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Ruth St DenisAmerican Modern Dance


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#16 papeetepatrick

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 11:48 AM

The only reason why Graham came under his "tutelage" was because St Denis considered her completely untalented and pawned her off on her husband, while she kept Doris Humphrey for herself. And I did say to Shawn's credit he recognised her burgeoning talent.

Shawn forbade her saying it was totally inappropriate and Graham responded "who'll ever know?"


Yes, I remember from the McDonagh how interesting that St. Denis was so dismissive of Graham, and he often pointed out how Graham idolized her. Finally, St. Denis grudgingly said something on the order of 'well, Martha Graham does have a real technique, I'll say that for her." (I don't have the book at hand, that's close enough unless rg has time to make it perfect. So Shawn was very important in terms of Graham. I didn't read the entire thread that carefully, but it wasn't that long ago I watched the snipped of St. Denis's own dancing, very brief, maybe what you linked up there, and maybe 12 or so St. Denis pieces, which I think Simon characterizes well as being 'superficial-Oriental'. I think most 'western orientalisms of the time were like that, weren't they, in all of the arts? Don't know whether you mentioned the Javanese and Balinese in the Graham Notebooks, Simon, maybe so, just adding to what you said about flexed foot of American Indians, although I can't remember if that's especially featured in 'El Pentitente' or not.


But it's also true that Shawn was the love of her life, which is sad as he most certainly could never love her sexually or romantically, and ultimately her downfall. Shawn isn't remembered with anything like the reverance or importance or St Denis.


No, that's not sad, it was her business. People love people for all sorts of ill-shaped reasons. His exhibitionism is of no importance, except it it CAUSED him to be an inferior artist. Nureyev was certainly an exhitionist (okay, I don't want to argue this, so STRAVINSKY referred to him that way). But what you said about his being of importance to Martha by default still holds, although obviously true St. Denis was lightweight in terms of that she was important more as a presursor to what came from her school.

Moreover, he wasn't the only one who made a legitimate career out of homosexual desire within the dance world. Dance, with its perceived looser morals has always been a magnet for sexual opportunists; but really what's so wrong with that? George Platt Lynes, probably one of the greatest dance photographers of all time was drawn to dance because he was gay, liked photographing naked men and dancers were more sexually liberated than laymen and more willing to get their kit off in the name of art. Ditto Lincoln Kirstein the greatest impresario since Diaghilev, sure he was educated, intellecutal and had an undoubted, profound love of ballet, but he also like sex and the dance and art worlds were a surefire way of having access to gay or sexually ambivalent young men.


Agree with you there, and you can't really understand Shawn without this material, it could be things like 'get their kit off'. you know. Okay, if you can use 'their kit', I guess I can use 'my kit' too. Although I do not want to use 'your kit'. :angel_not: Never heard THAT till now, you CORRUPTOR! :clapping: Anyway, it IS silly season, a term I also never heard used till I came to Ballet Talk. But leonid probably just tired of hearing about endless 'hand relief' stories, you know what I mean? We've heard a LOT of things like that recently here.

I don't see why you're so tetchy about discussing the seedier side of people's motivations especially when like in the case of Ted Shawn, those sexual desires were indeed instrumental for the path their careers took. The DenisShawn school was a magnet for gay men, and Shawn famously took advantage of that, it makes his achievements or life no less than they were, but to suggest otherwise or that he was morally pure and devoted to St Denis is as false as Ruth's notion of spirtual enlightenment and the prefix of St before her surname.


It's not just the seedier side number, Simon, it's that you're VULGAR in the way you describe it, as in the Gold Rains Episode. (just kidding, of course, I don't mind it personally, but it's also true, you know you love to say these racy, screamy things. :P

#17 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 01:11 PM

Partly my fault specifically as a mod - partly August, but we have drifted off-color (you pick which color.) It was all in fun, though risque, but let's try and get things PG again. I give papeetepatrick special commendation for restraint above and beyond the call of propriety when we all knew he wanted to go for the double entendre.

Play nice, everyone. This means you, Simon. :angel_not: There's plenty of interesting information here about St. Denis, let's continue the topic.

#18 dirac

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 01:19 PM

I’d also like to suggest as a matter of form that we refrain from calling fellow BTers ‘vulgar,’ a term easily misunderstood.
:angel_not:

#19 Simon G

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 02:06 PM

I'm sorry everyone, I think it's the pugilist in me, I get so caught up in the thrill of the banter I forget myself.

Dirac, I don't mind being called vulgar at all I think I may very well be pathologically so, and patrick and Leigh are right, sometimes i forget myself. I promise I'll try super hard to keep things on a cleaner even keel remembering not every poster here shares my loucher sensibilities.

I think the thing is as well, none of my friends, absolutely none now are involved in dance or have much or any interest in it, so when I talk about it with them and try to engage their interest I do have a tendency to either sex things up or use humour to engage. The problem dance faces is the indifference of the greater population who see it so often as absolutely rarified, elitist and anachronistic - I always try to filter it through my personal sensibilities as I find this helps when I'm trying to communicate my love of the art form to total novices.

Rg, may I just say I wasn't meaning to one up you regarding the genesis of St Denis' name. The Egyptian Cigarette story was the one I liked best, though I do admit it sounds rather hokey, the kind of thing St Denis would have made up, but you know what I think it's far more probable that the Belasco story is closer to the truth but I also wouldn't be surprised if it was more due to her resisting his advances than an outright compliment.

#20 rg

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 05:17 PM

here's a scan of one of the few photocards i have of so-called 'modern' dancers - as those who are well-read on St. Denis know, she did NOT consider herself a practitioner of this 'modern' form of dance - she is quoted as telling Graham when she told Miss Ruth she'd be leaving Denishawn to pursue her own interests, something to the effect of: Now whatever you do, wherever you go, don't go to that modern dance; i have seen that modern dance, and it's ugly.
the precise quote is i think in Don McDonagh's biography of Martha Graham.
St. Denis (and Shawn) considered their art the art of Interpretive Dance.

in any case this undated, and uncaptioned - except for identifying St. Denis - photocard, perhaps dates from around 1906.
it's not all that unusual or rare an item, but the card itself is in good condition.

NYPL credits:
Radha: Chor: Ruth St. Denis; mus: Léo Delibes. First perf. on tour: U.S.: New York City, New York Theatre, Jan 28, 1906, Ruth St. Denis. Later version has music by Jess Meeker.

Attached Files



#21 Amy Reusch

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 08:55 PM

I wish someone knowledgeable here would talk more about the influence St. Denis' school, and in particular, Louis Horst's influence. I do see traces of St. Denis in Graham & Humphrey, though I believe they took elements of her decorative style and used it almost as costuming on a movement vocabulary imbued with deeper meaning and motivation. Interestingly enough the next generation revolted against that deeper meaning but went on to explore choreographic structure further... so, if St. Denis and her music visualization exercises with her music director Louis Horst teaching dance composition could be seen as a catalyst, you could trace this approach to dance down through to today's choreographers... even contemporary ballet choreographers.... not that they use her choreographic style by any means (and I do think she was best at creating vehicles for her personal performance mystique than at creating choreographic works that survived her retirement), but by employing Horst she started the first serious study of dance composition in this country... the vestiges of which are probably still taught in university dance departments around the world.

#22 leonid17

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 06:36 AM

I wish someone knowledgeable here would talk more about the influence St. Denis' school, and in particular, Louis Horst's influence. I do see traces of St. Denis in Graham & Humphrey, though I believe they took elements of her decorative style and used it almost as costuming on a movement vocabulary imbued with deeper meaning and motivation. Interestingly enough the next generation revolted against that deeper meaning but went on to explore choreographic structure further... so, if St. Denis and her music visualization exercises with her music director Louis Horst teaching dance composition could be seen as a catalyst, you could trace this approach to dance down through to today's choreographers... even contemporary ballet choreographers.... not that they use her choreographic style by any means (and I do think she was best at creating vehicles for her personal performance mystique than at creating choreographic works that survived her retirement), but by employing Horst she started the first serious study of dance composition in this country... the vestiges of which are probably still taught in university dance departments around the world.


Thank you Amy for pulling us back to the centre of the post with your more learned approach.

I have known about Ruth St. Denis since the mid 60's but have only ever read magazine articles and obituaries.

I hope that she is looking down with interest on our assault on her work.

I have found (I have not counted) approximately 100 photographs on the net and they have given me a much wider idea of Ruth St. Denis may have been like, than than I had before. The eighth picture on the first line shows an image of Ted Shawn I had not seen before with him striking a balletic pose.

Turgenev wrote in 1862, "A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to tell."

http://www.flickr.co...=Ruth ST. Denis

You might also like to check out http://www.flickr.co...n...0N00&m=pool
for early dancers.

#23 Amy Reusch

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 08:33 AM

The internet still makes my jaw drop... thanks for the lovely link. Reminds me of how St. Denis tried to leave her costumes to UCLA (I think I have this story right, but my memory is always suspect... I heard it from Karoun Tootikian, but again my memory is like that old party game "telephone")... she left her costumes to the dance department at UCLA, but years later Karoun came in and discovered them thrown all over the floor of the girl's locker room and felt they were not being respected (as is possibly imaginable, UCLA having gone past St. Denis in the direction of world dance) ... and perhaps pulled the archive? Not sure where it now resides, but surely the fibers must be beginning to fail? Silk is strong, but... ? If moderators have to delete this as not official press release info, please leave in my question: Where are the St. Denis costumes now?

#24 leonid17

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 08:57 AM

The internet still makes my jaw drop... thanks for the lovely link. Reminds me of how St. Denis tried to leave her costumes to UCLA (I think I have this story right, but my memory is always suspect... I heard it from Karoun Tootikian, but again my memory is like that old party game "telephone")... she left her costumes to the dance department at UCLA, but years later Karoun came in and discovered them thrown all over the floor of the girl's locker room and felt they were not being respected (as is possibly imaginable, UCLA having gone past St. Denis in the direction of world dance) ... and perhaps pulled the archive? Not sure where it now resides, but surely the fibers must be beginning to fail? Silk is strong, but... ? If moderators have to delete this as not official press release info, please leave in my question: Where are the St. Denis costumes now?


Re: Costumes

http://www.google.co...s...MES&spell=1

http://www.oac.cdlib...=...mp;x=17&y=7

http://www.courseher...inalStudyGuide/

Lady Kay’s original question.

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

Background to oriental dance in USA
http://www.amaradanc...99_contemp.html

#25 dirac

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 09:51 AM

I hope that she is looking down with interest on our assault on her work.


We must be reading a different thread, leonid. :wallbash:

#26 Simon G

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 10:01 AM

Lady Kay’s original question.

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

Background to oriental dance in USA
http://www.amaradanc...99_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".

#27 papeetepatrick

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 10:11 AM

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.

#28 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 10:13 AM

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.

#29 papeetepatrick

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 10:19 AM

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.

#30 Simon G

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 10:19 AM

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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