Lady Kay

Ruth St Denis

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Lady Kay’s original question.

The Rise of Asians and Asian Americans in Vaudeville, 1880s–1930s Krystyn R. Moon, Ph.D. @ http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/history/faculty...search/moon.htm

Background to oriental dance in USA

http://www.amaradances.com/amara_articles/1999_contemp.html

Actually Leonid,

That's not Lady Kay's original question at all. Her question was "why isn't St Denis's Oriental technique/style not reflected in the American modern dance. By which she means Graham, Holm, Humphrey and then further generations.

The thing you seem to fail to grasp is that St Denis was NOT Oriental dance, it was her idea of what orientalia should be. Those postcards while charming only confirm in my eye what a charlatan she was in terms of legitimately appropriating and assimilating Asian and Eastern dance styles - she was no more than playing dress up.

My assault on St Denis was not at her position as a great dancer everyone attests to this, what they also say however, is that her artistry was completely superficial.

You cannot assess St Denis as an originator of technique, she had none beyond that which she needed for her pretty dances; nor can you claim that her influence on her two great students Graham and Humphrey was a direct case of inspiration. They succeeded by reacting against everything St Denis and Denishawn stood for.

Louis Horst was not employed by Denishawn to the full of his capabilities, he was their accompanist, then when they sacked their conductor he stepped in - it wasn't until leaving Denishawn his studies in Germany and his artistic marriage to Graham that he came into his own as a teacher of music composition and the composition of beats and meter in dance forms.

However, Horst had a deep aversion to modern music, especially Stravinsky, and he held the belief that dance and music were inextricably linked - he was highly censorious of the moderns who sprang up in the 50s of modernism in general. To claim rather breezily and whistfully that his influence is seen througout the current dance world is stretching it a bit - because one thing that modern dance had to do to grow up is get beyond the belief that a step of dance equals a beat of music.

If Lady Kay wants to study St Denis that's great, but to send her off on a wild goose chase down the pathways of Oriental dance and philosophy claiming that St Denis was a great innovator in these forms is a total waste of time.

Which is also what my unlearned first post was trying to do, to introduce St Denis for what she was, an artist yes, a curiosity, an artistic charlatan and a product of a specific time and place in the history of dance and public performance, who was ultimately outdistanced by her "pupils".

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You cannot assess St Denis as an originator of technique, she had none beyond that which she needed for her pretty dances; nor can you claim that her influence on her two great students Graham and Humphrey was a direct case of inspiration. They succeeded by reacting against everything St Denis and Denishawn stood for.

Is this one part entirely accurate, Simon--I don't mean the 'originator of technique' part, but rather the 'direct inspiration'? Didn't Graham continue worshipping St. Denis, at least in her own dancing, didn't she want to have that kind of imperious image that she had adored in St. Denis, even though this was unrequited? I think that's what McDonach was saying, anyway. And it occurs to me that, in that one way, she wouldn't have been able to be quite as imperious at least in the statuesque sense, because so small (refresh me on St. Denis's height, though, but surely she was taller than Graham). Anway, Graham was never the same after seeing St. Denis in that Los Angeles theater. I don't mean in the choreography, but I had just gotten the impression that she really always longed for some of St. Denis's brand of magnetic persona in her stage personality.

I still hope someone will say something about westernizing orientalisms in the arts in general, that must have been by the time it was well under way, long after Commodore Perry in Japan (I think, my history is not good here) and Japanese influences on 18th century French and English porceleins, etc., just throwing out a couple of ideas here. In a way, although I agree with the superficiality of St. Denis's orientalisms, could you tell me, Simon, that it SHOULD have been possible even by that time to go much deeper, this was a rather late stage of this kind of importing, and probably some others really did go much deeper. Thanks.

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Oh dear, well I'm sure you will attack me for this on one level or another, but all that aside, what an agenda you seem to have, Simon! Your attack in the guise of an assessment carries no weight with me, but I don't suppose that stresses you one bit.

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However, Horst had a deep aversion to modern music, especially Stravinsky, and he held the belief that dance and music were inextricably linked - he was highly censorious of the moderns who sprang up in the 50s of modernism in general. To claim rather breezily and whistfully that his influence is seen througout the current dance world is stretching it a bit - because one thing that modern dance had to do to grow up is get beyond the belief that a step of dance equals a beat of music.

Yes, and you hear this somehow in the music. He is not a great composer outside composing for dance. None of the dances I've seen for Graham--El Penitente, 'Frontier', some others, are nearly as meaningful to me as what she did with Schuman, Copland, Dello Joio, Menotti, Barber, and so on, but they're bright and brisk too, you just wouldn't care to hear them by themselves, or at least I wouldn't.

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Patrick,

Yes, absolutely, Graham venerated St Denis as a dancer, she knew she was a great artist and much of her chagrin at Denishawn was being pawned off on Ted Shawn; and she did throughout her life continue to hold St Denis up as a figure of veneration as an artist, but not her art, nor her technique, nor her approach to art.

I think that's what I'm trying but obviously failing to communicate, the great dichotomy of St Denis was that she was a great artist, which was what saved her dance theatre from being completely superficial.

If one can single out any one great thing Graham did, it was in the creation of a technique that can train, create and make a fully rounded dancer. Graham's legacy was of the creation of a whole new legitimate, classical even, art form. Rooted in a school and by school I mean a technique which has travelled the world, is taught througout the world and remade the world. St Denis's legacy is evaporated, there's nothing of it except sepia tinted poses in postcards - and the inspiration she put in her two great students to found an art form with real meat, technique and durable purpose.

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Oh dear, well I'm sure you will attack me for this on one level or another, but all that aside, what an agenda you seem to have, Simon! Your attack in the guise of an assessment carries no weight with me, but I don't suppose that stresses you one bit.

Mme. Hermine

I'm not attacking anyone, nor am I attacking you. And I think that's a bit rich to accuse me of attack when I've been accused of being of the gutter, unlearned, bringing down the tone and quality of this board.

Why on earth is frank, open discussion and debate considered attack? I have no agenda, and I'm actually getting a bit irritated at having nefarious, prurient ulterior motives put upon me, when believe me Mme. Hermine, truly there are none there.

However, if you would like to clarify exactly what my agenda is, I'd be delighted to know, as I am currently mystified as to what it might be.

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However, Horst had a deep aversion to modern music, especially Stravinsky, and he held the belief that dance and music were inextricably linked - he was highly censorious of the moderns who sprang up in the 50s of modernism in general. To claim rather breezily and whistfully that his influence is seen througout the current dance world is stretching it a bit - because one thing that modern dance had to do to grow up is get beyond the belief that a step of dance equals a beat of music.

Okay... I guess what I'm trying to say is my understanding was that Horst started out our mothers of modern dance on a path of analyzing choreography as if it were simple music theory; started them down the pathway of considering the underlying structure of choreography. That Cunningham, etc. totally rejected tying steps to music doesn't mean he totally rejected structure. I believe he actually had to involve a lot of structure to support his chance operations. To say that because someone took the theory several steps further or even in a different direction is not to say that artist was on a totally different non-intersecting path...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Horst

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Thanks for getting us back on track Amy.

One further note. Cut the personal comments. If you have something to say about someone's post that goes beyond the content of the post, USE PMs.

If the Moderators think a thread is going off the rails, we will say so. Otherwise, stick to the topic under discussion, please.

Back to Amy's question and clarification.

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No one has yet mentioned the extended appearance of Ruth St. Denis in the three-part documentary Free to Dance. In that wonderful film, we hear the correspondence between RSD and Edna Guy, a young African American admirer who was eager to dance with RSD's company. It's on the one hand a tale of overt racism (St. Denis continually refers to Guy as "girlie" and strings her along) but also a complex portrayal of the role of race in early American modern dance (which I consider RSD firmly part of whether she'd like it or not!).

I recommend the entire series if you haven't seen it ready.

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I don't think i had seen that clip of St. Denis dancing. Is that the only one? I had thought I'd seen a bit of her old dancing on that video, but must not be, because I don't remember her as big blonde woman. I could be confusing her with Humphrey's old clip before the Ernestine Stoedehl (sp?), which is not very admirable mistake ot make, but I still had thought I saw St. Denis. I guess not, though. I want to watch it some more, she does have a presence, I'm not exactly sure what else to say from such a short bit. Thanks for posting it, Simon.

Yes, it's lovely and fluid, but oh my, she does look like Marilyn Monroe in it, or is that just the old film? I think she's gorgeous, and can see the element that would make Martha want to emulate her.

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Lady Kay’s original question.

The Rise of Asians and Asian Americans in Vaudeville, 1880s–1930s Krystyn R. Moon, Ph.D. @ http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/history/faculty...search/moon.htm

Background to oriental dance in USA

http://www.amaradances.com/amara_articles/1999_contemp.html

Actually Leonid,

That's not Lady Kay's original question at all. Her question was "why isn't St Denis's Oriental technique/style not reflected in the American modern dance. By which she means Graham, Holm, Humphrey and then further generations.

The thing you seem to fail to grasp is that St Denis was NOT Oriental dance, it was her idea of what orientalia should be. Those postcards while charming only confirm in my eye what a charlatan she was in terms of legitimately appropriating and assimilating Asian and Eastern dance styles - she was no more than playing dress up.

My assault on St Denis was not at her position as a great dancer everyone attests to this, what they also say however, is that her artistry was completely superficial.

You cannot assess St Denis as an originator of technique, she had none beyond that which she needed for her pretty dances; nor can you claim that her influence on her two great students Graham and Humphrey was a direct case of inspiration. They succeeded by reacting against everything St Denis and Denishawn stood for.

Louis Horst was not employed by Denishawn to the full of his capabilities, he was their accompanist, then when they sacked their conductor he stepped in - it wasn't until leaving Denishawn his studies in Germany and his artistic marriage to Graham that he came into his own as a teacher of music composition and the composition of beats and meter in dance forms.

However, Horst had a deep aversion to modern music, especially Stravinsky, and he held the belief that dance and music were inextricably linked - he was highly censorious of the moderns who sprang up in the 50s of modernism in general. To claim rather breezily and whistfully that his influence is seen througout the current dance world is stretching it a bit - because one thing that modern dance had to do to grow up is get beyond the belief that a step of dance equals a beat of music.

If Lady Kay wants to study St Denis that's great, but to send her off on a wild goose chase down the pathways of Oriental dance and philosophy claiming that St Denis was a great innovator in these forms is a total waste of time.

Which is also what my unlearned first post was trying to do, to introduce St Denis for what she was, an artist yes, a curiosity, an artistic charlatan and a product of a specific time and place in the history of dance and public performance, who was ultimately outdistanced by her "pupils".

Simon I was writing in shorthand in response to Amy. They were not statements. They were lines of information directing Lady Kay to websites.

Please try to contribute and not simply contradict. When you contribute you are really very good at it.

I send you calm, peace and blessings.

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One more time. The topic of this thread is Ruth St. Denis. . Please keep to the topic.

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I had thought I'd seen a bit of her old dancing on that video, but must not be, because I don't remember her as big blonde woman.

I believe that St. Denis sported snowy white hair when she was older... perhaps you are misreading "white" as "blonde"? The costume moves beautifully, it seems she was always very careful with the way her costumes moved... (I'm not really on a costume kick, though it's beginning to sound like it...)

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The crux of Lady Kay's question was whether St Denis had a legitimate technique based around ethnic dance forms which influenced the following generations of modern dance innovators.

However, this specifically could only be in relation to Graham & Humphrey/Weidman who were the only true dance innovators to have studied with Denishawn. Humphrey's aesthetic & body of work is so unrelated to ethnicity specifically eastern ethnicity that one could argue that if anything the only way St Denis influenced Humphrey was to run as far away as possible from St Denis and everything she stood for.

Graham however is a very different story, as a strong undercurrent of and influence of eastern philosophy and aesthetics does run throughout her work HOWEVER unlike St Denis Graham made a huge, personal and lifelong effort to not just study these religions, cultures and aesthetics as a surface glamour, but to to try and fully understand the genesis and meaning of these cultures to which she was drawn.

Graham's first solo concert was a series of studies in movement in 1926 which she freely admitted borrowed heavily from Denishawn and what she learnt there because she had no point of comparison to anything else. Indeed one piece entitled Study in Lacquer had Graham enshrined in folds of silk kimonos, a full geisha wig on her head, immitating a porcelain Japanese figurine then came the final rift with Denishawn when she was forbidden to teach or perform in the style without paying rights she couldn't afford. It was at this point that you could say Martha Graham began as an artist.

Graham's breakthrough came three years later with the concert in which she performed the solo Dance - in this concert their became apparent the contraction, the release, and the personal aesthetic which was to inform her art and technique.

Graham's interests in ethnic cultures were concentrated on Native American dances, for rain, fertility, war, but she wasn't copying, she studied the cultures attended ceremonies amongst tribes. The way the foot stamps the earth, flexes demanding favours of the gods - this was what Graham was about.

Her studies in the eastern philosphies especially Kundalini weren't about pretty concert pieces, she wasn't interested in these cultures because she could be pretty onstage - she was interested in the deep spiritual side of performance and dance as held by primitive cultures.

Because her first legitimate masterpiece Primative Mysteries in 1931 whilst dealing in wholly Catholic material was the Virgin's grief as if reimagined by a Native American religious order. Graham's art and technique was brutal, visceral and wholly unconcerned with surface - the antithesis of Ruth St Denis for whom spirituality was synonymous with prettiness, beatitude and whimsy. Martha Graham famously said of her admiration of the Native American's brutality "they worship a God who died in torture" - for Graham worship, torture and veneration were the qualities which interested her within ethnic dance and philosophy.

Her solo of 1944 Herodiade her dance at 50 as a farewell to youth, in which a woman confronts her mortality in a mirror was inspired intellectually by Burmese film footage of village priestesses' ritual of kissing the crown of a cobra's head in order to ensure the birth of male children to the village - and although the dance had no re-enaction of the ritual, the power of that primative culture underpinned Herodiade.

Amy, you may be interested in what Lincoln Kirstein said about Horst in eulogy "He believed in art without compromise... the real value of Louis Horst was that he gave a morality to choreography."

And martha Graham wrote in the New York Times " His sympathy and understanding but primarily his faith gave me a landscape to move in. Without it, I should certainly have been lost."

One can't underestimate Horst's influence in the creation of Martha Graham, but there's a flipside to Kirstein's evalutation, though Horst was without compromise, he rarely compromised on his own beliefs of what choreography and dance should be and morals are utterly personal to the individual. With Graham he had his life's work and that sadly obliterated his valuing a modern dance landscape which was ephemeral and shifting radically throughout his life. Cunningham, Taylor, Limon, all were second class artists, talents, God knows what he thought of the Judson Church Group, there's the famous story of his review of Paul Taylor's solo concert in which he stood still for ten minutes doing nothing, Horst responded with a blank 3 inches of column space with his name at the bottom. For Horst the beat and the movement were synonymous. But that was his morality and he stuck to it, passionately.

Horst also loathed Shawn, he revered St Denis as a great dancer, but not her dance as being great, and he found her Vaudevillian dances distasteful - he had no belief in Denishawn as a significant or enduring legacy of art.

This is quite an interesting quote by Agnes De Mille about St Denis's technique of dance and creating dances:

"Miss Ruth was an improviser. She disliked steps and would not fix or settle on any. Also, she found it difficult to remember them. On occasion she was extraordinarily communicative and moving, like any other votive priestess. As other times she was flat"

And there's another one in which she sums up St Denis's legacy which is harsh, but very tragic and moving and probably quite true:

She was like a body on a gallows, left hanging in the weather as a warning

Denishawn as a venture was overextended from the start, they couldn't afford the school, or the huge rounds of double tours one led by Shawn the other by St Denis. The whole enterprise was the hubris of Shawn and St Denis can hardly be blamed for succumbing to the attentions of a much younger man - this was a woman who had lived 20 or more years under the mantle of assumed Sainthood. Humphrey, Weidman, Graham all left her Horst only stuck around because he was having an affair with Graham and new she was the real deal, as soon as she left he did. And Shawn needed to live free of the middle aged woman he was married to, to pursue his life as a homosexual. Certainly his all male dance group was a short lived venture in the annals of modern dance history. Though he did continue to support her financially throughout her life.

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I had thought I'd seen a bit of her old dancing on that video, but must not be, because I don't remember her as big blonde woman.

I believe that St. Denis sported snowy white hair when she was older... perhaps you are misreading "white" as "blonde"? The costume moves beautifully, it seems she was always very careful with the way her costumes moved... (I'm not really on a costume kick, though it's beginning to sound like it...)

In this clip I felt the costume was somehow as important as her dance. Second time of viewing I concentrated on the costume as it takes on a flowing sculptural form which I found very interesting as Miss Ruth manipulated it with her movements.

From the complexity of designs for dresses that she employed, to my mind, it seems to appear she was not just dressing up to conjure a particular theme or style, she was also a sculptress in silks.

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Her solo of 1944 Herodiade her dance at 50 as a farewell to youth, in which a woman confronts her mortality in a mirror was inspired intellectually by Burmese film footage of village priestesses' ritual of kissing the crown of a cobra's head in order to ensure the birth of male children to the village - and although the dance had no re-enaction of the ritual, the power of that primative culture underpinned Herodiade.

Very interesting, I've got to tell somebody about this with whom I've been discussing the Mallarme and the Graham, but this cobra ritual is not in the Mallarme, of course. I find 'Herodiade' to be the most disturbing dance I've ever seen in some ways, much more so than 'Night Journey', 'Cave of the Heart', and others. There's that mention of Burma as well when she speaks on the old PBS video of 'Martha Graham Dance Company', when she's talk about a Bumese telling her that 'Cave of the Heart' reminded him/her of 'an elephant gone mad, run amok' (may not be exact quote, close to that). I know this is a little off-topic except for the matter of Graham going more deeply into the Eastern cultures than St. Denis (by a long shot), but is there a term for that movement that Herodius does (and I've seen it in other Graham pieces as well, I think Oedipus does a less frenzied version of it in 'NJ'), when she seems to be about to go forward, but she can't go forward, she stays in place. There's a long one of these maybe in the last 7 minutes or so when she is doing this, trying to move. What's amazing is that with every thrust forward, she does convince you (this is the Japanese dancer, I can't remember the name, but not the earlier Yuriko) that she'll be able to, and I think there really is no movement forward at all, unless it's necessary to move just a bit to get the effect.

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Horst...............he came into his own as a teacher of music composition and the composition of beats and meter in dance forms.

........................ To claim rather breezily and whistfully that his influence is seen througout the current dance world is stretching it a bit - because one thing that modern dance had to do to grow up is get beyond the belief that a step of dance equals a beat of music.

Simon, I don't know where you got the idea that Louis Horst taught that a step of dance equals a beat of music. Certainly not from Louie! He would come down hard on a student who mickey moused the music.

Louis Horst's method of teaching dance composition evolved into three courses. Pre classic forms in which the movement qualities as well as the formal structures of gigues, sarabands etc.were explored. Modern Forms consisted of earth primitive, air primitive, Medieval (religious & secular ) cerebral, americana etc. Craft was primary ( for example, if the form was ABA, God help you if one eye blink you did in A showed up in B ) , There are books out that explain these, in detail, but the work used the structural techniques used in music, theme and variations, theme and devolvement sonata form etc.

And finally for those who survived those, Group forms. While the object of the classes was to learn craft, Louie had no patience with students who showed cliched or derivative movement. He valued originality, and of course Graham being his standard, he was constantly disappointed. He had an eagle eye, a sardonic wit, and a great gift for nurturing talent. Through his teaching, and written criticism in his magazine Dance Observer, Louis Horst served his belief, that dance was not a frivolous entertainment, but a serious art form that deserved respect. To answer Amy, I'd like to believe his influence is still felt.

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Liling,

Sorry, I did indeed express that cackhandedly, what I meant that Horst believed that music and dance were inextricably linked. Though the fact is that dance is absolutely independent of music, both as an art form and performance discipline, there is no need for dance to co exist with music. Two of my teachers in London were Jane Dudley & Nina Fonaroff, both Horst's protege's and Dudley's Graham and composition classes in particular followed many of Horst's formats - i don't need to read a book, I got a course in it from someone who learned and performed at the horse's mouth, as is were and Belinda Quirey taught us for Baroque and historic dance forms.

And yes, even though Graham was his absolute ideal and that against which all others fell short, there is the possibility that others were greater than Graham, something he refused to entertain. For me, just as St Denis was far outdistanced by Graham, she was outdistanced by Cunningham, certainly a choreographer the antithesis of Horst's ideal and ideals of choregraphy.

I meant no disprespect to Horst or his memory and fully recognise the huge impact he had on the progression of modern dance, but I do stand by my statement that it is kind of overstating and romantic to believe that Horst is still alive and well within the current dance landscape.

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didn't Horst encourage Graham to create her dances independent of music, knowing he could provide/add music to what she had created after the fact?

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However, this specifically could only be in relation to Graham & Humphrey/Weidman who were the only true dance innovators to have studied with Denishawn. Humphrey's aesthetic & body of work is so unrelated to ethnicity specifically eastern ethnicity that one could argue that if anything the only way St Denis influenced Humphrey was to run as far away as possible from St Denis and everything she stood for.

I think St. Denis taught Humphrey a great deal about the manipulation of fabric as an element of the dance... and there are several Humphrey works that show this influence: Air for the G String, Grieg Concerto (which I regularly mix up with With My Red Fires), Valse Caprice?, Quasi Waltz, and of course Soaring... You see no Denishawn influence? Noy orientalism but fabric manipulation. Remember, St. Denis was originally a skirt dancer. Also, I suspect St. Denis taught them a great deal about how to bear themselves elegantly... I think this was what the Hollywood starlets were sent to her to learn... carriage.

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I think St. Denis taught Humphrey a great deal about the manipulation of fabric as an element of the dance... and there are several Humphrey works that show this influence: Air for the G String, Grieg Concerto (which I regularly mix up with With My Red Fires), Valse Caprice?, Quasi Waltz, and of course Soaring... You see no Denishawn influence? Noy orientalism but fabric manipulation. Remember, St. Denis was originally a skirt dancer. Also, I suspect St. Denis taught them a great deal about how to bear themselves elegantly... I think this was what the Hollywood starlets were sent to her to learn... carriage.

Carriage, deportment and swishing fabric don't make a dancer or dance technique, nor do they make a lasting body of work.

Are we talking about dance or cheap sentiment here?

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didn't Horst encourage Graham to create her dances independent of music, knowing he could provide/add music to what she had created after the fact?

He worked with her, by her, for her. Creating, editing, composing, advising - and the music was made for the dance and sometimes vice versa. With the case of Herodiade Hindemith composed it first after discussing the dramaturgy with Graham, who then composed the dance for the music.

But that wasn't what I was saying or talking about at all in terms of dance being a seperate art and wholly itself independent of music.

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Carriage, deportment and swishing fabric don't make a dancer or dance technique, nor do they make a lasting body of work.

Are we talking about dance or cheap sentiment here?

I think that would depend on the focus. Dance doesn't have to be in a leotard to be a valid piece of art, and yes there is technique involved in fabric manipulation.

One of the oddest surprises for me was to hear that when St. Denis toured the Far East with her dancers was that she was very successful there. I thought that with the real thing available, the public would have shied away from a Western take on it... but have been informed that at the time very few of the general population actually got to see the temple dancers and indian classical dancers, and they were delighted to be entertained by St. Denis.

Have to run before finishing this thought...

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Carriage, deportment and swishing fabric don't make a dancer or dance technique, nor do they make a lasting body of work.

Are we talking about dance or cheap sentiment here?

I think that would depend on the focus. Dance doesn't have to be in a leotard to be a valid piece of art, and yes there is technique involved in fabric manipulation.

One of the oddest surprises for me was to hear that when St. Denis toured the Far East with her dancers was that she was very successful there. I thought that with the real thing available, the public would have shied away from a Western take on it... but have been informed that at the time very few of the general population actually got to see the temple dancers and indian classical dancers, and they were delighted to be entertained by St. Denis.

Have to run before finishing this thought...

Hi Amy,

Can I just amend the "cheap" aspect, I don't think it's cheap to be sentimetal about one's teacher, and I'm not at all denigrating St Denis and her work, which was of its time.

I have no doubt as I've said before that St Denis must have been an entrhalling and compelling dancer and it's interesting that she had a huge, huge inferiority complex when it came to Duncan.

Graham too had an incredible influence on fabric, costume and the way it was used for dramatic effect within her dance theatre.

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