclusively) exchanged religious observance for the contemplation of art, and there was great satisfaction in seeing the celebrated names of the period as a means of personal and collective inspiration. The presence of dancers like Graham also brought status to the Jewish community, signaling their acceptance by the culture producers of America. As for the support of unknowns and minority artists, that was another, although more public and influential way, along with educational classes and lectures, to promote Jewish causes within a carefully constructed democratic and multicultural context that reflected the long-standing ideals of the institution.
Transitions and Support of "Ethnic" Dance, 1947-53
Between 1947 and 1953, America's dance landscape changed and with it the nature of 92Y's performance series. The postwar years witnessed a dramatic transformation in the dance world as ballet became increasingly popular. The artistic success of Ballet Society at City Center in April 1948 led to its joining the prestigious complex of the New York City Center later that year. The first season of the newly named New York City Ballet occurred between October 11, 1948, and January 23, 1949, when the company danced twenty-four performances to enthusiastic reviews.
At the same time, the post-Second World War exposure to other cultures was leading to the explosion of interest in ethnic dance. This enthusiasm was well reflected in the Ethnologic Theatre of La Meri (Russell Meriwether Hughes). Opened in the fall of 1943, the theatre was a small, with seating for about 250 people. Throughout the late 1940s and up to 1956 it featured the work of La Meri and her Natya (Hindu) dancers as well as visiting artists. At the same time, a program called "Around the World with Dance and Song" was supervised by Hazel Muller at the Museum of Natural History. Muller's subscription series ran with great popularity from 1949 to 1952 and featured a wide range of dancers who specialized in African, Indian, Spanish, Irish, English, Hawaiian, and Chinese dance styles.
During this period, changes also occurred at 92Y that suggested modern dance was experiencing troubled times. From 1948 to 1951 many single recitals were presented as individual events by the Dance Center along with the Dance Theatre Subscription Series. For the most part, the events that were part of the series did well, drawing more than five hundred people to each performance (the house held around 855). José Limón, for instance, gave the first New York performance of the tragic Moor's Pavane at 92Y on November 6, 1949, to a large crowd. Portraying the love, jealousy, and intrigue arising in the handkerchief episode from Shakespeare's Othello, this is considered one of Limón's greatest masterpieces. The many single recitals of less prominent dancers, however, did much worse. Audience statistics for individual performances for 1949-50 and 1951-52, for instance, show that about seventeen recitals had fewer than five hundred people in the audience.
Meanwhile, in a 1951 Dance Magazine article on various New York booking agents, Doris Hering wrote, "Mr. Kolodney is finding that his audiences are asking for more and more ethnic dance." Indeed, by the 1952-53 season, dancers working in a wide variety of dance styles abounded at 92Y, such as the Afro-Haitian dancer Jean-Léon Destiné, Spanish dancers Sinda Iberia and Vela Montoya, and classical Indian dancers Dilip Kumar Roy and Indira Devi. Most of the same dancers also appeared on the Museum of Natural History's "Around the World with Dance and Song." In fact, Hazel Muller was listed on 92Y's Dance Teachers Advisory Committee for the 1952-53 season, demonstrating just how central "ethnic" dance had become.
An East-West Series was also established at 92Y in cooperation with the East-West Association, a local New York organization promoting cross-cultural awareness. Kolodney started this series in the fall on 1947 so that "more attention [would] be paid to inter-national relations, inter-cultural understanding and the contemporary scene." A series of ten programs was proposed, "dramatizing the peoples of the world through their music, art, and cultural patterns." The 1947-48 series presented programs on Palestine, India, the Philippines, Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean (presented by the Experimental Group of the Katherine Dunham school), and Slavic peoples. These programs involved large casts in theatrical folk dances from the various countries. They satisfied the postwar fascination with other cultures and spawned new interest in dance from other than ballet and modern dance. They also provided an opportunity for 92Y to promote Jewish culture within the framework of world culture; as with the Merry-Go-Rounders, the representation involved conveying implicit messages regarding Jews as equals in a multicultural world.
If Kolodney's main programming efforts during the early 1950s displayed a sensitivity to the general conditions of the dance world, there were still times when he took a chance on unknown performers. The most dramatic of these was his presentation of Lester Horton's company on March 28-29, 1953. Horton was an extremely innovative and influential choreographer, who had spent his life on the West Coast. There he had founded a racially mixed school and performing group that included such dancers as Carmen de Lavallade, Joyce Trisler, James Truitte, and Alvin Ailey. Kolodney had invited Horton to appear at 92Y on March 27, 1938, but at the last minute Horton telegraphed to say he was unable to come and wished Kolodney success. Fifteen years later, with the encouragement of Carmelita Maracci, Horton finally appeared at 92Y. This was Horton's second New York performance but the first and only serious recital he was ever to give there in a legitimate theater. (In 1943, Horton's group had performed for the opening of a lavish nightclub, the Folies Bergère.) In his biography of Horton, Larry Warren observes: "The 'Y' was the logical place for the debut. For years, under the direction of Dr. William Kolodney, it had provided a showcase for dancers, poets, and musicians who needed a medium-sized New York theater that was nominal in cost. Maracci herself had performed there, and Janet Collins, whom both she and Horton had trained, had been acclaimed four years earlier at the East Coast debut on that stage."
On the 92Y program were Horton's Dedications in Our Time, The Beloved, Scenes with Ballabilli or: The Ways of Love, Prado de Pena, and The Face of Violence. These works demonstrated the wide range of choreographic approaches Horton was capable of.The Beloved was an electrifying, spare duet inspired by a newspaper article about a man who had beaten his wife to death with a Bible for suspected infidelity. In the work, Horton clearly and succinctly presented a series of images centering on this elemental plot, particularly focusing on the woman's experience. Scenes with Ballabilli used elaborate props and costumes in a playful dance that imitated the commedia dell'arte. According to attendance records, only 309 people attended Saturday night and 223 on Sunday afternoon, but the performance left its mark on the people who were there. The Dance Observer review stated that the performance showed audiences "theatre dance at its very professional best." And Walter Terry raved that "the Lester Horton Dancers gave cause for pride in the modern dance efforts of Californians and brought freshness of idea, new faces, fine dancing, theatrical verve and even, perhaps, a healthy dash of envy to New Yorkers who attended."
A Postmodern Precursor: 92Y's Legacy beyond the 1960s
On October 20, 1957, Paul Taylor gave a concert at the Kaufmann Auditorium that is considered by many the beginning of a new era and the fall of an old era. At this recital, Taylor presented a work called Epic, in which he stood in different static positions while a recorded female voice repeatedly read off the time. Apparently this piece, as well as others on the program, was so offensive to certain members of the audience that they all got up and left the theatre. Taylor later recalled that "immediately following [the performance] I go to my dressing room, where the manager of the concert hall has been waiting to inform me that if I should ever rent the theater again, it will be over his dead body." The concert received poor assessments by John Martin and Walter Terry, and Louis Horst published his now famous blank review in Dance Observer - a square of empty space in the middle of the page labeled with the dance recital title and signed with his initials, "L.H."
Moving Beyond the Mythology
The internal and external changes that occurred following the 1960s all suggest why 92nd Street Y lost its central place in American dance, but there are other signs, often overlooked, which suggest that 92Y contributed greatly to postmodern dance even as the institution faded from view. These signs refer to the entire history of 92Y and its unusual role in the dance world. 92Y's historical promotion of dancers with limited New York exposure, as well as movement explorations and fusions of many varieties, meant that it was far from being synonymous with the concerns of John Martin and the Big Four or from being outdated. During its heyday in the period leading up to the 1960s the constant infusion of talent made for a highly inspiring atmosphere, for many of the people in 92Y's audience were themselves dance students and budding choreographers, along with established professionals in the field. These audience members were witnessing - on the same stage, in the same space - a wide variety of dance expression as well as music, poetry, and drama. They were being shown what was possible in performance and being given the opportunity to contemplate and debate the nature of contemporary art through 92Y's extensive classes and lectures.
What 92Y's history suggests is that, rather than disappearing with the advent of the 1960s, the diverse choreographic ideas presented on the institution's stage migrated to new areas and began to work their way back into the emerging postmodern aesthetic of the 1980s and 1990s. Character work, use of text, detailed gestural movement, parody, stylistic fusions, African American and Jewish themes - long part of 92Y's and, it would seem, modern dance's history - were to continue even while economic and philosophical concerns were changing the surface topography of the performance landscape. In addition, 92Y's flexible approach to identity as a fluid entity affected by social and political circumstances, cultural heritage, contemporary trends, and individual agency can also be seen as an important precursor of postmodern thinking on subjectivity, as was (is) 92Y's view of community as a collective of individuals from diverse backgrounds whose experiences should be recognized, valued, and officially patronized.
Far from arising with little connection to their past, experimental choreographers of the post-1960s period continued to the practices and policies of the dancers and institutions that came before them. Many of the modern dancers who performed at 92Y portrayed women trying to master the expectations of society in their sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical snippets from life. Marchowsky's Cafe Habitué and Litz's Glyph, along with the satirical cameo portraits of Angna Enters, Iva Kitchell, and others, explored aspects of the female experience that remain frequent subjects of choreographic inquiry. Twyla Tharp, for instance, often pokes fun at the conventions of femininity that plague the dance world and society at large. A characteristic image of Tharp finds her meandering slouched over and poker-faced around the rehearsal studio as she throws off rounds of fancy kicks, turns, and hip gyrations that suggest technical prowess and feminine allure even as she undermines and plays with their significance. Sybil Shearer, for her part, was interested in highly developed movements concentrated on particular parts of the body. She once dressed as a southern belle at a party and faced upstage while her arms snaked and groped behind her back as though trying to extract an ant from under her dress. Such an interest in intricate movement explorations can be later traced in the abstract minutiae - the arm/hand and foot work - of Merce Cunningham and in the impressionistic gestural work of a choreographer like Martha Clarke.
Perhaps more noticeable has been the legacy of the fusion experiments that were continually displayed and promoted at 92Y. Paul Draper's and Carmelita Maracci's dances with ballet, tap, and Spanish dance and Pearl Primus's and Anna Sokolow's explorations of African and Jewish themes in their works established a precedent. In the years since these performers were in their prime, choreography concerned with stylistic and intercultural fusion has received widespread recognition and theorization. Tharp has combined ballet with soft-shoe and modern dance, Fred Darsow explores flamenco and post-modern styles, and Doug Elkins has mixed contact improvisation and hip-hop. Choreographers such as Bill T. Jones and Blondelle Cummings continue to explore African American experiences within the framework of contemporary dance of the 1980s and 1990s, following in the footsteps of Alvin Ailey and Donald McKayle, both of whom enjoyed successful careers following their early beginnings at 92Y.
Similarly, works thematizing Jewish experience have continued since the 1940s. Meredith Monk's Quarry (1976) suggests, among other things, "the hunting down of Jews in Nazi Germany and generalizes to warn of the necessity for victims in any dictatorship." Other postmodernists working with Jewish as well as non-Jewish themes in their work include Sue Rosen, David Dorfman, and Daniel Shapero. Each of these choreographers has continued to explore issues of identity, religion and ethnicity. They extend a tradition stemming back to Zemach and the early efforts of Sokolow, Shapero, and Maslow, although their work is sometimes highly critical of Jewish tradition, as with Dorfman's Dayeinu (1992), which challenges the values of religious life.
Contemporary dance in the 1980s and 1990s, far from being disconnected to the era of "traditional" modern dance, continues to explore many aspects of the form as they appeared at 92Y. Even the challenge to meaning, which seemed so prevalent in the 1960s, returned to haunt the dancers of this later period. Dancers from ethnic and racial minorities continue to be important leaders in promoting a humanist desire for social transformation through exposure to the arts. An early pioneer in this regard is the Jewish choreographer Anna Halprin, who had appeared in the Audition Winners' recital at 92Y in 1945 and went on to an influential career on the West Coast, leading workshops and staging large community-based works dealing with healing and global concerns. In the 1990s, Halprin has been joined in such efforts by choreographers, like Bill T. Jones, who are extremely concerned with making profound statements with their work and in touching people on emotional and spiritual planes. In pieces like Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/ The Promised Land (1990) or Still/Here (1994), issues of faith, sexuality, illness and race are explored with the aim of raising individual and collective understanding, compassion, and tolerance. Similarly, the Jewish choreographer Liz Lerman founded an extremely successful company in 1976, which is multigenerational as well as multiracial and focuses on programs that explore ethnic, racial, and sexual diversity. For the supporters of her and Jones's work, along with many others, the myriad progressive educational events and performances offered by 92Y in its heyday would have made perfect sense.
Within today's postmodern context, where multicultural concerns and issues of diversity are now part of the official, mainstream discourse, it is perhaps not surprising that 92Y has once more gained some visibility in the dance world. From 1993 to 2004, 92Y's Dance Center was under the direction of Joan Finkelstein. Finkelstein is a former dancer with Cliff Keuter's and Don Redlich's dance companies (among others), and also has taught at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Illinois, and California State University. During her tenure at 92Y, Finkelstein had overseen the reception of generous support from the Harkness Foundation for Dance. This funding led to the new naming, 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center and made it possible to present a small dance festival annually since December 1994.
The performance series was mandated by the multiyear grant from the foundation, the mission being (in keeping with Kolodney's earlier policy) to present new work and repertory, giving emerging companies greater exposure and more established companies an alternative to the Joyce Theater or downtown loft-type venues. Companies that have been presented include most of the leaders in the current wave of postmodern dance, including Bebe Miller, Doug Varone, Molissa Fenley, Yoshiko Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks, Urban Bush Women, Amy Rosen, and Jane Comfort. The Harkness Dance Center simultaneously offers a broad range of classes, from ballet to Afro-Caribbean dance for adults and children and "Breaking Ground" interviews with the likes of Cunningham, Jones, Tharp, Judith Jamison, and Mark Morris. In addition, Finkelstein initiated a series, "Jewish Voices," in which choreographers working with Jewish themes preview and discuss their work; among them have been Pearl Lang, Neta Pulvermacher, and Ze'eva Cohen.
In the late 1990s 92Y competes with many other venues as a presenter of contemporary dance. While the Joyce Theater provides a prestigious, theatrical setting for the more established contemporary choreographers, Dance Theater Workshop, PS 122, Dia, and the Kitchen are the most popular spaces for more experimental work. There is also the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), whose Next Wave Festival brings the hottest in avant-garde performance to New York's public. Perhaps more than any other institution, BAM has usurped 92Y's role as a vanguard promoter of new dance, music, and drama, with its focus on contemporary performance and offer of a subscription series that covers all the arts. BAM, however, rarely presents little-known dancers, choosing, instead to focus on those who have already established a solid reputation in avant-garde circles.
At the same time, 92Y as a whole continues to exert an important institutional presence in New York. 92Y is well known as a major cultural center and a place where Jewish and non-Jewish interests constantly intersect. There are still people travelling there to learn Israeli folk dances on Wednesday nights and children still taking modern dance classes whose parents and grand parents went there before them. The same issues that concerned 92Y in the past continue to infuse it with tension and vigor today; how to maintain Jewish identity while integrating into the wider American society, how to synthesize Jewish and non-Jewish creativity for mutual benefit. Although the answers to these questions remain in flux and are constantly being debated, 92Y is committed to the idea that it is possible for people to retain their particular identities while living together in harmony. As such, it remains a tremendous source of inspiration for those of us hoping for a better life distinguished by communal trust and understanding.
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