JOHN BUTLER (1918-1993), a prolific choreographer, created works that have been performed by an extraordinary range of ballet and modern dance companies in the United States and Europe. Born in Tennessee, Butler went to New York to study and perform with the Martha Graham Company, but left Graham to create his own works and design dances for opera as well as Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. He formed his own touring company in 1955, but after a few years abandoned the idea of a permanent group in favor of work with a variety of companies. One of his most notable pieces is Carmina Burana (1959) that featured Carmen De Lavallade, Glen Tetley, and singers of the New York City Opera. For years, he was a close collaborator with the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, and collaborated with prominent avant-garde painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers.
MERCE CUNNINGHAM (1919-2009) Cunningham began his professional modern dance career at 20 with a six-year tenure as a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1953 he formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as a forum to explore his ground-breaking ideas. Over the course of his career, Cunningham choreographed more than 150 dances and over 800 “Events.” Among his many awards are the National Medal of Arts (1990) and the MacArthur Fellowship (1985). He also received the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award in 2009, Japan’s Praemium Imperiale in 2005, the British Laurence Olivier Award in 1985, and was named Officier of the Legion d’Honneur in France in 2004. Cunningham passed away in his New York City home on July 26, 2009. Always forward-thinking, Cunningham developed the precedent-setting Legacy Plan prior to his death to guide his Company and ensure the preservation of his artistic legacy.
ISADORA DUNCAN (1878-1927), born in San Francisco, was a prime force in liberating dance from the constraints of classical ballet and restoring to it some of the free expression of Greek antiquity. Experimenting with body movements, she discovered the point where her spiritual and technical approach to the dance intertwined. She decided all motion originated in the solar plexus. On this principle, together with the emotional force of gravity, she built her system, her school, and her legacy to modern dance. Recognized in Europe as an artistic phenomenon, Duncan established schools in Germany, France, and Russia. Her legacy survives among all modern dancers, who consider her their artistic mother.
MARTHA GRAHAM (1894-1991) was the most famous of the Denishawn dancers, who left the company in order to develop her own highly individual style and movement vocabulary that added a new dimension to the choreographic art. Graham’s technique is based on tension and percussive attack, the contraction and release of the body. She was influenced by the philosophy of Sigmund Freud. Graham often took images from Greek tragedy and other legendary sources as her framework but analyzed her characters from a psychological point of view. She also experimented with American themes and collaborated with Aaron Copland to create one of her best known works, Appalachian Spring. Graham was a brilliant creative force using poetry, myth, sculpture and contemporary music in highly original ways. Martha Graham is considered one of the greatest artists America has ever produced.
DORIS HUMPHREY (1885-1958) and CHARLES WEIDMAN (1902-1975) left the famous Denishawn company to establish themselves as the first generation of American modern dance choreographers. They formed a company and school known as Humphrey/Weidman in New York City and created a large repertory of dramatic and abstract dance masterworks in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Humphrey had an unerring sense of form and structure and an instinct for shaping the body’s natural energies into arresting rhythmic and spatial sequences. She believed deeply in the group as the supreme instrument of choreography, and offered each dancer a chance to contribute something personal to the dance. Weidman’s gift for comedy and quick character sketches found its outlet in his dancing and choreography and he developed his kinetic pantomime and frequently contributed a lighter side to the repertory. When Humphrey/Weidman Company dissolved in the mid-1940’s, Weidman continued to work with a group of his own, while Humphrey became artistic director and choreographer for the José Limón Company and teacher at the Connecticut College School of Dance and the Julliard School. She wrote The Art of Making Dances, probably the clearest exposition of dance composition written in the 20th century.
MICHIO ITO (1892-1961), born in Tokyo, was a student of Kabuki and Noh theater before moving to Paris in 1911. At the beginning of World War I, he moved to Britain and then to the US and choreographed Broadway revues and experimental dance pieces. Ito divided his time between New York and Hollywood, where he choreographed for films. He fused traditional Japanese concepts with some theories of Dalcroze and created his own unique movement technique which included 10 symbolic gestures of the arms that he compared to the 12 notes on a piano. Ito influenced many dancers in New York City in the 1920’s with his inner concentration, inventive gestures and fusion of Eastern and Western art. He was deported from the United States in 1941, and returned to Tokyo to establish a modern dance school.
JOSÉ LIMÓN (1908-1972) was born in Culiacán, Mexico, and moved to New York City in 1928 to study at the Art Students League. He enrolled in the dance school of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman in the early 1930’s. In 1946, with Doris Humphrey as his artistic director, Limón collected a small group of dancers and formed his own company. During the ensuing years, many of his works were recognized as masterpieces and his company grew in size and stature. In his later years, Limón was the recipient of numerous commissions, awards and honorary doctorates. José Limón choreographed a total of seventy-four works, the most famous of which is The Moor’s Pavane. Today, the José Limón Dance Foundation continues his work through two entities: the Limón Dance Company, an international touring repertory company, and the Limón Institute, an educational and archival resource organization.
SUSAN MCLAIN (1953-2011) was a graduate of the High School of the Performing Arts in New York City.
A former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and Pearl Lang Dance Company, she has also performed with Ballet West, Richard Move, Douglas Nielsen, Larry Richardson and danced extensively throughout the world and can be seen in the "Dance in America" series for public television.
She worked as a solo artist while continuing her work for the Martha Graham Company as its Senior Artistic Associate. McLain received a B.A. in Dance Education and a M.F.A. from the Modern department of dance at the University of Utah where she also served as a faculty member for eight years.
Susan was also an active member of the American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA). Her choreography has been seen in the repertoire of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Repertory Dance Theater and other professional companies in the United States.
DANIEL NAGRIN’s career as a dancer, choreographer and teacher spans five decades. He and Helen Tamiris worked together on Broadway (where he was once voted Best Male Dancer) and founded the Tamiris-Nagrin Dance Company in 1960. He later directed The Workgroup, an improvisational dance company. Nagrin is the creator and performer of an extensive solo dance repertory which he has toured since 1957. He has had extensive experience teaching movement for actors and has been engaged for many long-term residencies and summer workshops at major universities including nine summer workshops with the American Dance Festival. After ten years as Professor of Dance at Arizona State University, he is now a retired Professor Emeritus of Dance. Daniel Nagrin has authored numerous books on dance including How to Dance Forever and The Six Questions: Acting Technique For Dance Performance.
YVONNE RAINER was born in San Francisco in 1934, and moved to New York City in 1957 to study theater and modern dance at the Martha Graham School and later with Merce Cunningham. Rainer was one of the organizers of the Judson Dance Theater, a focal point for vanguard activity in the dance world throughout the 1960’s, and formed her own company for a brief time after the Judson performances ended. Rainer’s choreography stripped dance of its emotion, symbolism and narrative, producing a raw series of physical movements. She employed repetition, patterning, tasks, and games - which later became standard features of post-modern dance. She has choreographed more than 40 concert works and has completed 7 feature-length films.
SHAPIRO & SMITH (Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith) was established in 1987. Since then their work has enjoyed enthusiastic reception for performances and residencies across the US, and in Europe, Asia and Canada. Shapiro and Smith met during their years dancing with Murray Louis and Alwin Nikolais. They began the development of a collaborative process through which they created their work. Shapiro & Smith have taught their unique blend of dance and athleticism at major international festivals and set repertory for over 50 college or university dance programs throughout the U.S. They have been the Company in Residence at Montclair State University since 1990, and Smith currently holds the Barbara Barker Endowed Chair in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
TED SHAWN (1892-1972), a former divinity student, was introduced to dance as therapy after an illness. His rehabilitation program included ballet lessons, which led to a career in dance. He and his wife, Ruth St. Denis, were co-founders of a company and a school called Denishawn (1915-1931). It toured the world and trained the next generation of ‘modern’ dancers, including Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Martha Graham. Shawn incorporated ethnic and especially American Indian dances into his choreography. He also sought to make dance an accepted, legitimate profession for men and created an all male company in 1933 that established male dancing as a virile form of art expression. In 1930, Ted Shawn built Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. This became his home, school, and the base for Ted Shawn and his Men Dancers, which toured in the US and abroad for seven years.
ANNA SOKOLOW (1910-2000) was born in Hartford, Connecticut. She began her career with the Martha Graham Company and formed several groups of her own, the first, Theatre Dance Group, in 1934. She has been a pioneer in the creation of dances that explore the innermost feelings of men and women in reaction to the social and psychological pressure of contemporary life. Even with works dealing with such subjects as economic depression, racism, lust for power and military expansion, Sokolow managed to be more the artist than the agitator. Although best known for her dances of social significance, Sokolow resisted any temptation to limit herself to any one area of expression. In her stunning 1954 Lyric Suite, she integrated vignettes of a wide range of human emotion. She was an influential teacher, having taught in the U.S., Mexico, Israel, Europe, and Japan. Sokolow is credited with more than 50 choreographed works.
RUTH ST. DENIS (1879-1968), the ‘High Priestess’ of American modern dance, was born on a New Jersey farm. She briefly studied ballet and danced in New York as a Belasco girl, where she changed her name from Dennis to St. Denis. Her career stemmed from a series of New York recitals of Asian-inspired ballets and a number of triumphant European tours. Founding the Denishawn school and company with husband Ted Shawn in 1915, she helped build the foundations of American modern dance throughout the 1920’s. She was instrumental in popularizing modern dance to American audiences, and gave Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman their early dance training. After she and Shawn separated in the early 1930’s, she continued her exploration of mystic and spiritual dance until her death.
HELEN TAMIRIS (1905-1966) was born Helen Becker and grew up on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side. She spent her early career performing with the Metropolitan Opera and touring as a specialty dancer in musical reviews. She took the glamorous name of Tamiris, allegedly from a poem about a Persian queen, and made her concert debut in New York City in 1927. Like other performing artists, Tamiris was concerned with articulating America. She was one of the first choreographers to use jazz and spiritual music to explore social themes via dance. Tamiris authored a manifesto expressing her belief that being an American dancer meant conveying a sense of vigor and expansive spirit. Because her style of dance was so personal and she always encouraged her students to search within themselves, not to emulate her, there is no ‘Tamiris style’. She was an exciting and original dancer, but her most enduring contribution was Broadway choreography that integrated dance into a musical’s plot.