March Madness — Dance Blooms in NYC

In the New York dance world, March came in like a lion and went out like a lion. The density of performances seems to have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Here is a quick round up of some of our local March Madness.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago exploded onto the Joyce stage with two programs of rich repertory. In the first, Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Dichotomy of a Journey (2022) contained a gorgeous duet in which elbow-contact grew into a romantic adagio. The still in-process Nevermore, by Thang Dao, played with spooky imagery based on Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven. For a rip-roaring finish, Rennie Harris’ new Dear Frankie revved up the dancers to full-blast house dancing in a tribute to Chicago’s influential DJ Frankie Knuckles. Alysia Johnson tore into this material while Cyrie Topeke nailed a jazzy solo and Aaron Choate strutted in fine flamboyant drag style.

Aaron Choate in Rennie Harris’ Dear Frankie, Ph Michelle Reid

At Danspace, Stacy Matthew Spence crafted a spare piece with live music by Charlotte Jacobs and Raf Vertessen. For I am, here; Here with us; Where we find ourselves, he brought a gently erupting, slightly jazz-inflected rhythm to his opening solo. When other dancers entered one at a time (Joanna Kotze, Tim Bendernagel, and Hsiao-jou Tang), it got more complex but avoided the usual liftings and partnerings. The connections were more subtle—just a whiff of a shared phrase or direction here and there.

Stacy Spence with Joanna Kotze, Ph Elyssa Goodman


The celebration of 150 years of the 92nd Street Y (newly branded 92NY), featured three companies—Graham, Limón and Ailey— that found a home at the Y in their early years. Each company paired an old chestnut with a new or in-progress work. The new work for the Limón company was Like Those Playground Kids at Midnight by Omar Román de Jesús, who also performed it with Ian Spring. Borrowing from contact improvisation, this duo created dramatic huggings and hurtlings, taking startling risks. Representing the Graham company’s forward look was an excerpt of We the People by Jamar Roberts, showing the dancers’ unadorned, ready strength—to songs of Rhiannon Giddens.
A highlight of the evening for me was watching the sublime Bahiyah Sayyed as a guest in Manifesting Legacy, which Hope Boykin made for Ailey II. Oh, the wisdom and sensuality of that dancing body!
And for a condensed education on modern dance, the accompanying exhibit, Dance to Belong: A History of Dance at 92NY, is on view in the Y’s Weill Art Gallery through October.

Bahiyah Sayyed, right, with Ailey II in Boykin’s Manifesting Legacy, Ph Richard Termine

Another anniversary—30 years of Buglisi Dance Theatre—brought Jacqulyn Buglisi’s lustrous Frida (1998) to the Chelsea Factory. Three former Graham stars—Terese Capucilli, Christine Daykin, and PeiJu Chien-Pott—reveled in the tortured soul of Frida Kahlo. Also on the program were the lively Caravaggio Meets Hopper (2007) and the earthy premiere, A Walk Through Fire.

Frida with Christine Dakin, PeiJu Chien-Pott, and Terese Capucilli, Ph Kristin Lodoen

Illinoise had fans of singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens cheering at the Park Avenue Armory. Justin Peck’s direction and choreography gave it kinetic momentum. The young dancers, huddled around a campfire or dancing out their yearnings, had energy to burn. But the show took its time settling on a plot. I hope this problem gets solved by the time the production reaches Broadway on April 24.

Illinoise, Ph Liz Lauren

Shen Wei’s Dongpo: Life in Poems filled the Koch Theater with a visual splendor that was a both ancient and modern. Drawing on his background in Chinese opera and contemporary dance, choreographer/painter/poet Shen Wei created sumptuous, beguiling, dreamlike visions. More about it here.

Shen Wei’s Dongpo: Life of Poems

The musical Water for Elephants, with choreography by Jesse Robb & Shana Carroll, combined circus, aerial dance, and Broadway dance in captivating ways. Imagine the soul of an injured horse expressed in aerial silks! With this team of vivid characters occupying the Imperial Theatre, you could see why someone might want to run away with the circus.

Water for Elephants with Isabelle McCalla and Grant Gustin, Ph Matthew Murphy

Glacial Decoy (1979), the first work Trisha Brown choreographed for the proscenium stage, was quietly radiant at the Joyce. The contrast between Rauschenberg’s workaday photos (a lightbulb, a truck, a cow’s head) and the ethereal nightgowns billowing around the spring-y, lilting movement created a mesmerizing effect. If you missed it, find an excerpt on the Trisha Brown Company’s new Vimeo page. Also on the program were Working Title (1985, a stripped down version of Lateral Pass), and Noé Soulier’s premiere, In the Fall, an absorbing study in off-balance.

Glacial Decoy with Jennifer Payán and Cecily Campbell, Ph Maria Baranova

Existentialism, directed by Anne Bogart in collaboration with the wondrous actors Paul Zimet and Ellen Maddow, came to La MaMa. They showed how the sparest of movements can indicate affection, indifference, everyday drudgery, or a spark of curiosity. And when Zimet and Maddow, who are married in real life, find a moment to dance together, one cannot help but smile.

Ellen Maddow and Paul Zimet in Existentialism

Another show about an elderly couple—and their past— is the musical The Notebook. Noah and Allie’s long romance culminates in the poignant situation of her succumbing to dementia. The movement of Maryann Plunkett, who plays Older Allie, reveals her loss of control as much as the script. The halting, destabilized zig-zagging is painful to watch yet thrilling because Plunkett embodies Allie’s psychological plight so fully.

Marianne Plunket and Dorian Harewood in The Notebook, Ph Julieta Cervantes

For its Spring Dances program, Juilliard challenged its students with works by Kyle Abraham, Bobbie Jene Smith & Or Schreiber, and Shen Wei. Abraham’s Studies on a Farewell interlaced different ways of touching and caring with nicely open ballet lines. In Smith and Schreiber’s Fugue in Crimson, shape-shifting characters goaded each other with stylized aggression by way of brilliant choreographic imagination. Shen Wei’s Map (2005) traced the evolution of movements that paralleled the rhythmic changes of Steve Reich’s Desert Music—played live by the Juilliard orchestra—to a powerful cumulative effect.

Fugue in Crimson, with Polina Mankova & Reginald Turner, Ph Rachel Papo

Shen Wei’s Map, from left: Julie Ciesielska, John Chapell, and Kayla Mak, Ph Rachel Papo

At the Chocolate Factory, Ursula Eagly re-jiggered the space to transform it for Dream Body Body Building. With audience on one side of the wide space and performers on the opposite side. After a period of stillness on both sides, the performers picked up their chairs and infiltrated the audience. They started telling us their dreams—a few inches from our faces. An unexpected intimacy.

Ursula Eagly, with Madeline Best and Takemi Kitamura in her Dream Body Body Building, Ph Brian Rogers

Although the monumental Border Crossings exhibit at the NY Library for the Performing Arts closed in mid-March, the catalog, with many essays (including mine on Syvilla Fort/Merce Cunningham/John Cage at the Cornish School in the 1930s), is now available at here.

An ominous ambience descended on the Baryshnikov Art Center for 4/2/3, choreographed by the amazing duo Baye & Asa. A program note said they “grapple with our collective search for blame.” Inspired by the riddle, “What has 4 legs in the morning, 2 legs in the afternoon, and 3 legs in the evening,” it’s divided into three acts. First, three children (mostly innocent with a few aggressive shoves here and there); second, five adult dancers (mostly sinister, with occasional moments of caring here and there); and third, a solo for an older woman. In this last, Janet Charleston glowed with wisdom and vigor and…a certain aura. She was a sorceress.

Janet Charleston in 4/2/3, Ph Maria Baranova

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Notes on Shen Wei’s Latest Vision

The lavish, dreamlike vision of Shen Wei graced the David Koch Theater last weekend. Co-produced by the China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) and American Dance Festival, Dongpo: Life in Poems melds Shen Wei’s swirling choreography, spectacularly multileveled sets, and otherworldly costumes into a magical experience.

All photos courtesy of CAEG

The show loosely depicts the journey of Song Dynasty poet Dongpo (1037–1101) in six acts. It’s a lifelong journey, filled with wonder and sorrow—but no wars, no famine. This was a journey of peace, of honoring nature, and of self-reflection. Like Dongpo, Shen Wei is an artist of multiple roles: choreographer, painter, playwright, director, and poet. Throughout the many changes of mood and scene, Shen Wei has sustained a visual experience of exquisite beauty.

I offer here, not a review, but notes on some of the elements that contributed to the aesthetic wonder.

The journey: It began with a sole figure, perched high up behind a scrim of a sketch of bamboo. Facing to the right, he walks slowly, setting out on a journey. We see a map that is crisscrossed many times, presumably to the places Dongpo traveled to. After many dreamlike adventures, it ends the same way, with the man having moved only a little further toward his destination.

Telling the story: Lead dancer Su Peng appears in a circle of light, also high up. With his skin painted white, he seems to absorb light as his arms and spine move in circular pathways…a lunar being calling out his story. With mesmerizing fluidity, Su Peng is telling the story and being the story at the same time.

The illusions: The dancers are sometimes lifted into the stratosphere of the stage space. At one point, nine men in three rows stage left and nine women in a circle stage right appear as glowing blue paintings floating in the air. Even when they start moving, it seems like they may be films and not people. But they are indeed alive, which is only discernible when the men step ultra-slowly across the space to infiltrate the women’s circle. This kind of illusion is, of course, accomplished by the lighting designer, Xiao Lihe, who has studied with Jennifer Tipton!


The music: The performance alternated between a recording of Western-sounding orchestral music composed by Chen Qigang, and a live Guqin player, Zhao Xiaoxia. The traditional Guqin is a seven-stringed plucked instrument that sounds a bit like a dulcimer. In one scene, an operatic voice lets loose, veering toward a Meredith Monk–style looping and ricocheting.

The 23 dancers: Members of China Oriental Performing Arts group and Meishan Song and Dance Theatre, the dancers all have a formality that enabled them to guide us on this ceremonial journey. They executed Shen Wei’s choreography of whipping circles and extended lines with great flourish while keeping a sense of being close to nature. Su Peng commanded the stage with every gesture. I learned later that these dancers have never done contemporary dance before!

The costumes. Some of the costumes had a magnificent sculptural quality. In Act IV, a series of moving sculptures trudge onto the stage…large indecipherable statues in pale pastels. Each sculpture turned out to be two entwined people wearing voluminous skirts. This was a slow march of otherworldly figures.

Another aspect of the costumes: In Act I, the men and women wore the same red unitards, and later they wore the same blue tunics over burgundy leotard and tights. Considering the highly gendered presentation of most Chinese Classical Dance—and most ballet and modern dance too—this decision was refreshing.

The humor. To break with the ceremonial quality, a series of wheeled devices crossed from stage right to stage left: first a kind of rickshaw, then a bicycle, then a scooter, and finally a skateboard. Later, one person whizzed down a skateboard ramp. A little history of wheels in two minutes!

The tangled cloud: In a clever animation, a hand quickly drew brush-strokes, first in one color ink, then another. What looked at first like Chinese letters turned into a cluster of tightly intersecting curved lines. In the next scene, this little tangle became a cloud overhead that slowly passed from stage right to stage left before disappearing.

The poetry. Shen Wei chose a few fragments of Dongpo’s thousands of poems to appear on the scrim. They seemed to be mostly about time passing and an affinity with nature. I caught these lines:
• “A new fire to brew fresh tea will set our minds at peace.”
• “Even if we met you might not know me so frayed; my face is covered with dust; my hair is grayed.”
• “May all of us far apart be blessed with longevity, So that we can forever share the moon’s beauty.”

Looking ahead: With the magnificent Dongpo: Life in Poems still in my mind’s eye, I look forward to re-seeing Shen Wei’s signature piece Map (2006), as part of Spring Dances at Juilliard. Very different from Dongpo, Map has casual costumes and all the dancing on one level. But the intricate phrases and patterns accumulate a certain force over forty-five minutes. For a special pleasure, the Juilliard orchestra will play the accompaniment, Steve Reich’s Desert Music, live.






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Steve Paxton (1939–2024): A Lifetime of Burning Questions

Ph Monika Rittershaus

A mesmerizing dancer and an intellectual force in the field, Steve Paxton asked the most basic questions—about movement, performance, and hierarchies of all kinds. His curiosity led him to become a leading figure in three historic collaborative entities: Judson Dance Theater, Grand Union, and Contact Improvisation. For almost six decades, Paxton performed and taught around the world, earning the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennial in 2014. Since his death at Mad Brook Farm in Vermont on February 20, at the age of 85, expressions of intense gratitude have appeared across social media.


Paxton grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where he excelled in gymnastics. He also took Graham-based dance classes in community centers. To hear it from his childhood friend, the critic and educator Sally Sommer, “We partied all the time because we hung out at a friend’s ranch house, played records, and danced. We also danced at night on the tarmac of empty roads—turned on the headlights and cranked up the radio.” In school his two favorite subjects were English (hence, the eloquence of his writings) and microbiology (the curiosity of body mechanics). He attended the nearby University of Arizona, where his father was a campus policeman. He didn’t like the teachers, so he withdrew from college life.

He did like dancing. He accepted a scholarship to the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College the summer of 1958. Although the José Limón Company had provided the financial aid, it was his encounter with Merce Cunningham’s work that intrigued him. He recalled how the Cunningham company, during its first residency at this stronghold of established modern dance, caused “consternation” with his chance procedures.

Aeon, by Merce Cunningham,1961, From left: Steve Paxton, Carolyn Brown, Judith Dunn, Marilyn Wood, Viola Farber, and Shareen Blair (on floor). Studio photo Rauschenberg.

That fall, Paxton came to New York, where he continued studying with Limón. He soon added Cunningham classes, where, as a scholarship student, he helped clean the studio. Limón’s company was in residence at Juilliard, and when the school needed more men for the restaging of Doris Humphrey’s Passacaglia, Paxton was asked to step in. (Aside: Pina Bausch, who was a student at Juilliard that year, danced the lead female role.) He later said, “I regarded myself as a barbarian entering the hallowed halls of culture when I came to New York.”

When Robert Dunn offered a workshop in dance composition at the Cunningham studio in 1960, Paxton, along with Yvonne Rainer and Simone Forti, was one of the first five to sign up. A protégé of John Cage, Dunn taught in a Zen manner, providing the space for experimentation without judgment. As Paxton has said, “The premise of the Bob Dunn class was to provoke untried forms, or forms that were new to us.”

Flat (1964) reprised in 1982 for Bennington College Judson Project, ph Tom Brazil

Stylistically, Dunn stressed the value of the ordinary rather than laboring to make a dance study “interesting.” From that evolved many of Paxton’s walking dances. Why walking? Of course it fits Dunn’s request for the “ordinary.” But also, as Paxton explained in this interview, at Walker Art Center, “How we walk is one of our primary movement patterns and a lot of dance relates to this pattern.”

Fellow student Simone Forti, who had studied with Anna Halprin, produced a historic evening of “dance constructions” at Yoko Ono’s loft on Chambers Street in 1961. Paxton performed in her works Huddle, Slant Board, and Herding. Forti had no interest in technique, preferring to meld the movement function to objects. As Paxton told me in a 2015 email, he found the effort to divest from his technical training “self-shaking, paradoxical, and enlarging.”

Also in 1961, Paxton joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Though bewildered at first, he loved the company and responded to the beauty and humor in the work. He felt drawn toward the Buddhist bent of John Cage and “felt at home” when listening to Cunningham, Cage, and visual collaborators Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

When the students in Dunn’s class wanted to show their work, they auditioned for the 92nd Street YMHA, the bastion of modern dance. Paxton, along with Rainer and Gordon, were rejected. (Aside: Lucinda Childs, however, was accepted and did perform at the Y in 1963.) So they went to Judson Memorial Church, which already housed the Judson Poets Theater and Art Gallery. Dunn’s students—who by then included Trisha Brown, Rudy Perez, Deborah Hay, Elaine Summers, and many more— collectively produced a series of sixteen numbered concerts, not all of them at the Church, from 1962 to 1964.

Trisha Brown’s Lightfall at Judson Church, Ph Al Giese

One of the early works at Judson was Trisha Brown’s Lightfall, in which Trisha and Steve perched on each others’ back until the standing person moved and the perching person slithered off. Robert Rauschenberg, who had started coming to Dunn’s classes, said, ”In Lightfall the two were just bouncing all over and under each other. The choreography seemed to be based on how much risk they could take.”

For an assignment to make a one-minute dance, Steve sat on a bench and ate a sandwich.

Paxton’s burning question at the time was Why not? About Judson Dance Theater, he said, “The work that I did there was first of all to flush out my ‘why-nots’…‘Why not?’ was a catchword at that time. It was a very permissive time.”

Yvonne Rainer wrote about his work at Judson in her memoir, Feelings Are Facts:

Steve’s was the most severe and rigorous of all the work that appeared in and around Judson during the 1960s…Eschewing music, spectacle, and his own innate kinetic gifts and acquired virtuosity, he embraced extended duration and so-called pedestrian movement while maintaining a seemingly obdurate disregard for audience expectation.”

One of the landmark pieces that came out of that aesthetic, which celebrated the untrained human body, was Paxton’s Satisfyin Lover (1968). In it, a large group of dancers simply walked, stood still, or sat on a chair. Jill Johnston wrote this now famous passage in the Village Voice:

And here they all were . . . thirty-two any old wonderful people in Satisfying Lover walking one after the other across the gymnasium in their any old clothes. The fat, the skinny, the medium, the slouched and slumped, the straight and tall, the bowlegged and knock-kneed, the awkward, the elegant, the coarse, the delicate, the pregnant, the virginal, the you name it, by implication every postural possibility in the postural spectrum, that’s you and me in all our ordinary everyday who cares postural splendor. . . .  Let us now praise famous ordinary people.

Paxton & Rauschenberg in their in Jag Vil Gärna Telefonera (1964)

Robert Rauschenberg, Cunningham’s lighting designer and frequent visual collaborator, visited Dunn’s class and started making his own performances. Paxton was often involved in Rauschenberg’s pieces, and the two were a pair at the time. In the fall of 1964, they collaborated on one duet, Jag vill gärna telefonera  (I Would Like to Make a Phone Call). This duet, based on photos of athletes, was reprised by the Bennington College Judson Project in 1982, and by the Stephen Petronio Company in 2018.

Judson Dance Theater marks a historical moment when (portions of) modern dance morphed into postmodern. At the time, Paxton thought of Judson as a place where you could just do stuff and not worry about big entertainment in big theaters. Rather than thinking they were doing something revolutionary, as Rainer felt, Paxton located himself in the lineage of modern dance tradition. In a recent Pillow Voices podcast about Grand Union, he says that modern dance—Graham, Limon, Cunningham, Humphrey, Dunham—gave permission to create new forms “from the ground up.”

Linoleum, a performance piece by Rauschenberg, with Paxton prone, 1966, ph Steve Schapiro

For an engagement at the L. A. County Museum in 1966, Trisha Brown convinced Paxton to improvise with her. He was amazed that her loose structure elicited an immediate response from the audience; he realized the “personal element reaching through the form” was the key to the audience response—and he got hooked on improvisation.

How can objects be transformative? In his surreal solo Bound (1982), Paxton wore a strange object around his neck that turned out to be a travel pillow. In some kind of endurance test, he walked slowly into a bright light, his eyes watering. For years he was fascinated by inflatable plastic sheets. In Music for Word Words (1963) at Judson Church, with the help of Rainer operating an industrial vacuum cleaner, he inflated a room-sized plastic bubble around himself, then deflated it and walked away. After several other experiments, his obsession reached its endpoint with Physical Things, the piece he made for “9 Evenings of Theatre and Engineering.” For that 1966 series in the massive 69th Regiment Armory, he created a huge inflatable tower that audience people walked through, realizing only later how toxic the plastic was.

Paxton in his Music for Word Word, 1963, Judson Church, ph Robert McElroy

Paxton’s Physical Things, 9 Evenings of Theatre & Engineering, 69th Regiment Armory, 1966, ph Peter Moore

Another question was about censorship: What, really, is obscenity? For a performance at NYU in 1970, he proposed a version of Satisfyin Lover in which 42 red-headed people would be nude. The university administration nixed it on the grounds of obscenity, so he replaced it with Intravenous Lecture, in which a medical assistant injects him while he keeps talking. This piece was reprised by Stephen Petronio in 2012 with instructions from Paxton to “make it his own.”

Stephen Petronio in Paxton’s Intravenous Lecture 1970), 2012, ph Julie Lemberger

In 1971, Paxton worked with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who had made a documentary with testimonies of the atrocities that American soldiers committed against Vietnamese civilians. In Collaboration with Winter Soldier, he had two performers watching this anti-war documentary while hanging upside down.

In 1972, he proposed Beautiful Lecture, which juxtaposed a porn film with a film of the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake (the famous Ulanova version), to the New School for Social Research. Pressured by the authorities to omit the porn film, he replaced it with a documentary about people starving in Biafra.


Paxton’s dancing—with his loose limbs, swerving spine, and charismatic aura—was magnificent to behold. In Terpsichore in Sneakers, Banes described him as projecting “a continuing sense of the body’s potential to invent and discover, to recover equilibrium after losing control, to regain vigor despite pain and disorder.”

Steve Paxton while in with Grand Union, Walker Art Center Auditorium, 1975, ph Boyd Hagen

At the end of the Sixties, Paxton was working with Rainer on her piece Continuous Project—Altered Daily, which changed with every performance. Rainer had given the dancers—Paxton, David Gordon, Douglas Dunn, Barbara Dilley and Becky Arnold—so much freedom that the choreography eventually blew open, obliterating previous plans. After a period of uncertainty, the group then morphed into the Grand Union, an improvisation collective with no leader. It was then augmented by Trisha Brown, Nancy Lewis and Lincoln Scott. Some of Paxton’s questions at that time were “how to make artistic decisions, how not to depend on anyone unless it is mutually agreed; what mutuality agreed means, and how to detect it.”

Paxton witj, from left: David Gordon, Yvonne Rainer, Becky Arnold, Carol Dilley, ph James Klosty

In the June 2004 issue of Dance Magazine, Paxton said, “Grand Union was a luxurious improvisational laboratory. All of us were very formally oriented, even though we were doing formless work.”  He called the group anarchistic, which meant to him that they could do its work without a leader. He had witnessed a “dictatorial” situation and a fixed hierarchy in dance companies. For him, Grand Union “bypasses the grand game of choreography and company [where] ego-play is the issue.”

Grand Union residency at Walker Art Center, 1975. Steve jumping over David Gordon. At left: Douglas Dunn, Trisha Brown (almost hidden), Nancy Lewis and Barbara Dilley (head hidden), Tnx WAC Archives

Grand Union at Walker Art Center, 1975. From left: Barbara Dilley, David Gordon, Nancy Lewis, Douglas Dunn, Steve Paxton. Tnx to WAC Archives

When Grand Union was engaged for a residency at Oberlin College in 1972, Steve taught a daily class at dawn that included “the small dance.” Nancy Stark Smith, a student, took the class and loved it: “It was basically standing still and releasing tension and turning your attention to notice the small reflexive activity that the body makes to keep itself balanced and not fall over. So you’re standing and relaxing and noticing what your body’s doing. You’re not doing it but you’re noticing what it’s doing.” This concept of noticing interior movement became foundational for Contact Improvisation.

Barbara Dilley & Steve, Grand Union, Lo Guidice Gallery, 1972, ph Gordon Mumma

Trisha Brown supporting Steve, Grand Union, 1972, ph Gordon Mumma


He also taught an afternoon class in tumbling just for men. The question was: How can tumbling be taught in a non-aggressive way, with soft landings? The class produced a group piece called Magnesium that was, as Paxton said, a “prototype for Contact Improvisation.” After the performance, as he recounted, “Nancy told me that if it was ever performed again, she would like to be in it. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that such a rough-and-tumble dance would be of interest to a woman.”

Although Paxton is called the “inventor” of CI, he has pointed to the mutuality of the form. It’s “governed by the participants rather than by a leader, similar to the structure of Grand Union.”

Paxton & Nancy Stark Smith in a CI performance, 1980

Contact Improvisation caught on for thousands of people who wanted to move—and move with other people—but who did not want to train to be concert dancers. Paxton and Smith co-founded Contact Quarterly, which presented an alternate vision of dance with its own strong aesthetic.

Lisa Nelson and Steve Paxton in their collaboration, PA RT, 1978, Ph Tom Brazil

He participated in Contact Improvisation, often with Nancy Stark Smith, for ten years. Then he started developing his solo works, including his improvisations to Bach’s Goldberg Variations from 1986 to early 90s. He then developed “Material for the spine,” which he described as “what the spine is doing in that tumbling sphere with another person—a kind of yogic form, a technique that focuses on the pelvis, the spine, the shoulder blades, the rotation of the head.” He has collaborated with Lisa Nelson, fellow improviser extraordinaire and his life partner, on two entrancingly improvised duets: PA RT (1978), and Night Stand (2004). Paxton has given workshops all over the U.S. and Europe, returning to some venues again and again, especially England, Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

Night Stand, ph Paula Court

When Paxton was honored by the Danspace Project in 2014, his Judson co-conspirator, Yvonne Rainer, gave a tribute. Here is an excerpt:

I won’t go into all the beautifully perverse and clarifying dances that Steve has created… over the years, like his performance of Flat from 1964, which I’ve heard drove members of a 2002 Parisian audience out of the theater as Steve took his own sweet time transforming himself into a clothes rack…and Proxy of 1961, which began with his promenading of Jennifer Tipton en passé on ball bearings in a washtub; and Steve’s glorious improvisations to Glenn Gould. Always we are riveted by his imposing presence and a solemnity that can morph unexpectedly into a wry comedic effect.

Paxton & Brown, Bennington College Judson Project, 1980, ph Tyler Resch

Trisha and Steve, ph Joanne Savio, Courtesy TBDC

In 1992, his burning question was What does an idea feel like? He brought this question to a panel at Movement Research at Judson Church. His Judson-era peers —Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Simone Forti, and Carolee Schneemann— seemed stumped by this question. No one answered him straight on, so he asked again: “Does an idea have a feeling for you? If you use a stove as a score, where’s the idea?”


The Beast ph Julieta Cervantes

His solo The Beast (2010), in which he seemed possessed, elicited intense reactions. When he performed it at Baryshnikov Art Center, dancer/writer Lisa Kraus wrote that he “presents his own body as a locus for inquiry… His investigation has become increasingly detailed, exquisite…he is pure facet, pure torque, pure stacked bones and stretched sinew.” Amy Taubin described it in ArtForum: “If a crustacean could trace its consciousness in its carapace, it might move as Paxton did in this darkly beautiful piece, an intimate examination of the living skeleton and an evocation of what remains in the grave.” One reviewer, however, claimed that the dance was “about” old age. In this interview at Dia:Beacon, Paxton rails against the word “about,” saying “it should be stricken from the vocabulary.”

While Paxton wasn’t a warm and cuddly teacher, he was thrillingly articulate. He never faked enthusiasm. He was trusted completely by his  colleagues from the Sixties—Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, and Cunningham dancer Carolyn Brown—in a way that I would call pure love.

Well after he had drifted away from CI, he extolled the efforts of Karen Nelson and others who brought CI to people with impairments. With democracy always in mind, he said, “that’s probably my favorite innovation in Contact Improvisation.”

Tea for Three at Danspace, 2017, From left: Rainer, Forti, Paxton, ph Ian Douglas

Reflecting on his role in the flow of dance history, Paxton said, while interviewed by Philip Bither at Walker Art Center, that he was both a “mutant” and an “evolver” (his terms), meaning he was both a maverick for change and a stabilizing force.

Paxton always opted for the organic, close-to-nature option. Toward the end of his life, he spent much time in his garden in Vermont. In a talk at the Judson Dance Theater exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 2018, when asked about his life at that time, he said, “Every atom in the landscape in front of me that I look at every day is changing…I feel like it’s a living soup and I’m…kind of dissolving into its space.” He has now completed his dissolution.



Books and journals:

• Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance
By Sally Banes
Wesleyan University Press, 1977, 1987

• The Grand Union: Accidental Anarchists of Downtown Dance, 1970–1976
By Wendy Perron
Wesleyan University Press, 2020

Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture
By Cynthia Novack
University of Wisconsin Press, 1990

• Taken by Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader
Editors: Ann Cooper Albright & David Gere
Contact Editions

• Caught Falling: The Confluence of Contact Improvisation, Nancy Stark Smith, and Other Moving Ideas
by David Koteen and Nancy Stark Smith
with a Backwords by Steve Paxton
Contact Editions, CE Books in Print

“Trance Script,” Contact Quarterly, Winter 1989 Vol. 14 No. 1, Judson Project Interview with Steve Paxton, Sept. 12, 1980.

• Avalanche, 11, 1975

Democracy’s Body 
by Sally Banes
Duke University Press, 1993

• Trisha Brown: Dance and Art in Dialogue, exh. catalog, 2002

Online resources

Contact Quarterly — for many videos and articles

Steve Paxton Talking Dance, Walker Art Center, 2014.  Paxton gives a full account of his professional life with video clips spliced in, and allows questions to lead him into deep discussion.

Steve Paxton and the Walker: A 50-Year History

Steve Paxton and Simone Forti in Conversation, REDCAT, 2016, A charming performance/encounter between two old friends who are also dance icons.

Paxton Interview with Dia:Beacon, 2014

“How Grand Union Found a Home Outside SoHo at the Walker”




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Duets in Greyscale

I’m kicking off a new collection of duets in greyscale. For most of these images, I haven’t seen the dance they represent, I’ve just fallen in love with the photo—its composition, its tone, its hint of a relationship. Some of these will look familiar to you, others are more obscure. If you want to know more about a particular photo—or have something to add—please leave a comment below.

Katherine Dunham and Roger Ohardieno
in Dunham’s Barrelhouse, 1938

Viola Farber and Merce Cunningham in his Crises, 1963, Ph John Wulp

Baryshnikov and Makarova rehearsing Other Dances by Jerome Robbins, 1976, Ph Martha Swope, Billy Rose Theatre Collection

Bill Robinson and Jeni LeGon, publicity shot for Hooray for Love, 1935

Marcia Lerner and Art Bauman in Burlesque Black and White by Bauman, c.1968, Dance Theater Workshop

Louis Falco & Sarah Stackhouse in Exiles by Limón, ph Jack Mitchell, Dance Magazine cover, Aug. 1966

Tanaquil LeClercq, and Balanchine, Metamorphoses by Balanchine, 1952, Kino Lorber

Lisa Nelson and Steve Paxton in their collaboration, PA RT, 1978, Ph Tom Brazil


Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams, Agon by Balanchine, 1957, Ph Martha Swope, Billy Rose Theatre Collection


Robert Morris and Yvonne Rainer in Rainer’s A Part of a Sextet, 1964 , Ph Peter Moore

Martha Graham & Merce Cnningham in Graham’s Deaths & Entrances, 1943, Ph Barbara Morgan


Ande Peck & Wendy Perron in Jack Moore’s Rocks, c. 1971, Ph Eric Reiner





Alvin Ailey & Judith Jamison, 1975, Ph Jack Mitchell



Rose Marie Wright and Sara Rudner in Raggedy Dances by Twyla Tharp, 1971, Ph William Pierce


Rudy Perez and Elaine Summers in his Take Your Alligator With You, 1963, Judson Memorial Church, Ph Al Giese

Betty Jones & José Limón in The Apostate by Limón, 1959, Ph Matt Wysocki


Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder, c. 1958, Ph Peter Basch.















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Dance Math: George Balanchine and Trisha Brown

Happy New Year. I like the number 2024. It almost looks like 2+2=4. Common sense. Hopefully there will be more of that, all around, this year than last year.

In dance, numbers matter. I’m thinking of two choreographers whose brilliant use of numbers are very different: George Balanchine and Trisha Brown. What prompted me to notice this was two recent events: The latest issue of Dance Index, and the creation of Trisha Brown Company’s Vimeo page. In the first, Jed Perl mentions Balanchine’s use of numbers as an inspiration for some of Arlene Croce’s writings featured in that issue. The second has posted several pieces and excerpts of excerpts that illuminate Trisha Brown’s math.

For both choreographers, the math helps the audience make sense of the work, and it helps the dancers stay connected to the other people onstage.

Boston Ballet in Stravinsky Violin Concerto, ph Liza Voll

In Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972) each of the 4 soloists introduces themselves with an entourage of 4 dancers. Each star has their own constellation—or backup group. Four tight groups of 4, and one spread-out group of 4 (the leads). The 4 leads break into 2 and 2, one exquisitely modernist duet after the other. The corps of 16 (8 women and 8 men) breaks into 4 groups of 4, or 8 couples. They never all do the same steps until right near the end, and then, suddenly, for the very last position, they all break into couples—just to remind you that you’ve been watching 10 x 2 = 20 people.

Kansas City Ballet in Stravinsky Violin Concerto ph Steve Wilson

In La Valse (1951), naturally the unit changes to 3. (After all, it’s a waltz.) It starts with 3 women in elegant Karinska gowns. Later a man partners 3 women at once (shades of Apollo). The corps of 24 is sometimes divided into trios, and of course the timing is in 3/4. And the woman in white is caught in a triangle between her lover and the death figure.

New York City Ballet in La Valse, costumes by Karinska

Balanchine famously said, If you don’t like the dancing, you can close your eyes and listen to the music. Well I say, If you don’t like the dancing, you can keep your eyes open and count the math.

For Trisha Brown, the Accumulation series is not only about numbers, but also about how we learn. We go back to the beginning each time and add something new. Trisha made her first Accumulation in 1971. She stands in silence and begins her 1st move, extending her right thumb outward, just like a hitch-hiking gesture. After a while, she adds the 2nd move, which is both thumbs extending outward. With the thumbs constantly going, she intersperses a dropped arm, a sinking hip, a head turn. Since she repeats each addition a few times, whenever the new move comes, you notice it. (Click on Accumulation on the Vimeo page.)

Group Primary Accumulation (1973) photo Nina Vandenberg, 2008

Brown’s Group Primary Accumulation (not yet posted on the Vimeo page) is a more explicit counting dance, structured like “The 12 Days of Christmas.” In it, 4 women gradually accumulate 30 moves while lying down, not even seeing each other until movement # 13. In order to stay together, they have to feel the group rhythm as they are counting. Their concentration is intense, which makes the audience concentrate too. When we are counting along with the dancers, we’re involved in a physical memory game.

Tamara Riewe, Melinda Myers, and Judith Sanchez Ruiz, in a screen grab of Glacial Decoy, set design and costumes by Rauschenberg

In Glacial Decoy (1979), 2 women perform together for a while. Then a 3rd enters from the side, joining them in near unison, then a 4th, creating the illusion that there are even more dancers extending laterally, beyond the wings. It’s hard to count the dancers because they keep drifting in and out. Meanwhile there are definitely 4 frames of Robert Rauschenberg’s photographic images upstage that keep changing. Whereas the number of dancers is destabilized, the number of frames, even as the images shift to the next frame, is stable. (Click on an excerpt of Decoy on the Vimeo page.)

Watching these math-rich ballets, you can meditate on the numbers. I feel that our arithmetic brain is stimulated simultaneously with the art brain. They require a multi-layered alertness from us.

Both Balanchine and Brown have made many ballets rich in math. I invite you to enter your own favorite numbers dances, from either of them or any other choreographer, in the Comments below.

Group Primary Accumulation (1972) ph Babette Mangolte, design from Columbia conference on dance history titled Accumulation


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Syvilla Fort, Gregory Hines, Pearl Primus, and Helen Tamiris

This was the first year that Dance Magazine Awards has given posthumous awards. After all, there are many worthy dance professionals who never were recognized in this way. (The list of past recipients is here.) For the 2023 awards event at the 92nd Street Y on Monday, December 6, I was asked to “present” these honors. This is what I said (with added links):

I’ve been so immersed in dance history, both in my teaching and in my writing, that for me, these four artists, are still very much alive.

Fort, 1930s, Courtesy Cornish School of Allied Arts

Syvilla Forte (1917-1975)

Like many Black girls who fell in love with ballet, she could not find a teacher in Seattle who would accept her into a class. But at 15, she was given a full scholarship to the Cornish School of Allied Arts, where she encountered a fellow student named Merce Cunningham and a music teacher named John Cage. When she asked Cage to compose music for her with an African inflection, his solution was the prepared piano—which developed into one of his most famous compositions.

After graduating, Syvilla went on to dance with Katherine Dunham—and you can see her for a split second in this clip of Stormy Weather  (go to 2 mins, 10 seconds in). Because she’d been turned away from ballet schools, she had a dream of a school where everyone was welcome. So when Dunham opened her school in New York City in 1945, the role of director and top teacher naturally went to Syvilla. She taught the Dunham technique, but when she opened her own school, she evolved it into what she called Modern-Afro Technique, which she felt was a freer form. She became such a beloved teacher that the Black Theatre Alliance organized a gala tribute to her in 1975, when she was ailing with cancer. Harry Belafonte, whose wife Julie had been Syvilla’s student, said, “More graciously than almost anybody else I know…she made one of the most powerful contributions to the field of dance, to the field of theater.” Alvin Ailey called her “our inspiration.” There’s more on Syvilla Fort here.


Hines in White Nights, ph Anthony Crickmay, DM

Gregory Hines (1946-2003)

Gregory Hines was a child tapper, professional by the time he was 5. He and his brother Maurice worked up a vaudeville act that took them around the country. The brothers practically grew up at the Apollo, where they saw tap greats like Honi Coles, the Nicholas Brothers, and Teddy Hale. Their childhood act led to television appearances and roles for Gregory in the musicals Eubie! (1978), Sophisticated Ladies (1981) and Jelly’s Last Jam, (1991) for which he won a Tony. He was in many films, and you can see the Hines brothers dance together in this great scene from The Cotton Club (1984). And who can forget the exhilaration of Hines and Baryshnikov, two competing virtuosos, in White Nights?!? (1985)

Dance historian Sally Sommer wrote the best description of his dancing in the New York Times: “Gregory Hines was a gracious and charming performer onstage… But he was also a dance revolutionary who took the upright tap tradition, bent it over and slammed it to the ground…. He recast the image of the black male tap-dancer and roughed up the rhythms…He obliterated the tempos, throwing down a cascade of taps like pebbles tossed across the floor.”

Hines was an influence on many tappers including Savion Glover, Dianne Walker, and Jason Samuels Smith, all of whom have received Dance Magazine Awards. He was also a lifetime advocate, lobbying in Washington to help establish the National Tap Dance Day.

In this interactive essay for Jacob’s Pillow, Brian Seibert discusses why Hines never smiled when he danced, how improvising was a mode of conversation, and his musical mind. Best of all is a clip of him dancing/entertaining at the Pillow Gala of 1996.


Primus, 1944

Pearl Primus (1919-1994),

The Trinidad-born dancer/choreographer,  anthropologist, and educator, was a magnetic performer with a fantastic jump. She debuted her choreography here, at the 92nd Street Y in 1943 and performed here every year for the next decade. She also appeared in nightclubs, rallies in Madison Square Garden, union meetings, and colleges, and later, she picked cotton with sharecroppers in the South. Her trip to Africa in 1948 was transformative for her. Especially in the villages of Nigeria and Liberia, she was welcomed as an ancestral spirit and learned their dances.

She spoke out against the racism of the Jim Crow South and danced for leftist and communist organizations, incurring the watchful eye of the FBI, which at one point confiscated her passport. But she never wavered from her mission to present Black heritage onstage with dignity.

Before all that, she went to Hunter College, and her first modern dance teacher was actually another student at Hunter who had started a modern dance club. This other student spotted her talent immediately and told her, You should go to the New Dance Group. The reason I know this, is that that other student was my mother.

When interviewed in Dance Magazine, November 1968, Primus said she wanted to “reach beyond the color of the skin and go into people’s souls and hearts and search out that part of them, black or white, which is common to all.” Primus’s legacy lives on with Philadanco, which holds in its rep, her solo Strange Fruit (one of my choice of Iconic Short Solos), depicting a horrified response to a lynching. And Urban Bush Women have paid tribute to her with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s intense, overwhelming work, Walking with Pearl.

Read John O. Perpener’s interactive essay on Primus in Jacob’s Pillow’s Dance Interactive here.


Helen Tamiris , photographed by Man Ray, 1925

Helen Tamiris (1905­–1966)

A force in the New York dance world from 1927 to 1964, was a bold, sensual dancer who choreographed more than 90 pieces for the concert stage. Her performances had a warmth and accessibility that were different from the works of her more strictly modernist peers. Always community minded, in 1930 she organized a cooperative venture with Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman so that the four groups could perform on Broadway at an affordable cost. During the Depression, when President Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration to keep people working, it included the Federal Theater Project, and Tamiris lobbied for dance to be part of it. Her signature work How Long Brethren (1937) was the longest running show to come out of the Federal Dance Project. Performed to Black spirituals, it depicted scenes of Black oppression and poverty— (usually with a white cast, and that has fostered some current controversy.)

Tamiris also choreographed 18 Broadway musicals, including the 1946 revival of Showboat in which the top dancing role went to…Pearl Primus.

In her last decade, Tamiris teamed up with her husband, Daniel Nagrin, to direct the Tamiris-Nagrin Dance Company. During that period she choreographed Memoir, about her Jewish roots; and Women’s Song, about women’s roles in society and the devastation of the Holocaust. You can find out more about Tamiris in the Jewish Women’s Archives here.

The Dance Magazine Awards honor these four dancestors who continue to inspire us.




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Dancing on the Day JFK Was Assassinated

I wrote this ten years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Now, for the 60th year, I am updating it.

Like a lot of people today, I am thinking about the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. For me, that fateful day ended up affirming my commitment to dance.

Me at 17, during the time I was in the Advanced Teenage Class at the Graham School, Photo by Jerry Bauer

While in high school, I was taking the Advanced Teenage Class every Friday at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance. I lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey, so, right after school I would hop on the bus to Port Authority, get on the subway, and arrive at the Graham studio on East 63rd Street in time for the 4:30 class.

That Friday, earlier in the day, our whole high school heard, over the P.A. system, that Kennedy had been shot. And a few minutes later, another announcement: He was dead. I don’t remember the immediate reaction in the classroom, but when I went into the girls’ room, everyone in there was crying. We really let it out. Ridgewood was a heavily Republican town, but plenty of us admired Kennedy.

Whatever was happening in the world, it was a Friday and that was my day to take class at the Graham school. (My after-school schedule included Mondays and Tuesdays at the Joffrey school, and Wednesdays and Thursdays at Irine Fokine School of Ballet right there in Ridgewood.) I wondered if our class would actually happen, considering the national pandemonium. But I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I took the bus as usual. When I got to the studio, there were only about six of us there. Would David Wood, our teacher, show up? When David entered the studio, we stood up—as was the custom at the school—then sat down on the floor to begin. In his strong, deep, kind voice, David said, “I know this is difficult, that a great tragedy has occurred. But we are dancers, and what we do is dance.” And with that, we began the bounces on the count of One.

David Wood and Martha Graham in Acrobats of God (1960) photo Martha Swope, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library.






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Notable Dance Books of 2023

This year I decided to post this column early enough to anticipate Thanksgiving—a fitting way to remind us to be thankful for dance and dance books. Starting with last year’s list, I’ve invited several other writers to contribute, and they’ve brought some recommendations too. After our twelve chosen books, you’ll find an additional list of nine that have been announced. I am sure they will make as good gifts (for others or for yourself) as the ones we are calling notable. Feel free to make a comment about our faves or add your own.


The Boy from Kyiv: Alexei Ratmansky’s Life in Ballet
By Marina Harss
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reviewed by Mindy Aloff

What a wonderful book: A biography and an autobiography at once. It provides a wide window on the thinking process of a great dancemaker. It braids the story of the choreographer’s life with vivid accounts of his dances in prose that practically turns the pages by itself. And, swiftly and efficiently, it positions the subject’s Soviet training and Bolshoi experiences in the context of ballet in Europe and the U.S. during the late twentieth century. One sees the theatrical foundation for Ratmansky’s aesthetics from childhood and then, as he matures, his reach and aesthetic risk-taking that help his artistry to flourish.

“A phrase choreographed by Ratmansky contains more ideas than entire ballets by other choreographers,” author Marina Harss writes. “Multiple stories unfold at once. . . .This profusion of ideas is just as evident in the way Ratmansky modulates the steps. He is a product of many traditions; he melds them into one, shaping them through the filter of his imagination.”

Paragraph by paragraph, The Boy from Kyiv provides evidence for those sweeping statements. (Disclosure: Engaged by Harss as a reader of an earlier draft, I had the privilege of seeing how attentive she was to the drive of her storytelling.) She reveals nuances of Ratmansky’s character, showing him in awkward jams as well as in streamlined triumphs; she delineates some of the steep learning curves he had yet to master on becoming director of the Bolshoi Ballet. One concerns his efforts to explain to the dancers how to “be themselves” without smiling broadly when performing George Balanchine’s work; another concerns the Machiavellian power games that Ratmansky was forced to play with such old hands as the retired Soviet choreographer Yuri Grigorovich.

Harss deeply responds to Ratmansky’s aesthetic sensibility and she clearly cares about him and his family. The trust they share has resulted in a magical balance in the writing between her streaming chronicle of his life and her accounts of the ballets. She has elected to complete this book while Ratmansky, now 55, is in his prime. (Her meticulous chronology of works at the back, including the many ballets he has made for American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, is complete through the choreographer’s impassioned yet deliberately disunified Wartime Elegy, given its 2022 premiere by Pacific Northwest Ballet.) His art is still opening more doors than it is closing. At this point, he has the satisfaction of having explored his intense curiosity about Soviet ballets of the 1930s, the music of Shostakovich, and the original productions of many of Marius Petipa’s masterpieces. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—the country where Ratmansky’s and his wife’s families reside—has prompted him to redefine elements of his identity. The events of history have forced him to remain young in the sense of ready to move at the drop of a hat in unplanned directions. As Harss writes, where that road will lead him, not even he knows.


The Wind at My Back: Resilience, Grace, and Other Gifts from My Mentor, Raven Wilkinson
By Misty Copeland with Susan Fales-Hill
Hachette Book Group
Reviewed by Wendy Perron

This is an inspiring story of a relationship between a younger and older ballerina. In 2010, when watching a DVD documentary, Misty discovered the first African American ballerina to dance with a major ballet company. With awe and gratitude, she learned that Raven Wilkinson had been a lyrical Black ballerina with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the 1950s. Together with her agent, Gilda Squires, they tracked her down, finding that she lived only blocks away from Copeland’s home. Squires arranged for a public conversation at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the first of many conversations over the next seven years.

Misty was moved by the grace with which Raven encountered racism while touring the South, where the Ku Klux Klan was still on the rampage. “Raven understood…how racism traps everyone in a no-win situation, bringing out the worst in all of us. Her response was always to rise to her best self. She was the embodiment of ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’” In appreciation of Raven, Misty articulates the difference between then and now: “She belonged to a generation that led with proof of excellence first and identity second.”

In her gentle yet firm way, Wilkinson challenged Copeland to take her talents further. One of the most moving moments is when Wilkinson said to her, “Every time you step on that stage, I’ll be the wind at your back.” The book details the months and years when Raven fulfilled that promise. She encouraged, listened, soothed, pushed, explained, reminisced, and shared moments of laughter. More than all that, she demonstrated how to be, how to exist with dignity in this racist world. What comes across is how vulnerable Misty felt, how much she needed the example of Raven. She puts Raven’s lessons into these words: “Soar above the hate. Lose yourself in the music and the steps, which will live on long after bigotry has died. Defeat hatred with beauty.”


Capoeria Connections: A Memoir in Motion
By Katya Wesolowski
University of Florida Press
Reviewed by Lori Brungard

The circle is a powerful symbol in African diasporic culture. Given Capoeria’s roots in Africa, it makes sense that circularity plays a key role in Katya Wesolowski’s Capoeria Connections: A Memoir in Motion. The primary vehicle for capoeria play is the circular formation of the roda. Circularity is lived as reciprocity. Various forms of give and take happen within the roda: the call and response between musicians and dancers, the capoeristas’ alternating attack and defense moves, and the African resonance that imbues the ever modernizing movement. Wesolowski invites the reader into the roda:

“The game has begun: with bodies close and low we trace arcs and circles above and around each other. . . I manage to catch myself on my arms and rise from the floor with a straight kick from the ground and then propel myself into a handstand. [My partner-opponent] enters with a scissor movement on the floor, and I touch my knees to my chest and slide under her legs on the floor careful to avoid an attack.”

The improvised interaction between two sparring capoeristas is almost like a moving yin yang symbol, as each one reacts to the other’s move by filling in the negative space (interestingly, a defensive move in capoeira is called a negativa). This complementarity is expressed in a larger sense by Capoeria’s repurposing of traditional African movement as resistance, in its original form as self-defense by enslaved Africans. But it did not rest there.

While Wesolowski does investigate Capoeira’s roots, she focuses more on the evolution of the form as it shifted from “its reputation as a marginal, violent, and delinquent activity” to folkloric staging and community building. In its representation of Brazilian pride with an international following, capoeira became a means of escaping poverty for its mestres (masters). She traces this trajectory through a similarly circular structure of chapters that starts in her hometown of Berkeley, CA, moves to Brazil, Africa, Europe, and circles back again to Africa, finally to return to the U.S. to her current home of Durham, NC. In the process, she interrogates her own positionality as a white woman in a form that was originally performed by Black males, finding connections despite these differences.

Wesolowski leads with a warm invitation to join her in convivencia, a Portuguese term connoting “connection, coexistence, and companionship.” Her story always returns to her relationships within various capoeira communities. Her writing is a dialogue with the reader: she calls and requests a response. It erupts from an inner necessity…from legs to limbs then directly to the page, taking us along for the ride, with all its bumps and beauty.


Chita, A Memoir
By Chita Rivera, with Patrick Pacheco
Harper One
Reviewed by Sandra Kurtz

We live in a first-person world right now—from the intense revelations of reality television through the never-ending scroll of social media posts, we are saturated with “I.” Chita Rivera, who combines a thrilling theatrical dynamism with the precision of ballet onstage, tells many stories about her life in her self-titled memoir, but she also gives us an up-close view of her times as well. And those times include some of the most innovative and significant developments in American musical theater. Her eye-witness account of a time that still affects what we see in the theater today is a roll call of artists and events from the 1950s to the present.

Rivera tells her story in a mostly chronological fashion, starting with her early life in Washington, DC, when her mother put the ultra-active girl in dance classes to keep her occupied. From there, a scholarship to the School of American Ballet took her to New York and launched her on the path to her career on Broadway.

Her first real job, as a chorus girl in the touring cast of Call Me Madam, sets her on a pathway full of other firsts, including the original Anita in West Side Story, the original Velma in Chicago, and the original Aurora in Kiss of the Spiderwoman. The highlights are quite high—Leonard Bernstein taught her to sing, and Gwen Verdon encouraged her to aim beyond the chorus—but Rivera’s narration of her dancing life brims over with names from all parts of the business. She performed in musical reviews with Bea Arthur and James Garner, learned to bump and grind from choreographer Peter Gennaro, and helped Dick Van Dyke learn to dance soft shoe for Bye Bye Birdie.

Rivera’s story of her personal life overlaps with her theater work—colleagues become friends, and friends become something more. She meets husband Tony Mordente in the cast of West Side Story—their daughter Lisa follows them into the theater. Her relationship with Sammy Davis, Jr. grew from their work in Mr. Wonderful.

She rarely has something negative to say about a person or an experience. She touches gently on racial stereotypes when she discusses her time at SAB (“Ballet at that time was an almost exclusively white world.”) Although she acknowledges that Jerome Robbins had a reputation for being harsh in rehearsal, “he was never that way with me.” More often, any frustration is softened by humor, like her quoting the song from Forbidden Broadway, commenting on how she is frequently mistaken for Rita Moreno: “Chita Rivera is not Rita, Rita Moreno is not Chita, Chita is Chita and not Rita, I would prefer you forgot Rita!”

Chita, A Memoir is a generous retrospective on a full life in the theater from someone who seems to have been everywhere and known everyone.


Banishing Orientalism: Dancing between Exotic and Familiar
By Phil Chan with Michele Chase
Yellow Peril Press, Brooklyn, NY
Available at Amazon.
Reviewed by Weichen Cui

Banishing Orientalism follows Phil Chan’s first book, Final Bow for Yellowface, published in 2020, and the launch of the pledge platform of the same name, cofounded with Georgina Pazcoguin. Continuing the discussion of Asian stereotypes in ballet, Banishing Orientalism elaborates on the tensions between the “Kingdom of Shades—Full of Ghosts of Ballets Past” and today’s increasingly diverse world.

Edward Said coined the word Orientalism in the 1970s to criticize the Western way to dominate, restructure, and have authority over the Orient. In Chan’s view, “Orientalism in ballet is not just a stylistic device/genre, but rather an integral aspect of what defines classical ballet itself.” Orientalism has fueled innovations in ballet technique, music, and spectacle—the ultimate fantasyland. It also serves as a safe space to transgress taboos, reinforcing Western moral superiority over the heathen mysticism of the barbarians.

Ballet’s Orientalism legitimizes empire-building, colonialism, and slavery onstage. The ridiculous plots, such as opium fantasies and irrational love and sacrifice, along with the portrayal of exotic archetypes like Pirates, Slaves, Geishas, Sultans, and Harem Girls, had given rise to a shared sense of symbols. These messages, rooted in distortion and bias, had been passed down, from Petipa on. By setting white European culture as the default, ballet perpetuates a fantasy that excludes or misrepresents people from other cultures. In today’s globalized and diverse society, such a path will inevitably lead to the decline of ballet.

“How can I be a participant in an art form that’s obviously not by or for people like me? These days why should an art form that excludes people like me be considered ‘high art’ for an entire society?” These poignant questions reveal the vulnerability and confusion experienced by non-White ballet enthusiasts. In response, Chan objects to culturally demeaning representations; he advocates for a reimagining of ballet that is more relevant to today’s diverse audience. For example, by asking, “What else could it be?”, for their 2021 version of Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Pacific Northwest Ballet replaced the Fu Manchu-style caricature with leaping crickets, a symbol of luck with playfulness.

In order to create an “art for all of us,” Chan feels it’s essential to address institutional inequity, pigeonholing and tokenism. As examples of cross-cultural experiments that more or less evade those failings, he offers Maurice Béjart’s study of khatak in India to Sylvia Guillem and Akram Khan’s collaboration Sacred Monsters (2006).

The book probes power dynamics and cultural dominance in ballet’s history and present. (As a ballet lover, I yearn for its continued progress because it fosters cross-cultural dialogues.) As Chan advocates, by fostering respect and curiosity, ballet can transcend the boundaries of our individual experiences and connect with those who are different from us.


Illusions of Camelot, A Memoir by Peter Boal
Beaufort Books
Reviewed by Wendy Perron

This memoir is mostly about the shy, tender, young Peter Boal, the privilege (living in a huge house, live-in caretaker, country clubs) that fails to make the family happy, and his father’s alcoholism that poisons all relationships. Boal is a natural storyteller; his elegant prose is full of insights and humor. His narrative, however, includes only a precious few dance stories, which may cause dancer/readers to yearn for more. His audition for the School of American Ballet elicits belly laughs. His description of the popular teacher Stanley Williams deepens our understanding of ballet—and of Boal’s love of the art form. His description of the meditative, healing space of daily ballet class is stirring.

Working with Jerome Robbins on Balanchine’s Prodigal Son and Robbins’s Moves is a highlight. Unlike the usual stories about how demanding and unreasonable the great choreographer was, Boal shows sensitivity toward Robbins and his effect on dancers. About Jerry’s coaching, Peter writes, “His words, however gruff and prodding, pushed me into finding my voice as an artist.”

The day that Peter gave his last performance in the SAB Workshop and his first performance as an apprentice with New York City Ballet happened to be the day the world learned that Balanchine had died. This coincidence sparked Boal’s memories of Balanchine, including a visit to him in the hospital when he was still a student.

Boal’s closeness to the tragic AIDS epidemic and his yearning for a relationship with his downward-spiraling father are deeply touching. He has a gift for leaving the reader with quiet joy and pain at the same time. (Disclosure: I’ve choreographed two solos for Peter and encouraged him in his writing.) Illusions of Camelot is a gentle story with unflinching detours into the epidemics of AIDS and alcoholism—dark streaks threading through this poetic reminiscence.


Teaching What You Want to Learn: A Guidebook for Dance and Movement Teachers
By Bill Evans
Reviewed by Janis Brenner

The widely respected dancer/teacher/choreographer Bill Evans has written a thoughtful, thorough, and wonderfully readable book. In Teaching What You Want to Learn, Evans journeys through his five decades of pedagogical research and practice. He also writes that the galvanizing moment in our country over the murder of George Floyd was a catalyst for reflection of his own ways of contributing to the world.

With a foreword by Selene B. Carter, the book has ten chapters with titles like “Language,” “Guidelines and Strategies,” and “Converting Theory into Action.” The chapters are divided into smaller modules such as “Remind Yourself That You Love to Teach,” “Embrace Evolving Values,” and “Never Work Harder Than Your Students.” These clear and concise modules add up to 94 different explorations. In addition, each essay is accompanied by a small box entitled “For Your Consideration,” where he asks us artist-teachers questions to contemplate: “When are you at your best as a teacher? Please relate how a teacher, mentor, or colleague, who believed in you at a crucial juncture… helped you understand yourself better and/or achieve success. How have you served in a similar role for someone else?”

Evans is a master teacher of Laban/Bartenieff Movement Fundamentals (L/BMS) and is founder of both the Somatic Dance Conference and Performance Festival and the Evans Somatic Dance Institute, headquartered in Washington state. The entire book is infused with this lineage and its applications to understanding a wide range of movement experience.

For long-time, seasoned dance teachers, some of his simple statements may seem obvious, but they are gems for the younger generations and good reminders for those of us who may need a dose of someone else’s perspectives besides our own! Evans also credits mentors and colleagues who have been of significance in the development of his practice—an important lesson for upcoming teachers and choreographers to remember “from whence you came.”

In later chapters, Evans delves deeply into “Anatomical Imagery,” including diagrams of specific body parts and functions, for instance, “Open-Chain Pelvic-Femoral Rhythm/Thigh Lifts and Leg Swings.” The final chapter, written by Bill’s spouse Don Halquist, explores Howard Gardner’s “Theory of Multiple Intelligences” through a movement-based lens.

As a long-time teacher of improvisation and composition, originally through the pedagogical theories of Alwin Nikolais/Murray Louis and Hanya Holm, I was surprised that the Nikolais heritage is never mentioned in relation to L/BMS, its origins and its direct connection to Laban/Wigman. However, I found that Teaching What You Want To Learn is a valuable guide into the creative side of dance education.


Dancing Black, Dancing White: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Race, & Youth Culture of the 1950s & Early 1960s
By Julie Malnig
Oxford University Press
Reviewed by Martha Ullman West

Julie Malnig, author of Dancing Till Dawn: A Century of Exhibition Ballroom Dance, has considerable expertise in exhibition ballroom dance as an expression of American history and culture and the place it holds in American society.  That knowledge informs Dancing Black, Dancing White, which explores the many teen television dance shows that proliferated in the two decades following World War II, the best-known of them being the American Bandstand. These programs featured exhibition ballroom, or social dancing, for a mass audience, white and Black. Malnig devotes a chapter titled “Movin’ and Groovin” to four Black teen shows, broadcast in the South. Like everything else in that period, the shows were segregated. But not for musicians. The groups performing on American Bandstand, for example, where the dancing teens were white, were often Black, and they sold a lot of recordings of such artists of color as James Brown, the Temptations, Chubby Checker, and Aretha Franklin. White musicians who owed much of their their fandom to these shows include Elvis Presley, and, following their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the Beatles.

Racial segregation is just one lens through which Malnig, Professor of Dance and Theatre Studies at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, examines these programs. Others include capitalism, social conformity, the country’s attitudes toward teenage girls, and dancing itself in mid-century America. Her many sources include books written by Thomas DeFrantz, Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, and LeRoi Jones. Malnig’s interviews with the young dancers who appeared on these shows—and some who were excluded—and her descriptions of the shows themselves, offer the most compelling evidence for her thesis.

She points out that John Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray is one of several films and musicals that reimagine the TV teen shows, carrying them into the future.

(For more on John Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray, check it out on YouTube. The heroine, performed by overweight Ricki Lake, whose dancing is fantastic, is shunned by all but a few. One character is subjected to electric shock “deprogramming” by her bible-thumping, dance-hating parents; this is satire that can make your stomach churn.)

In the chapter called “Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Africanist Aesthetic” Malnig concentrates on Black dance, its origins, and its popularity with white kids. They loved doing the Madison, which is rooted in the plantation ring shout, as is the Big Apple, popular with adults in the 1920s.

Malnig’s descriptions of these “rock ‘n’ roll” dances also serve to illuminate the work that current choreographers like Caleb Teicher are doing now, specifically his terrific “Swing Out” show and its blending of tap, swing and the Lindy Hop.

But, as short as it is (220 pp) Dancing Black needed some pruning of repetitions and was so sloppily copyedited and proofread there are errors on almost every page. Nevertheless, those pages contain an enormous amount of valuable information about these shows, the dances themselves, and the context in which they were aired.


Movement at the Still Point: An Ode to Dance
Photographs by Mark Mann
Reviewed by Wendy Perron

These striking photos, covering 142 dance artists who are diverse in genre, gender, age, and race, are all shot in black and white, lending a timeless quality. Many of the dancers are presented with a portrait shot as well as a full, luscious body shot, pairing intimacy with theatricality. You can spend hours, days, leafing through this book, savoring the images of dancers you know and getting a glimpse of dancers you don’t know.

The Irving Penn–inspired backdrop lends a rich, grainy texture, inviting a sense of visual depth. Mark Mann’s camera captures the sumptuous strength of Rena Butler, the drama of Terese Capucilli, the bejeweled mystery of Soraya Lundy, the breathy lift of Jonatan Luján, the jauntiness of Ephraim Sykes, and the playfulness of Miki Orihara and Stephen Pier as a couple. I especially appreciate the inclusion of dancers who are no longer young like Desmond Richardson, Michael Trusnovec, Janet Charleston, and Jodi Melnick. The portrait of Gus Solomons is so haunting that it made me wonder: Did he know he was nearing death? The last shot, with Sondra Lee and Carmen de Lavallade, makes reaching one’s 90s look like a fabulous time of life.


Remembering a Dance: Parts of Some Sextets, 1965/2019
By Yvonne Rainer, Emily Coates, and Nick Mauss
Published by Performa
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and Lenz Press,
Reviewed by Wendy Perron

This book was so exciting to me that I jumped the gun and wrote about it here.





Chino and the Dance of the Butterfly: A Memoir
By Dana Tai Soon Burgess
University of New Mexico Press
Review by Lisa Traiger

The early chapters of Washington, DC–based dancer, choreographer, and now author Dana Tai Soon Burgess’s life reveal the ingredients—a love of movement, an inquisitive mind, immersion in art and reading, and determination—that have shaped his productive dance career. His company, now in its 30th year, has toured the world for the U.S. State Department and recently was invited to serve as a Kennedy Center Social Impact Community Partner.

The son of visual artists—his mother, a Korean American; his father of German and Irish stock—Burgess grew up Santa Fe, New Mexico. An outsider, he wrestled with his visible Asian identity, humble family circumstances, and sexual identity. Bullied and lonely as a child, he created a rich internal life. Art—painting, weaving, sculpture, sketching—along with movement became significant avenues for young Burgess to translate, and ultimately transform, his world.

As a freshman at University of New Mexico, he wandered into an old gymnasium and observed a jazz dance class in progress. He later wrote, “My meandering had delivered me my destiny, a secular temple where dancers were tempered into competitive, professional-level performers.” He set his course to dance.

With determination and serendipity, he forged a path encountering significant figures along the way. Among them, sculptor/Martha Graham set designer Isamu Noguchi was in his parents’ art circle, while he was briefly an errand boy for an aging Rudolf Nureyev during a tour stop. Burgess collected an oral history from mid-century modern dancer Eleanor King and connected with Hamburg Ballet’s John Neumeier on choreography. And he immersed himself in researching and resuscitating the contributions of Japanese-American choreographer Michio Ito.

Burgess’s vivid descriptions of movement, as he re-shaped his karate-trained body, provide insight into his choreographic proclivities, which entwine balletic linearity with modern dance techniques. In Washington, DC, he built a company reflecting his Asian American and multi-hyphenate identities, which became his calling card on State Department tours worldwide. He also collaborated with visual artists and became the first choreographer in residence at one of the Smithsonian museums.

Lauded as the “poet laureate of Washington dance,” with this account Burgess proves himself as graceful on the page as he and his dancers are onstage. This self-portrait of an artist is penned with perceptive self-insight and evocative, lyrical language, painting a vivid picture of his journey to dance.


Why Dance Matters
By Mindy Aloff
Yale University Press
Reviewed by Martha Ullman West

Why Dance Matters is part of Yale University Press’s publication series “Why X Matters”. These are highly idiosyncratic, deeply personal, book-length essays about why a subject—poetry, architecture, composer etc. matters to the author.

Mindy Aloff has put a lifetime of experience of watching dance, writing about it, teaching its history, and editing the articles and books of other writers into why dance matters to her and to the world at large. Densely researched and conversationally written, it’s an excellent read for both those who know little and for those who live and breathe this art form as professionals in the field.

The seven chapters of this compact survey of dancing all over the world—as cultural expression, theatrical art, religious ritual, the kind you do and the kind you watch—are replete with all kinds of references, reflecting Aloff’s obsessive delving into all things dancing, including music, visual arts, and film. These are invariably interesting, but what really fascinates me is how she connects various forms of locomotion and dancing. Chapter One, e.g., “Child’s Play”, begins with an analysis of the book’s sole photograph, taken c.1940 by Helen Levitt, of young kids, one white, one Black, dancing in a Harlem street.

From here Aloff moves to her Philadelphia childhood, when as a 5-year-old she was placed in a class taught by a refugee from Nazi Germany and told to “be” a snowman: “snowfolks are round, roly-poly I figured; and so I lay down and rolled around on the floor.”  This memory leads her to the “Snow scene” and a discussion of ballet, the form that matters to her the most, especially as choreographed, modernized, and made relevant in the last century by George Balanchine.

That said, she does pay attention to modern dancers and choreographers Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham; the uncategorizable Merce Cunningham; Paul Taylor; and post modernists Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, and David Gordon; tap dancers Honi Coles, Brenda Bufalino and Jane Goldberg connecting them all in interesting ways, drawing on the reviews of their work by other critics, her own interviews with some—specifically with Gordon, whom she talked with not long before he died, and obviously a lifetime of watching, writing and thinking about their work.

Dance matters, she concludes, because it connects: movement with music, dancers with each other, dancers with the audience, and audience members with dancers. About the last, she cites of all things Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s book I and Thou, sending me to my underlined copy to see if that made sense, which it did.

(Disclosure: Aloff and I have been colleagues and friends since the late seventies, when she was editing Portland’s Encore Magazine and writing incisive, historically based dance reviews for Willamette Week, the city’s alternative paper. She includes material from my own book, Todd Bolender, Janet Reed and the Making of American Ballet [see Notable Books of 2021], which she edited.)



Books Received or Announced

Behind the Screen: Tap Dance, Race, and Invisibility During Hollywood’s Golden Age
By Brynn W. Shiovitz
Oxford University Press

Broadway Bodies: A Critical History of Conformity
By Ryan Donovan
Oxford University Press

Astaire by Numbers: Time and the Straight White Male Dancer
By Todd Decker
Oxford University Press

Dance Works: Stories of Creative Collaborations
By Allison Orr
Foreword by Liz Lerman
Wesleyan University Press

Ed Watson: A Different Dance
By Sarah Crompton
Prestel Publishing

Sharpening Dance Canons: Criticism, Aesthetics, and Equity
By Kate Mattingly
University Press of Florida

The Color of Dance: A Celebration of Diversity and Inclusion in the World of Ballet
By Takiyah Wallace-McMillian, founder of Brown Girls Do Ballet
Hachette Book Group

New York City Ballet
Choreography & Couture
By Mark Happel
Photography by Pari Dukovic
Foreword by Sarah Jessica Parker

You the Choreographer: Creating and Crafting Dance
By Vladimir Angelov
















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Remembering Rudy Perez

Perez in Countdown, ph Steve Sbarge

I will never forget Rudy Perez performing Countdown in 1968. If the word “riveting” did not exist, it would have to be invented for that performance. Sitting in a chair, his feet rooted to the ground, his focus unwavering, he took a super slow-motion drag on a cigarette. He slowly stood up, and without breaking his tempo, streaked his cheeks with green paint. Were they tears? Were they war paint? The recorded music of the “Songs of the Auvergne” transported us to a faraway place. Rudy was perhaps remembering something beautiful that arrested his everyday action. Countdown was also an example of radical juxtaposition, a term I didn’t know then, which describes a dada-esque collision of opposites that forces the viewer to create their own cogency. (It was a term Yvonne Rainer borrowed from Susan Sontag.) His work also had a whiff of satisfying absurdism. Of course Rudy never used such terms to describe his choices.

Barbara Roan, Anthony LaGiglia, and Perez, Ph Jack Mitchell

The place where I saw Countdown was the old Dance Theater Workshop, which was Jeff Duncan’s living space on West 20th Street. Later, in the fall of 1969, also at DTW, I was showing a solo of mine to Jeff Duncan for a program of what is now Fresh Tracks. Rudy had just finished rehearsing and decided to hang out and watch my solo. A few weeks later, I ran into Rudy in a local supermarket on the Upper West Side, and he invited me to join his tiny company. Having been knocked out by Countdown, I said Yes. I danced with him for a year, enjoying performing with the magnificent Barbara Roan, the delightful Anthony La Giglia, and being challenged by Rudy’s sturdy movement and uncompromising vision.

Me “picking flowers, to Mozart,’ in one of Rudy’s works, Ph Ted Wester

In 2019, the Stephen Petronio Company revived Rudy’s Coverage, a solo he made during the time I was dancing with him. When Siobhan Burke wrote an advance article for the New York Times, she asked me to describe what was unique about Rudy’s work. She quoted me describing his approach: “He had this instinct for what would work next to each other. We’d be doing something rigid and stiff, then suddenly we’d be bending down and picking flowers in a dreamlike slow motion…There was something very sure and magical about what he did onstage.”

Although Rudy was a strong and energetic dancer, he did not have what was considered a dancer’s body. He told me that he realized he’d have to make his own work if he wanted to dance. This, I think was a strength: He created his own aesthetics.

From left: Perez, Summit, Roan, Ph Herbert Migdoll for Dance Magazine

When Don McDonagh’s book The Rise and Fall and Rise of Modern Dance came out in 1970, I was excited because he highlighted dance artists from Judson and DTW—people I had danced with—as the ones who were raising modern dance up again in the Sixties. In his chapter on Rudy, he described the choreographer’s “vibrant stillness.” He also wrote that Rudy was “the most emotively charged dance maker of his generation, but his emotionalism is strictly controlled and measured out in carefully placed spurts of movement.” The elements of his choreography were “meticulous workmanship, unusual juxtapositions of visual and aural material, and a weighty intensity.”

Rudy was the first person I heard talk about Judson Dance Theater. He had attended some of Robert Dunn’s workshops and had participated in Judson concerts from day one. Judson became a huge topic of interest to me. Just hearing the name Judson helped me trace where Rudy got his exquisite simplicity from. When I started teaching at Bennington in 1978, I wanted to expose my students to the experimental spirit of Judson. I created a multi-year project called the Bennington College Judson Project, part of which is archived at the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts. (I also gave a “Dance Historian Is In” presentation on it. If you’re interested, the recording is viewable at the Library.)

Although Rudy is not often mentioned when Judson is discussed, he is one of the few of that collective who went on to have a multi-decade career in dance. (Others were the obvious names of Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, David Gordon.) I’m glad he found his niche in Los Angeles, but he drifted away from New York consciousness. Our loss was L.A.’s gain. Marcia B. Siegel called him “one of the quiet experimenters in whose hands I think the future of dance will rest.” At least two of his students there went on to create their own dance worlds: Victor Quijada of RubberbandDance and Chris Yon, now at Appalachian State University.

Conga line in one of Rudy’s pieces, c. 1971, led by Wendy Summit. Find Jane Comfort, ninth from the end. Ph unknown

In an article in the June 1971 issue of Dance Magazine, Rudy explained his process: “My work begins as a col­lection of images, but when it is finished it must be a whole, loose parts of exper­ience making up a whole. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to fit things together so that when it’s finished, it’s complete.”

Thank you, Rudy, for your completely remarkable work.

And thanks to Sarah Vox Swenson for setting up the memorial page of the website devoted to him.


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Pina Bausch at Juilliard and in NYC 1959–1961

Before Pina Bausch (1940–2009) choreographed for Kurt Jooss’s Folkwang Tanzstudio, before she took over Wuppertal Ballet and renamed it Tanztheater Wuppertal, before she startled the world with her radical imagination, she had been to Juilliard and worked with choreographers in New York City. An artist who avidly embraced new experiences, she once defined her form of tanztheater as “a space where we can encounter each other.”[1] I maintain that the encounters during her two years in New York contributed more to her development than most Bausch scholars have acknowledged.

[Let me say right here that the footnotes are woefully out of order. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I made cuts some months ago, and it was confounding for me to try to re-order them in this format.]

Some scholars claim that American dance, with its formalist concerns supposedly in the forefront, had little effect on Bausch.[5] I attribute this view to a misunderstanding of what was considered “mainstream modern dance” in those years. The formalism of Merce Cunningham was quite marginal at the time, while Graham’s aesthetic—the emotional core of the modernist narrative—still held sway. The concert series at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA, the stronghold for modern dance in New York, was packed with former Graham dancers including Pearl Lang, Anna Sokolow, Paul Taylor, Yuriko, and Sophie Maslow. Many of them were teaching at Juilliard. (Bausch herself performed there in December 1959 with Paul Sanasardo, in his work In View of God [6], more about this later).

Merce Cunningham was rarely invited to perform at the Y in the fifties, nor was he on the Juilliard faculty. He wasn’t widely accepted until the success of his 1964 world tour. (He too had danced with Graham, but his choreography departed so radically that it pushed beyond “modern dance” into another category that was called “contemporary dance” or sometimes “abstract” dance). Judson Dance Theater, which erupted with the bold experimentation that ushered in post-modern dance, didn’t emerge until 1962—and even then, it was below the radar. So the Juilliard dance department, with its director Martha Hill (herself a former Graham dancer), was basically aligned with the center of modern dance at the time.

The New York influence on Bausch was threefold. First, her Juilliard teachers, most of whom were international figures: Antony Tudor, Alfredo Corvino, José Limón, Graham (especially through company members Mary Hinkson and Donald McKayle) and to some extent, La Meri, Louis Horst, and Anna Sokolow. Second, the choreographers she worked with outside of Juilliard: Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer, Paul Taylor, and again, Tudor, at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Lastly, the sheer diversity of styles, ethnicities, and music genres that populated New York at the time.

Graham technique at Juilliard. From left: William Louther, Martha Hill, Donald McKayle (teaching the class), Dudley Williams, Mabel Robinson, and Pina Bausch. Photographer unknown, Courtesy Juilliard Archives.

My purpose is to open a window into that period of the young Pina Bausch in New York. I discuss the range of styles she participated in at Juilliard, her close—and fraught—relationship with Tudor, her performances in the year-end school concert, and her friendship with a diverse group of students. I also describe her immersion in the work with Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer in Chelsea; her brief time with Paul Taylor at Spoleto; her stint with the Metropolitan Opera; and her attraction to Sokolow’s work. Although it doesn’t fit into the two-year span, I also include her four weeks at Saratoga in 1972, where, through Sanasardo and the late Manuel Alum, she met two dancers who were essential to the creation and longevity of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.


Crossing the Atlantic

From the age of 14 to 18, Philippine (her given name) Bausch studied dance with Kurt Jooss, director of dance at the Folkwang School in Essen. Jooss was a proponent of Austruckstanz but veered off from Rudolf Laban’s movement choirs to develop tanztheater as a concert form. Jooss was a prolific choreographer; his company toured extensively throughout Europe before and after World War II. His anti-war ballet, The Green Table (1932), is one of the iconic works of the twentieth century. A leading educator as well, Jooss developed a training method that combined the strength and clarity of ballet with the weight and effort flow of Laban.

Pina benefited from the multi-arts nature of the school. In 2002, she told The Guardian, “At this time at the Folkwang, all the arts were together. It was not just the performing arts like music or acting or mime or dance, but there were also painters, sculptors, designers, photographers.”[8] At the end of her last year there, she won the Folkwang prize, possibly the first dancer to be so recognized. A grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) funded her sojourn to the Juilliard School of Music (now simply the Juilliard School).

Lucas Hoving teaching a Composition Materials class, Photo © Radford Bascome, courtesy of the Juilliard Archives.

Lucas Hoving, the Dutch dancer who had worked closely with both Jooss and Limón, was a link between the Folkwang School in Essen and Juilliard, having taught in both schools. Like Jooss, Hoving combined ballet and modern vocabularies in his technique classes. After her ship set sail from the port city of Cuxhaven to New York in the fall of 1959, the 18-year-old Pina wrote to Lucas, asking him to meet her at the New York harbor. Almost five decades later, when receiving a Dance Magazine Award, she told a poignant story about the way New York welcomed her, which I repeat at the end of this essay.


Friends, Classes, and Spirit at Juilliard

Pina loved the cultural and racial diversity at Juilliard. On the day she auditioned for placement levels, she met Rina Schenfeld, a young dancer who had sailed from Israel. Neither could speak much English, but they bonded immediately. The two shared the experience of outsiders who were welcomed. As Schenfeld told me, “We were both foreigners, and we were treated so beautiful, like real important guests.”[9]

Pina also made friends with a group of Black students that included Sylvia Waters, Mabel Robinson, William Louther, and Dudley Williams (all of whom became major figures in the New York dance world). Sylvia told me about a holiday dinner, probably in the fall of 1959:

I remember one Thanksgiving she [Pina] spent with me and Mabel Robinson and, I think, Dudley and Bill Louther. I’d never seen her eat so much! We all ate a lot, and we all fell asleep instantly, and woke up and ate again…We were young and just having fun… it was a new experience for her, to have a traditional Thanksgiving, especially with a Black family.[10]

The comfort she felt with African American dancers gives us a glimmer of her later commitment to diversity with her Wuppertal company.

Pina Bausch and Mercedes Ellington in rehearsal. Photographer unknown, courtesy of the Juilliard Archives.

Pina was friendly with other students too. Carla De Sola, who had never taken ballet, remembers, “She would come to where I was at the barre and she would help me, give me pointers…on tendues, pliés, basic footwork…It was a kindness on her part.”[11] And Mercedes Ellington recalled, “Pina was teaching me German by body part: obershenckel [thigh] unterschenkel [lower leg].”[12]

Ellington was living in a room next to Bausch’s at International House, down the block from the Juilliard building, then on Claremont Avenue in the Columbia University neighborhood. They both worked in the cafeteria, alternating chores like tending the cash register and bussing tables. “Her favorite dessert was strawberry ice cream,” Ellington told me, “and she poured sugar over the ice cream and squeezed a lemon on top of that.” Did Pina smoke? “Smoking: always; everybody was smoking back then.”

Most students in the dance department had to choose between majoring in ballet or modern dance, and if the latter, between Graham and Limón. As a special student, Pina could take any classes she wanted.

Standing: William Louther, Donald McKayle. On knees: Mabel Robinson, Dudley Williams, and Pina Bausch, Photographer unknown, Courtesy Juilliard Archives.

The Graham technique, based on contraction and release initiated in the pelvis, is emotional—an expression of either ecstasy or despair— and yet the technique is modernist in its stark shapes. In a photo of Bausch’s early work Aktionen für Tänzer (1970-1971), she passes through a high contraction in the Graham style, very much like the photo above. In a more general way, the Graham influence can be seen in how deeply visceral the Bausch dancers’ solos are, how the movement is initiated in the center of the body. The Humphrey/Limón style is softer and more fluid, concentrating on fall and recovery (or fall and suspension), with a more lyrical flow.

Although these techniques were new to her, Pina entered them with the high level of artistry she attained at Jooss’s school. Sylvia Waters remembers, “She had very clean lines and she was unique. She rather shimmered onstage… quiet, strong, fluid…such clarity.”[13]

At Juilliard, Pina was totally focused on dance. “I never thought I would become a choreographer. I only wanted to dance,” she declared in a speech titled “What moves me” that she gave upon receiving the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy in 2007.[14] Schenfeld (who later became the magnetic star of the Batsheva Dance Company), confirms this, saying she was surprised when she learned that Pina was choreographing in Germany.[15]

That said, the German student was fully active in Louis Horst’s “Modern Forms” class at Juilliard. Horst, the composer who had mentored Martha Graham and given structure to her choreography, assigned studies for certain categories of dance styles. The Juilliard archive shows that in October Pina composed and danced “Girl In A Big City” to music by Gershwin, and for the December workshop she co-composed a “Whole Tone” study with music by Lothar Windsperger. This last was for an assignment called “Exercises in Space, Volume and Time.” For the showing in March, she created a solo in the “cerebral” category called “Mechanics on Parade,” with music by Ernst Toch, and in the “jazz” category, “Madison Avenue” to music by Edgar Fairchild.[16]

Janet Mansfield Soares, author of biographies on Martha Hill and Louis Horst and a former assistant to Horst, recalled that “Pina’s solutions were right on-point. She understood Horst’s assignments (ranging from linear to dissonant, cerebral to impressionist). I do believe his teaching gave her a strong aesthetic grounding for her lifetime of extraordinary work.” [17]

I agree that she may have absorbed Horst’s teachings insofar as he demanded rigor and cogency in the studies. However, the structure he taught was basically A-B-A, or theme-and-variations, whereas Bausch favored a collage-like structure in her work. A bonus in the classes with Horst, though, was that he would sometimes speak German with her.[18]

Bausch worked with non-white dancers every day at Juilliard. The Graham technique classes were taught by members of her company including notable Black dance artists Donald McKayle and Mary Hinkson. Pina took classes from Mexican-born José Limón and was probably directed by him in Doris Humphrey’s Passacaglia (1938). In Tudor’s Little Improvisations, she understudied Ellington, the granddaughter of Duke Ellington, and, in A Choreographer Comments, she danced alongside Japanese-born Chieko Kikuchi (no relation to Yuriko Kikuchi).

This diversity opened her eyes. Coming from a country whose führer committed genocide in order to narrow humanity down to a single genetic race, she valued (in my opinion) this more open world. When talking about New York, she said,

The people, the city, all embody something of now for me, where everything is mixed together, whether that’s different nationalities or interests or fashion, everything is just side by side.[19]

When she reshaped Wuppertal Ballet into Tanztheater Wuppertal in 1975, she started building an international company. By the 1990s, the Wuppertal dancers hailed from every continent except Antarctica.[20] Her group included Black, Asian, and LatinX dancers, as she said, “side by side.”

This diversity, and with it a sense of independence, reflected a spirit about Juilliard that Schenfeld feels helped shape Bausch, the artist: “What Juilliard gave us—it’s not the steps—it was an international, individualistic attitude, which is America, which is what New York was then. Freedom of individuality. It’s the essence of things…not teaching us to be soldiers. And that’s how she really developed and found herself.” [21]

Bausch and Schenfeld remained lifelong friends. Whenever Tanztheater Wuppertal performed in Israel, they had long visits, sometimes attending local celebrations together.[50]


The Tudor Connection — Deep and Long

Antony Tudor was known for his psychological ballets, for his ability to turn a well-timed gesture into a pivotal narrative moment. It was no secret that Pina was a favorite of Tudor’s. Ellington called her his muse: “There was a strong connection between her and Tudor, they spiritually understood each other.… she was acclimated to his style, so he paid a lot of attention to her.” He gave Pina leads in his ballets, even though pointework was not her forte. (He gave Ellington the lead in his Little Improvisations, which she danced with Bill Louther. Pina was in the second cast of this duet.)

Carla De Sola recalls a period when Tudor experimented with an improvisational component in class, which may have been part of his course called Ballet Production or Rehearsal or possibly Ballet Production and Arrangement:

Tudor had a tiny little composition class at the end of ballet class… and Pina Bausch was always spectacular. He would say, “Would you go across the floor and let us know where you are, what environment, by just how your body is? Is it moonlight? Is it sunlight?” And she would know how to do that! He was interested in someone who could convey something…not necessarily just through the steps but the way she carried herself, or her aura.[22]

Bausch believed in Tudor totally. The Tudor Centennial project (2008 to 2010) gave her an opportunity to look back and sing his praises:

His way of using and extending the classical dance technique was absolutely groundbreaking—for both classical and modern dance. He was the first to bring his Grandparents’ [sic] clothes onto the stage. He was in many things the first. I was of course full of admiration for him. His ballets were wonderful, but very, very hard to dance. In his pieces it needed a very special sensitivity for this fineness of feeling, accuracy, and humour. He was incredibly critical, especially about himself.”[23]

Although Pina was supremely classical in her balletic lines and port de bras, she did not have strong feet. About her efforts on pointe, Schenfeld remembers, “She didn’t feel she was doing the best for Tudor. She didn’t talk about it. I just saw her suffering.”[24] Viewing the archival film in the Juilliard archives, one can see that Pina could barely sustain pointework. Her ankles were so weak that, when on pointe, her supporting foot looked as if it could have crumpled at any moment. Bausch wrote in her Tudor reminiscence, “Once…while we were performing his piece A Choreographer Comments, I fell off pointe. I hardly dared to look him in the eye. I could have jumped into the Hudson River out of shame.”[25]

Antony Tudor rehearsing A Choreographer Comments with Koert Stuyf and Pina Bausch. Dance Division Scrapbook #4 (1959/60), p. 27. Photographer unknown.

But this film reveals that all the women students were weak on pointe. Knowing that Tudor choreographed the piece specifically for the students, I question the soundness of his decision to put them on toe before they were ready. I wonder if he even consulted with Margaret Craske, who taught pointe class.

It’s also no secret that Tudor could humiliate students. He had a knack for making cutting comments, ostensibly to toughen them up. He had nicknames for some of his students, and Bausch recalled that he had chosen a rather harsh one for her:

In the men’s class he simply called me Adolf and I had to come to terms with that. It was somehow quite clear. I had to take it. He knew that I liked him and I knew that he liked me so the German problem was settled between us…He called me Adolf. I was then Adolf. Adolf stood in the row.[26]

I was so confounded by this choice of nickname that I asked three people about it and got three different interpretations. When I told Rina Schenfeld, at first she was horrified. But after reading Pina’s full passage, she wrote this in an email to me:

It was for her [Pina] the answer about her guilt complex being German and me being an Israeli. Now I do understand. It was all there but in silence, the way my family were silenced about their family [members] being murdered by the Nazis. Nobody talked, [there was] only silence, and Tudor raised this up in a joke in a funny way, like trying to exorcise her guilt.[27]

Lance Westergard, who had been a favorite of Tudor’s at Juilliard and the Metropolitan Opera, explained to me that Tudor insisted on honesty onstage, and poking fun at young dancers was part of his commitment to that goal.[28]

Former dancer Judith Chazin-Bennahum, author of The Ballets of Antony Tudor, tended to chalk it up to a compulsive urge to insult: “He was a very cruel guy. He was not only intimidating; he could scorch you.”[29] But in a later email, she tried to square it with his larger mission: “I suspect he was trying to wake up the rather numb quality in the ballet person at the time. We were so used to doing whatever we were told, he tried to snap us into thinking about what we were doing.”[30]

In Sweden, one of Tudor’s students, Gerd Andersson (sister of the actress Bibi Andersson), had figured this out in a similar way to Bausch: For her, Tudor was “a mixture of kindness, sarcasm, and seriousness…You had to make a personal choice whether to take a joke positively or negatively. Whatever the difficulties, we all knew that what we got back far exceeded them.”[31]

Clearly the teenage Pina could take whatever darts were thrown at her. Tudor’s toxic name-calling did not put a dent in her admiration for him. She later told an interviewer, “There was a reason if he was rude. He believed if people were too comfortable they couldn’t dance.”[32]

Screen grab of Bausch in The Green Table film, 1967

Bausch engaged in his work even after she returned to Germany. In 1962, he came to the Folkwang Ballet in Essen to stage Lilac Garden and she danced the role of Caroline.[33] And she played the Old Woman in the production of The Green Table that was filmed by the BBC in 1967. She was also once cast as the lady with the feather boa in his Judgment of Paris (1938–40)[34] (though I haven’t found out where or when). This satirical ballet surely influenced her; at least this was the opinion of New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff, who perceived, in a section of Bausch’s work Viktor (1986), a tribute to Judgment of Paris. Just as Tudor portrayed three over-the-hill women entertainers trying to interest one man, Bausch, in Viktor, choreographed three waitresses serving one male customer.[35]


Tudor, Sure. But La Meri—What a Surprise!

The concert of the Juilliard Dance Ensemble at the end of the 1959-60 school year comprised two programs: one in modern dance and one in ballet. The first, directed by Limón, was devoted to works by himself, Ruth Currier, and Doris Humphrey. Because Humphrey had died the previous December, Limón restaged Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor (1938) in tribute to her. Pina and Chester Wolenski, a visiting guest alum, were cast in the lead roles originally danced by Humphrey and Charles Weidman. One of the few Humphrey works that enjoyed a long life, Passacaglia is known for its arcing body shapes, architectural formations, relationship of individual to group, and noble vision of humanity. The Juilliard archive has photos, but unfortunately no film.

Juilliard Dance Ensemble in Doris Humphrey’s Passacaglia. Bausch in center with angled elbows; Schenfeld second from right; to her right is Steve Paxton (!) To her left (far right) is Alice Condodina. Photo © Impact Photos, courtesy of the Juilliard Archives.

The ballet program, directed by Tudor, included two reconstructions of works from the Baroque era, two works by Tudor, and one by La Meri. Pina danced lead roles in Tudor’s A Choreographer Comments and La Meri’s The Seasons, both of which were documented by a special afternoon filming in a light-filled studio, thanks to Martha Hill’s prescience.

As a current member of the Juilliard faculty, I have access to these digitized films. I offer descriptions simply because I felt privileged to witness Bausch’s dancing at a young age.[36] I am not contending that these particular works were transformative for her, but perhaps they helped build a foundation she could later break away from.

Bausch and Koert Stuyf in Tudor’s A Choreographer Comments, Photo © Impact Photos Inc., courtesy of the Juilliard Archives.

A Choreographer Comments had ten sections, each one demonstrating a different ballet step. The first, “587 Arabesques,” starts with Pina standing alone, her left foot crossed over the right ankle. In many lyrical but restrained forays, six women step into arabesque with three men intermittently supporting them. The section ends with Pina standing in exactly the same position she started in, left foot crossed over right ankle, but now she is enfolded in an embrace by Dutch student Koert Stuyf.

Pina is livelier in the third section, a duet titled “Pas de Bourrée.” She partners Stuyf in what dance historian Selma Jeanne Cohen called a “snidely priggish exposition” of this little connecting step.[37] Pina’s footgear is now low heels, so she doesn’t have to worry about pointework. She holds her chin up as though looking at the world in disdain, but this haughty look could be just from trying to keep her hat, perched far back on her head, from falling off. At one point, the woman and man bump into each other, back to back, and she turns and gives him a mild nod. Tudor told an interviewer that he turned Pina “into a comedienne” during the making of this ballet.[38] I wonder if he was referring to this barely noticeable moment. It all seemed tame to my eye.

As Walter Terry pointed out in the Herald Tribune, Tudor’s Little Improvisations was more appealing. He called it “an enchanting duet, at times playful, occasionally ironic, again tender and touching.”[39] While he commended the first cast, Mercedes Ellington and William Louther, one wishes he had also seen the second cast, with Bausch. There’s a moment in the choreography when the young woman is cradling a scarf as though it’s a baby and the cloth falls to the floor. When Schenfeld described Pina performing this “sad but beautiful duet,” she felt that it caught something about Pina’s own lingering sense of loss.

In contrast to the pristine A Choreographer Comments, the tender Little Improvisations, and the massive Passacaglia, La Meri brought a very different flavor to the concert. A dance artist in the tradition of Ruth St. Denis, La Meri traveled to Asia, Latin America, and Europe to learn traditional dances that she performed and taught at Jacob’s Pillow. (For some, this might raise a red flag for cultural appropriation, but Nancy Wozny voices a more complex view in Dance Magazine.) Tudor had seen The Seasons when it premiered at Jacob’s Pillow in 1953 and was so impressed that he brought it to Juilliard. La Meri used motifs from Bharatanatyam and other classical Indian forms, for instance the lotus with fingertips floating upward, the sprinkling of seeds with fingertips dipping downward, the elbow pulling back to indicate archery. The “Primavera” section featured images of “birds, streams, storms, children, and a dreaming shepherdess.”[40] All these images illuminated Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with verve and imagination — and Pina was absolutely magisterial in it.

Screen grabs from archival film of The Seasons by La Meri. Pina and Carl Wolz.

As seen in the archival film, Bausch’s long neck and sculpted face give her a startling elegance. She creates space and light around her upper body. In the slow duet with Carl Wolz [3], subtitled “Largo: The Plants Grow and the Cowherd Dreams,” she is grounded and regal, as though she herself were rooted in the soil, ready to grow. Her focus on the hands forming lotus blossoms is transcendent. In a later section, “L’Autumno: Adagio Molto: The Drunkards Dreams after the Grape Harvest,” she dances a languid, audaciously sensual, hip-swaying solo with a veil over her face and shoulders. Reviewing for Dance Magazine, Doris Hering wrote that one of two “especially exciting” sections was a “melting solo for Philippine Bausch.”[41]

I found this 18-year-old dancing on film to be astonishing in her artistry.

Plunging into the Darkness of Sanasardo and Feuer

Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer 1961

Tudor knew that Pina wanted to dance more, and he had a hunch that she would be right for the work of Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer. Sanasardo had danced with Anna Sokolow, and Feuer had attended Juilliard a few years earlier. Their partnership was sparked by Feuer seeing Sanasardo in the original production of Sokolow’s Rooms (1955), that iconic drama of urban alienation. The two shared a three-floor loft in Chelsea—for only $250 a month![42] Called the Studio for Dance, the space became the hub of a highly theatrical form of dance exploration, a place where dancers dug deep into the human psyche. As dance scholar Mark Franko has written about their approach, “Intensity is indeed a crossing of the threshold in that it can confront us with ‘untamed’ areas of experience.”[43]

Sanasardo was teaching a rigorous modern dance class in his studio, and Tudor sent her to try it out. “She [Pina] came and took the class,” Sanasardo recalled. “She was gorgeous. She just decided we were going to work together.”[44] From Pina’s point of view, although she was still a student at Juilliard, the decision was a non-decision: “They talked to me. I couldn’t understand English, but I understood they wanted me to come to their studio. A lot of things just happened to me. I was also amazed—it was so new to me—that they had such late classes, that many people came, and the rehearsals that we did were at night. They took care of me. I never went home. I was kind of like in the family.”[45]

That she was “amazed” by people showing up at night reveals something about schedule. As mentioned by Nadine Meisner, on Bausch’s return to Essen she “found the pace in Germany lax.”[46] At both Juilliard and the Studio for Dance, classes and rehearsals had been nearly constant.

Sanasardo confirmed that “She more or less moved in.”[47] There was a daybed she could sleep on any time, so she didn’t have to travel back uptown.[48] Although Pina felt comfortable downtown, Feuer noticed that she “was very shy and cried a lot.”[49]

Sanasardo liked that Pina was a searcher: “She questioned a lot. And we used to talk a lot about, What was theater? Our early pieces were very concerned with breaking that boundary between dance and theater.” He also said, “She was spiritual. You saw her interior when she danced.” [51]

Sanasardo in Pain © Max Waldman, Archive, NY, 1970, All Rights Reserved.

Sanasardo’s work, with its extreme character portrayals, had as much an affinity for theater as for dance. He himself was a strong, expressionist performer who, according Doris Hering, could look “simultaneously evil and heroic.”[52] His choreography was equally intense. Mark Franko wrote that “Studio for Dance productions were personal and poetic, as well as provocative and disturbing.”[53] Sanasardo and Feuer worked together from 1955 to 1963, when Feuer moved to Sweden. (She collaborated closely with filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.) The only time Sanasardo and Feuer collaborated with a third dancer was for Phases of Madness—and that person was Pina Bausch.

Franko writes that the basis of Phases was “the idea that certain behaviors exceed the bounds of rationality and are most readily conveyed by dancing.”[54] About both Phases and its successor, Laughter After All, Sanasardo recalled, “There was a lot of violence in those ballets.” He drew a direct line of influence, saying, “You see it in Pina’s work.”

Franko’s description of Laughter reveals a twisted brutality in which laughter was equated with screaming, and a maniacal doctor (played by Sanasardo) tortured innocent people. Yet Feuer and others have extolled the freedom they felt at the Studio for Dance. Franko suggests that both Phases and Laughter (which was made after Pina returned to Germany) illuminate “the dialectic between madness and freedom.”[55]

This, to me, is a key connection to Bausch’s early work. The first piece for her Wuppertal company, Fritz, played on this dialectic. Bausch herself played the part of a monstrous, ungainly Grandmother. The following is a description by Josephine Ann Endicott, an unforgettably ferocious performer in Tanztheater Wuppertal:

Fritz seemed to me to be a kind of nightmare with figures out of Pina’s childhood… An extremely pale woman with a bald head, a small creepy looking woman wearing a wig with hairs on her chin, a stiff, tallish woman in a deep lilac chiffon dress with incredibly long wooden arms…a headless man in a heavy, dark winter coat, a male in a one-piece nude bodysuit wearing high stiletto shoes, false bosoms and tied around his waist a huge red pair of lips. In the silence, you could hear coughing, buzzing, panting and breathing sounds…“Father” unbuttoned “Mother’s” many-buttoned dress. She buttoned up afterward. He pushed her face forcefully into a white enamel washbowl. Grandma – all grey and old in an ugly, long, colourless dress – sat hunched in her armchair. Her legs lay over a dancer’s shoulders, which were hidden by her dress so that when she stood up she became gigantic. Pina played this part.[56]

These characters could almost have come out of a Sanasardo/Feuer production.

Many critics have described Pina Bausch’s darkness or obsessiveness as typically Germanic, but clearly Sanasardo and Feuer’s encouragement to explore the dark, bizarre side of the imagination was a key that opened inner doors for her.

Sokolow, who taught at Juilliard (mostly in the drama division), was also a potent influence. Sanasardo told me that Bausch loved Sokolow’s Rooms. While Rooms projected a bleak vision of humanity, it also brought forth vividly individual characterizations from the dancers. Ann Daly goes so far as to say that Rooms foreshadowed Bausch’s form of tanztheater.[57] While I think Rooms is too earnest, too lacking in irony, to be considered a precursor to Bausch’s work, I do agree that the portrayal of the societal harshness of Rooms could have struck a chord in Bausch.

Having been in the original cast of Rooms, Sanasardo said to me, “Of course Pina had a dark edge, which was very German Expressionist. I had a dark edge.”[58] In his work Pain (1971), he displayed his suffering lavishly. Meredith Palmer in the Harvard Crimson wrote:

With bound feet and shackled hands, lead dancer Sanasardo writhes chained to a bar, often assuming Christ-like positions, while the company screams, beats heels on the floor and squirms in sympathetic reaction. The horror of Sanasardo, knocking his head on the floor as he crosses the stage, causes gritted teeth and stifled cries in the audience.[59]

One might say that Sanasardo took Sokolow’s darkness to further extremes. Anna Kisselgoff put it succinctly: “No one leaves a Sanasardo concert laughing.”[60] Doris Hering described one section of Laughter After All in Dance Magazine: “Paul Sanasardo whacked Donya Feuer on the head,” and “she sank away from the impact, only to crawl back doggedly.”[61] That description of obsessiveness infused with masochism may sound familiar to Bausch-watchers.

Poster for performance at the Y, Dec. 1959; Woodcut by Isidor (Frank) Canner. Courtesy Pina Bausch Fndn.

Another Sanasardo/Feuer work that affected Bausch was the full-length In View of God: An Unspoken Drama in Three Acts (1959), in which Bausch performed the role of Mother, replacing Cynthia Steele. In View of God featured the remarkably solemn presence of eleven children as witnesses to erratic adult behavior. Reviewer Walter Sorell found the work frustrating but wrote that the dancers “set a morbid mood and, as they went along, achieved some stunning images that had color, poetry and inner drama.”[62]

About the children’s performance, Bausch commented, “There was nothing childish. There were like adults, only very young ones: young human beings. There was nothing cute. It was very simple.”[63] Fast forward to Bausch’s 2009 experiment of teaching the sexually combative Kontakthof to teenagers, captured in the documentary film Dancing Dreams, I’m reminded of her long-ago witnessing the self-possessed children of the Studio for Dance.

Critic Marcia B. Siegel believes that Bausch’s work resembles that of Anna Sokolow more than any other dance artist. I don’t know if Siegel was aware that Bausch had absorbed Sokolow’s aesthetic through Sanasardo. In 1986, Siegel wrote, “A Sokolow dance is a series of escalating and subsiding shocks powered by the ongoing, repetitive drive of constant motor activity, a direct expression of feeling carried to an extreme.”[64]

Magritte, Magritte by Anna Sokolow, with Juilliard students, photo © Beth Bergman, courtesy of the Juilliard Archives.

But Sokolow also possessed another, very different quality that captivated Bausch. Jim May, longtime Sokolow dancer and founder of the posthumous company, recalled Bausch’s reaction to the American choreographer’s Magritte, Magritte (1980), her tribute to the surrealist painter:

After the premiere of Magritte, Magritte the Sokolow Player’s Project went on an extensive European tour which included a performance at the Cologne Opera House where we presented Magritte. After the performance an excited Pina Bausch came running backstage… She came up to Anna and said, “Anna this is exactly what I want to do!”[65]

It seems to me that Bausch combined Sanasardo’s darkly obsessive quality and the surreal, dreamlike sensibility of Sokolow’s Magritte, Magritte—as well as other influences—into a style that was thought-provoking, absurdist, sometimes funny—or something like funny—while keeping a sharp psychological edge.

Needless to say, Jooss was a major part of Baush’s lineage, and she undoubtedly possessed what one critic called “Bausch’s ineradicable Germanness.”[66] But Sanasardo and Sokolow were also prominent threads in the tapestry of her sources.


Spoleto, June 1960

Paul Taylor’s Tablet with Dan Wagoner and Bausch, photo courtesy Paul Taylor Dance Company.


After the year-end concert at Juilliard in the spring of 1960, Pina headed for the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, as a dancer with Paul Taylor. That summer Gian Carlo Menotti conceived a new (short-lived) company called New American Ballets that would perform both ballet and modern dance works. (I suspect that Menotti was trying to recreate the spectacular success of Jerome Robbins’ Ballets USA during the first summer of his festival in 1958.) The choreographers were Donald McKayle, Karel Shook (later to co-found Dance Theatre of Harlem with Arthur Mitchell), Herbert Ross, and Taylor. The company included Mabel Robinson, Dudley Williams, and Graham dancer Akiko Kanda (all of whom had been Pina’s classmates at Juilliard), as well as Mary Hinkson, and Arthur Mitchell—who was tasked by Menotti to organize the group. Bausch was able to continue her friendship with Mabel Robinson that she’d had at Juilliard.

Bausch and Wagoner in Tablet, photo courtesy PTDC.

Taylor was making a new duet for Bausch and Dan Wagoner (on leave from the Graham company) that was half of a quartet titled Tablet. In his autobiography, Taylor wrote that he was inspired by Bausch:

Pina…one of the thinnest human beings I’ve ever seen… is able to streak across the floor sharply, though a bit unevenly, like calipers across paper. She’s also able to move slower than a clogged up bicycle pump; I love watching her and suddenly have an idea for the duet—am eager to turn her into a black widow spider or praying mantis.”[67]

McKayle had a vivid memory of Bausch in Tablet:

Paul took advantage of Pina’s wafer-thin physique, clothing her in a white body suit and painting her face white except for a circle of orange encasing her eyes, nose, and lips [costume by Ellsworth Kelly]. When the lights came up on the motionless Bausch, there was a gasp from the audience and a woman’s voice spoke aloud, “Guarda la morte!” (Look at death!)… With her head tilted slightly to the side, the bones at the back of her neck glistened in pristine white, and a ghostly apparition took shape as she became la morte, the personification of death.[68]

Despite the ghastly, ghostly look, the public adored Bausch, along with the other two female leads of the company: Mary Hinkson (who had been one of Pina’s favorite teachers at Juilliard) and Akiko Kanda. McKayle writes that the three “were suddenly stars.”[69]

Wagoner, Bausch, Taylor and Konda in Taylor’s Tablet, Costumes and sets by Ellsworth Kelly, photo courtesy PTDC

Nevertheless, she grew homesick—whether for New York or Germany, Taylor did not know—and he, like Feuer, noticed that she often cried. It seems that melancholy was part of who she was.

Working with Taylor, Bausch learned a more subtle possibility in terms of subject matter. According to Isa Partsch-Bergsohn, “She liked his choreographic style very much. Paul Taylor did not state his subject matter, but implied the meaning in his choreography.” [70] His approach allowed her to edge away from an obviously stated theme and go toward greater ambiguity.

It’s worth noting, too, that McKayle’s Games (1951) was also on the Spoleto program. Since Pina’s close friend Mabel was in the cast, Pina likely saw it that summer. Games involved dancers playing children’s games as though outdoors on the street, and of course much of Bausch’s work involves game-like playing.


The Metropolitan Opera Ballet

Pina loved New York and wanted to stay on after her year at Juilliard was over. Tudor knew this, so he offered her a job dancing with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, where he was director. Company class was given by the same three ballet teachers who taught at Juilliard: Tudor, Corvino, and Margaret Craske. Chazin-Bennahum, who was also in the Met Opera Ballet at the time, recalled the rigor of Tudor’s technique sessions:

His classes were brutal. They were choreographic artworks: He would have you turning one direction, right away turning in the other direction. They were terribly difficult, really really tough. Anybody who worked with Tudor had to pick up like that [snaps fingers].[71]

Between the fall of 1960 and the spring of 1961, Bausch performed in five operas, about eight performances each. She had featured roles in Alceste and Tannhauser, and was in the corps in Carmen, Turandot, and La Gioconda.[72] The old Met stage on Broadway at 39th Street was 86′ by 101′, no doubt bigger than anything Pina had encountered. As Chazin-Bennahum told me, there could be more than a hundred singers and dancers onstage, and even more musicians in the orchestra pit. Pina loved hearing the singers’ voices from backstage, “to learn to distinguish between voices. To listen very exactly.”[74]

Bausch, center, in Alceste, photo Louis Mélançon/Met Opera Archives.

Dancing with the Met Opera also gave her a chance to continuing taking class with Corvino, who was, like Hoving, a link between Folkwang and Juilliard. A ballet teacher at Juilliard for many years, he had also toured with Kurt Jooss’s company and had taught in Essen. Like Jooss, Corvino felt that ballet and modern dance could live in harmony in the training.”[75] Corvino taught body mechanics with a sense of harmony, generosity, and buoyancy. His daughter Ernesta, who took over some of his classes after he died, said, “He really understood the body in motion, the body in function; it wasn’t just about a certain balletic aesthetic.”[76] His presence was grounding and calming and full of wonder. Dawn Lille, Corvino’s biographer, felt he had “an almost childlike openness.” Developing sensitive feet, expressive hands, and a sense of weight was a central part of his approach. When he retired from Juilliard in 1994, Bausch invited him to Wuppertal to give company class. For the next decade, the elderly Corvino spent about six months a year touring with her company.[77]

Pina made an impression on the other dancers: Chazin-Bennahum remembers her “aristocratic look.” Bruce Marks compared her to the great Balanchine ballerina Tanaquil LeClercq: “Pina was a young modern version of Tanny, she had a spider-like feeling. She was fascinating to watch. She was a creature.”[73]

Dancing in New York widened the range of music Bausch was exposed to. At the Met, she danced to the operatic music of Wagner, Gluck, Bizet, Purcell. In her composition classes at Juilliard, her fellow students used Schoenberg, Scriabin, Bartok, Debussy, Satie, and jazz composer Mose Allison. Sanasardo sometimes used jazz music also. She had gained a sense of freedom as to her choices while living, working, and listening in New York. As Norbert Servos writes in his online biography, “The distinction between ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ music, still firmly upheld in Germany, was of no significance to her. All music was afforded the same value, as long as it expressed genuine emotions.”[78]


Called Back to Essen

When Jooss invited Bausch to join his reconstituted Jooss Ballet in 1961, she felt torn:

After two years [in NYC] came a phone call from Kurt Jooss. He had the chance again to have another small ensemble at the school, the Folkwang Ballet. He needed me and asked me to come back. At the time I was wrestling with a great conflict between the desire to stay on in America, and the dream of being allowed to dance in Jooss’s choreographies. I wanted both of these things so much. I loved it so much being in New York; everything was going wonderfully well for me. However, I returned to Essen after all.[79]

So Bausch went back home to work with her mentor. She danced with the Folkwang Ballet (later called Folkwang Tanzstudio) as a soloist and assistant to Jooss.

Im Wind der Zeit, 1969, photo © Pina Bausch Foundation

But there’s another story about her return to Germany. Paul Sanasardo remembers it this way:

Pina got very, very thin, she was a little bit anorexic. We all got very concerned. We didn’t know quite what to do. I couldn’t act like her dogmatic father and tell her what to do…So I called Lucas Hoving, who I knew knew Jooss, and she was Jooss’s protégée. He came and looked at her and said, “Ohhh,” and he arranged for her to get back to Germany.[80]

According to John O’Mahony, writing in The Guardian, Pina did not conquer the eating disorder until Jooss gave her an ultimatum to gain weight or leave his company.[81]

In her Kyoto speech, Bausch talked about her eating habits as an eccentricity or as a way to save money, to stretch the one-year grant over two years. But she goes deeper to something that is spiritual:

However, I liked getting thinner. I paid more and more attention to the voice within me. To my movement. I had the feeling that something was becoming purer and purer, deeper and deeper. Perhaps it was all in the mind. But a transformation was taking place. Not only with my body.[82]

I felt that I witnessed that purity while watching the documentary film of Bausch in La Meri’s The Seasons. She danced the essence of spring, of a gradual blossoming. There was nothing extra. Her inner radiance shone through.


Back and Forth Between Germany and the U. S.

Bausch has said that Kurt Jooss was like a second father.[83] Similarly, Martha Hill at Juilliard may have been like a second mother—a role she played to many young hopefuls. After Pina returned to Germany in 1961, she sent Hill a postcard assuring her that she was in good hands. She wrote that she loved New York but it was good to be home and working with Jooss.

Bausch and Jean Cébron, Jacob’s Pillow 1968, photo John Van Lund, courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.

Bausch began making dances at Folkwang Tanzstudio and soon became its leading choreographer. But she was pulled back to the States three times before taking the helm of Wuppertal Ballet Company in 1973. First, in 1968, she came to Jacob’s Pillow as the performing partner of French dancer Jean Cébron, who had been teaching at Folkwang School. Then in 1971, Lucas Hoving, who had a long association with Connecticut College Summer School of Dance (American Dance Festival), invited her to make her own solo within his new sextet, Zip Code. She titled it Philips 836 887 DSY.[84] In a review in Dance News, Frances Alenikoff described her as “a haunted, predatory creature stalking in deep crouches, spiralling turns, and angled, disjointed poses.” Doris Hering wrote in Dance Magazine that Bausch “stretched and curved like a mythological serpent, more beautiful than fearsome.”[85] It also made an impact on students who saw an informal showing as part of Hoving’s residency. Dancer/choreographer Gloria McLean remembers:

She did a solo which was a passage from one side of the (very wide) studio to the other in which she “climbed through herself” in movement, as I perceived it. She snaked and twisted and bent and curved across the space but smoothly and without too much change of dynamic, very intense—utterly plastic body… it was riveting.[86]

Screen grab of Bausch in solo at Saratoga, from the documentary “Understanding Pina,” dir. Kathryn Sullivan.

Third and most fateful, was the following summer, when Bausch was a guest artist in Sanasardo’s company for its four-week residency at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. She staged her piece Nachnull (Afterzero) (1970) for the women of his company. But it was again her solo, Philips 836887 DSY, that captivated the critics. Dance Magazine reviewer Judy Kahn wrote the following:

The highlight of the concert was German guest artist Pina Bausch. Her body designs contort in snake-pulling movements, travelling from large patterns to their smaller, more intricate extensions… choreographically unlike anything seen in this country. In her solo she releases her back in a knee-bent “S” and flexes her foot hard, peering at the audience with a poignant sense of humor and foreboding. Her creaturesque, humanoid forms hover in an abstract yet basic realm of human experience… communicating in images tucked away in the subconscious, in private dreams and public mythologies.[87]

Bausch’s solo was also the highlight for Dominique Mercy, who was dancing with Sanasardo that summer. In a 2018 interview, the French dancer recalled, “When she [Bausch] danced her solo performance I was completely in awe and felt…very close to it. I felt that it was something I belonged to. And I knew it was a very beautiful experience and we really connected.”[88]

Manuel Alum, photo Zachary Freyman for Dance Magazine, courtesy NYPL.

That summer Bausch stayed in a house with Manuel Alum, the powerfully expressive protegé of Sanasardo who had started to choreograph on his own. Mercy and another French dancer, Marie-Louise (Malou) Airaudo, who had met Alum in France, were also staying in the house. All four became quite close, and when Bausch was hired to lead the Wuppertal company the following year, she asked Manuel, Dominique, and Malou to join her. The last two did. Dominique danced with the company until her death and beyond. Malou stayed with the company till the mid 90s, then taught in Folkwang.

Mercy, in particular, helped define the Bausch aesthetic. With his beguiling deadpan, he revealed the comic underbelly of her work without losing the choreographic precision. As Ann Daly put it, he “carries her sense of existential isolation, and humor.”[89] Scholar Marcelo de Andrade Pereira contends that Mercy’s long relationship with Bausch made it possible to keep her legacy alive in the four years after her death, when Mercy was co-directing the company.[90] And that relationship has its roots in the Sanasardo work.

After Saratoga, Bausch and Alum remained close friends. Also a “foreigner,” Alum was from Puerto Rico. In the 1970s and ’80s, Bausch stayed at his loft in Tribeca whenever her company performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[91] Alum died of AIDS-related causes in 1993—one of many losses in the dance community.


Last Thoughts

The American impact on Bausch was more than a series of exposures to challenging or provocative work. It was an emotional impact, partly because she was young and impressionable. As she told an interviewer, “I have a big feeling of connection to New York. When I think about New York, then I have what I otherwise never feel, that is a feeling of home. Of homesickness. That’s quite strange.”[92] Strange because New York was neither Solingen, where she was born and danced with the Solingen’s Children’s Ballet, nor Essen, where she trained at the Folkwang School. But New York was where she grew up as an artist, where she grappled with big personalities and big ideas. Juilliard was (and is) a community of dance artists striving to find a balance between discipline and freedom. Juilliard was where she encountered Tudor, Limón, Corvino, Sokolow, La Meri, McKayle, Hinkson, and Horst. Her extra-curricular life introduced her to Sanasardo, Feuer, Alum, Mercy, Airaudo, and Taylor.

When Bausch started choreographing, she drew on her experiences in New York: Tudor’s psychological ballets; Sokolow’s cultivation of the vivid individual; Sanasardo’s and Feuer’s depiction of the obsessive soul. And of course, the cultural expansiveness she found in the Big Apple. I believe that the scope and depth of her oeuvre would not have been possible without those two years in New York— and the decisive residency at Saratoga a decade later.

I leave you with these words from Bausch. They are her acceptance speech upon receiving a Dance Magazine Award, December 8, 2008, only seven months before she died:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel very moved to receive the Dance Magazine Award, 2008, in this city. What all happened to me in New York! All these incredible people I met and learned from. All these unforgettable memories which formed, influenced me forever. Especially, I thank Harvey Lichtenstein, who invited us at the very beginning, and of course the whole Brooklyn Academy family, Joe Mellilo, and not the least the wonderful New York audience.

When I was 18 years old, I was traveling all alone to America without being able to speak a word of English. My parents took me to the port of Cuxhaven. A brass band was playing as the ship was setting off, and everybody was crying. I went onto the ship and waved. My parents were also waving—and crying. And I was standing on the deck and crying too. It was terrible. I had the feeling we would never see each other again. Then I wrote a short letter to Lucas Hoving in New York and posted it on the way to Le Havre [sic]. Lucas has been one of the teachers in Folkwang School in Essen. I was very much hoping that he would pick me up in New York. Eight days later, when I arrived in New York, I didn’t have my health certificate in my bag, but it was in my suitcase. Therefore, I had to spend many hours on the ship waiting until the over thousand passengers had been dealt with. Finally, they took me to my suitcase. I no longer expected that Lucas would still be there, even if he had received my letter. Yet, when I walked off the ship thirteen hours later, he was still standing there. Hanging over his arm were flowers that had wilted in the meantime. Poor Lucas! He had been waiting for me all this time! This for me unforgettable memory shows how I was welcomed then, and how I feel welcomed each time I come to New York.

Thank you very much.[93]


Bausch and Hoving, 2000, shortly before his death, Courtesy Lucas Hoving Facebook page




Special thanks to Jeni Dahmus Farah, archivist of The Juilliard School. When she showed my dance history class a photo of Bausch with Tudor, she commented on how it revealed their close relationship. That led to my curiosity, which led to this research. Thanks also to Ismaël Dia, archivist of the Pina Bausch Foundation; Norton Owen, director of preservation at Jacob’s Pillow, and Laura Vroom at the Metropolitan Opera. Gratitude to everyone who agreed to be interviewed: Paul Sanasardo, Rina Schenfeld, Judith Chazin-Bennahum, Carla De Sola, Ernesta Corvino, Mercedes Ellington, Diane Germaine, Janet Mansfield Soares, Sylvia Waters, Bruce Marks, Judith Canner Moss, Janet Panetta, Lance Westergard, Alice Condodina, and Rosalind Newman. Much thanks to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts for inviting me to present a version of this paper in 2022 as an episode of “The Dance Historian Is In.” Thanks also to Tanz for publishing the German-language version in their August 2023 edition.



BIG APOLOGY for the numbers being out of order. But they do match up with the numbers in the text.

[50] Rina mentioned that Pina had a cousin in the Aco neighborhood of Tel Aviv, who revealed that her mother—Pina’s aunt—was Jewish. Schenfeld has written about this in her online “Letter to Pina Bausch,” in 2014. However the archivist of the Bausch Foundation has corrected this to say it was about her grandmother’s sister, not her mother’s sister.

[3] Wolz became the Dean at the Dance Program at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. He started and led the World Dance Organization until his death in 2002.

[5] She danced in two duets by Cébron. Ritha Devi and Company of Indian Musicians were also on the program. See Jacob’s Pillow Archives

[1] Norbert Servos, “Talking about People through Dance—Pina Bausch Biography,” accessed November 2, 2022.

[5] Jay L. Kaplan, “Pina Bausch: Dancing Around the Issue,” Ballet Review, Spring 1987, 74–77; Susan Manning, “An American Perspective on Tanztheater,” TDR, Summer 1986, 57–79.

[6] Pina Bausch Online Archive, In View of God, 92nd Street Y, December 19, 1959.

[7] Meisner, 172.

[8] Quoted in Luke Jennings, “Pina Bausch: German choreographer whose bleak vision changed the face of European dance,” The Guardian, U.S. Edition, June 30, 2009. .

[9] Rina Schenfeld, Zoom interview with author, February 9, 2022.

[10] Sylvia Waters, phone interview with author, February 6, 2022.

[11] Carla De Sola, phone interview with author, November 28, 2021.

[12] Mercedes Ellington, phone interview with author, Dec. 22, 2021.

[13] Waters, phone interview.

[14] Pina Bausch, “What moves me,” 2007, on the occasion of receiving the Kyoto Prize, accessed February 2, 2022, published with permission the Inamori Foundation.

[15] Schenfeld, Zoom interview, February 9.

[16] Juilliard Dance Division Scrapbook, 1959/1960, 12, 23–25, 59–64, 71, 117.

=, accessed December 14, 2022.

[17] Mansfield Soares, email message to author, July 21, 2022.

[18] Mansfield Soares, email message to author, November 5, 2022.

[19] Quoted in Marion Meyer, Pina Bausch: dance, dance, otherwise we are lost, translated by Penny Black (London: Oberon Books, 2018), 20.

[20] Rita Felciano,“Pina Bausch Finds a Ray of Light,” Dance Magazine, November 2004, 34–40.

[21] Schenfeld, Zoom interview, February 9.

[22] Carla De Sola, phone interview and “Reminiscence,” Zoom panel of Juilliard alums, November 17, 2021.

[23] Quoted in Mark B. Bliss, ed. Antony Tudor Centennial (Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, 2010), 54.

[24] Schenfeld, Zoom interview, February 9.

[25] Quoted in Bliss, Antony Tudor Centennial, 53.

[26] Quoted in Bliss, Antony Tudor Centennial, 54.

[27] Schenfeld, email message to author, February 10, 2022.

[28] Lance Westergard, phone conversation with author, July 10, 2022.

[29] Judith Chazin-Bennahum, Zoom with author, March 3, 2022

[30] Judith Chazin-Bennahum, email message to author, July 11, 2022.

[31] Quoted in Donna Perlmutter, Shadowplay: The Life of Antony Tudor (New York: Viking, 1991), 270.

[32] Valerie Lawson, “Pina, queen of the deep,” The Pina Bausch Sourcebook, ed. Royd Climenhaga (London, Routledge, 2013), 221. Originally published in Sydney Morning Herald, July 17, 2000.

[33] Perlmutter, Shadowplay, 269.

[34] Bausch, “What moves me.”

[35] Kisselgoff, “Dance View: Pina Bausch Adds Humor to Her Palette,” New York Times, July 17, 1988.

[36] These documentary films are also available at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts, but they have not been digitized, so the image is slightly streaked with aging lines.

[37] Quoted in Judith Chazin-Bennahum, The Ballets of Antony Tudor: Studies in Psyche and Satire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 189.

[38] Quoted in Chazin-Bennahum, 189.

[39] Walter Terry, “Juilliard Dance Series, NY Herald Tribune, April 11, 1960.

[40] Nancy Lee Chalfa Ruyter, La Meri and her Life in Dance: Performing the World (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2019), 189.

[41] Juilliard Dance Division Scrapbook, 1959/1960, 92. Originally Doris Hering, “Concert Reviews,” in Dance Magazine, June 1960, 20.

[42] Paul Sanasardo, phone call with author, July 17, 2022.

[43] Mark Franko, Excursion for Miracles: Paul Sanasardo, Donya Feuer and Studio for Dance (1955–1964) (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005), xviii.

[44] Sanasardo phone interview with author, December 26, 2021.

[45] Franko, Excursion, 2.

[46] Meisner, 168.

[47] Sanasardo, phone interview.

[48] Judith Canner Moss, email message to author, February 15, 2022.

[49] Quoted in Luke Jennings, “German choreographer whose bleak vision changed the face of European dance,” The Guardian, U.S. Edition, June 30, 2009.

[50] Rina mentioned that Pina had a cousin in the Aco neighborhood of Tel Aviv, who revealed that her mother—Pina’s aunt—was Jewish. Schenfeld has written about this in her online “Letter to Pina Bausch,” in 2014. However the archivist of the Bausch Foundation has corrected this to say it was about her grandmother’s sister, not her mother’s sister.

[51] Sanasardo, phone interview.

[52] Doris Hering, “A Darkening Pond: Paul Sanasardo Reviewed,” Dance Magazine, August 1971, 73-74.

[53] Franko, Excursion,10.

[54] Franko, Excursion, 7.

[55] Franko, Excursion, 134.

[56] Josephine Ann Endicott, “Dancing Back to Life: Dancing For Pina: The Days and Years of My Life With Tanztheater,” unpublished manuscript.

[57] Ann Daly, “Remembered Gesture,” Critical Gestures: Writing on Dance and Culture (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2002), 28.

[58] Sanasardo, phone interview.

[59] Meredith A. Palmer, “Paul Sanasardo Dance Company,” The Harvard Crimson, October 12, 1971,  accessed November 21, 2022.

[60] Anna Kisselgoff, “Dance: Sanasardo Group,” New York Times, April 28, 1973.

[61] Doris Hering, “Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer in ‘Laughter After All,’ ” Dance Magazine, August, 1960, 24.

[62] Walter Sorell, “In View of God, a dance in three parts by Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer,” Dance Magazine, June, 1959.

[63] Franko, Excursion, 65.

[64] Marcia B. Siegel, “Carabosse in a Cocktail Dress,” The Hudson Review, Spring, 1986.

[65] Email message from Jim May to Samantha Geracht, forwarded to author, March 3, 2022.

[66] Johannes Birringer, “Pina Bausch: Dancing Across Borders,” TDR, Summer 1986, 85–97.

[67] Taylor, Private Domain, An Autobiography (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1988), 97.

[68] Donald McKayle, Transcending Boundaries: My Dancing Life (London: Routledge, 2002), 128.

[69] McKayle, Transcending, 129.

[70] Isa Partsch-Bergsohn, “Dance Theatre from Rudolph Laban to Pina Bausch,” The Pina Bausch Sourcebook, ed. Royd Climenhaga (London: Routledge, 2013),16. Originally published in Dance Theatre Journal, October, 1987.

[71] Judith Chazin-Bennahum, Zoom interview with the author, March 3, 2022.

[72] Metopera Database, the online archive of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, accessed March 2, 2022 and follow-up emails with Laura Vroom, assistant archivist.

[73] Bruce Marks, phone interview with the author, December 23, 2021.

[74] Bausch, “What moves me.”

[75] Dawn Lille, Equipose: The Life and Work of Alfredo Corvino (New York: Dance Movement Press, 2010), 136.

[76] Ernesta Corvino, phone interview with the author, July 11, 2022.

[77] Lille, Equipose, 119–121.

[78] Servos, “Talking about People.”

[79] Bausch, “What moves me.”

[80] Sanasardo, phone interview.

[81] John O’Mahony, “Dancing in the Dark,” The Guardian, U.S. Edition, January 25, 2002.

[82] Bausch, “What moves me.”

[83] Bausch, “What moves me.”

[84] See Pina Bausch online archive at

[85] Quoted in Jack Anderson, The American Dance Festival (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987), 143.

[86] Gloria McLean, email to author, October 28, 2022.

[87] Judy Kahn, “The Paul Sanasardo Dance Company,” Dance Magazine, October 1972, 86.

[88] Marcelo de Andrade Pereira, “On Pina Bausch’s Legacy: An Interview with Dominique Mercy,” Brazilian Journal on Presence Studies, Originally in Rev. Bras. Estud. Presença, Porto Alegre, v. 8, n. 3, p. 539-554, July/Sept. 2018. Available here.

[89] Daly, “Remembered Gesture,” 29.

[90] Quoted in Pereira, “On Pina Bausch’s Legacy.”

[91] Judith Canner Moss, email message to author, February 15, 2022.

[92] Bausch, “What moves me.”

[93] Video recording of Dance Magazine Awards, December 8, 2008, Florence Gould Hall, unpublished.




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