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Ruth St DenisAmerican Modern Dance


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#46 Amy Reusch

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Posted 20 August 2009 - 06:42 PM

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.

#47 Simon G

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 08:34 AM

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?

#48 Simon G

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 08:36 AM

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.

#49 Amy Reusch

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 08:40 AM

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...

#50 Simon G

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 08:56 AM

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.

#51 LiLing

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 12:09 PM

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?


This is an interesting question in relation to the issue of dance being independent of music. When Graham and Horst were no longer working together, and she started commissioning scores, she and the composers worked independently. When the composer came in to a rehearsal with the piano reduction some adjustments were usually necessary on both sides, but I think it worked in part because the choreography was in some places allowed to stand independent of the music.

Of course this isn't independent of the music in the way Cunningham and Cage mean. For Graham the music is meant to be an integral part of the total theatrical impact, along with costumes, sets, and lighting.
I always thought it was interesting though, that in works created during the time Merce was in the company, the movement wasn't always "set" to the music. Even in Appalachian Spring, the most rhythmically danceable of scores for example, there is a point when the followers skip circling the stage, going against the music.

#52 leonid17

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Posted 23 August 2009 - 12:55 PM

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...


I am not surprised she was admired in the Far East.

There was a similar response in India to Anna Pavlova. Her Radha and Krishna from her "Oriental Impressions" dances were seen as 'examples' which gained her wide credit for the reinvigorating the
bharat-natyam style. Pavlova was called "The Divine Pavlova" in India".

#53 leonid17

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 01:21 PM

A very early (1898) photograph of Ruth St. Dennis. There is a series of photographs associated with Japanese costumes. Although I collect Hiroshige prints I am no expert on the authenticity of the costumes, but they do not look far removed from other photographs I have seen of genuine historical costumes.

http://digitalgaller...l...p;pos=6&e=w

#54 Simon G

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 02:29 PM

A very early (1898) photograph of Ruth St. Dennis. There is a series of photographs associated with Japanese costumes. Although I collect Hiroshige prints I am no expert on the authenticity of the costumes, but they do not look far removed from other photographs I have seen of genuine historical costumes.

http://digitalgaller...l...p;pos=6&e=w



I've no doubt they were authentic, she liked dressing up. However, traditional theatre forms native to Japan are in no way as hammy and campy as these photos suggest St Denis's rather self-indulgent extravaganzas must have been. But lovely photos none the less.

#55 leonid17

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 03:27 PM

A very early (1898) photograph of Ruth St. Dennis. There is a series of photographs associated with Japanese costumes. Although I collect Hiroshige prints I am no expert on the authenticity of the costumes, but they do not look far removed from other photographs I have seen of genuine historical costumes.

http://digitalgaller...l...p;pos=6&e=w



I've no doubt they were authentic, she liked dressing up. However, traditional theatre forms native to Japan are in no way as hammy and campy as these photos suggest St Denis's rather self-indulgent extravaganzas must have been. But lovely photos none the less.


The subjects in the photographs may well have had to hold their positions and facial expressions for a some time and as is typical of a lot of theatrical photographs of the era they appear somewhat stilted.
But on the other hand, I have been watching various forms of Japanese traditional theatre for many years and such highly stylised almost ritualistic poses are always present.

As mentiontioned earlier Ruth St, Dennis was much admired in Europe and the Far East. "During the first engagement at the Komische Oper, a special matinee was arranged at Charlottenberg ; preceding this was a luncheon at which Hauptman,Wedekind, Hofmansthal, Graf Kessler, Richter, Hofman,and others paid tribute to this dancer who revealed to them such unparalled beauty." Not a bad bunch of critics I think. She had witness Japanese Noh and had six weeks daily training with a professional Japanese dancer.

But as regards the authenticity of this production, of "The Japanese dance-play O-mika was founded upon one of Lafcadio Hearn's writings entitled A Legend ofFugen-Bosatsu. It is found in the volume Shadowings. For Miss St. Denis's purposes the story was put into condensed form, as indicated in the program which follows: O-mika, A Japanese Legend of the Buddha, in three scenes. The " story of a celebrated courtesan who became an incarnation of Fugen- Bosatsu. In this Japanese legend Miss St. Denis will introduce The Dance " of the Flower-Arrangement, The Chrysanthemum Dance, The Dance of " the Thirteenth Century Poetess,The Samurai Dance,The Dance of Fugen- Bosatsu.

As you can see from the following cast list, the majority of the cast were, yes, you guessed it, Japanese. Cast list: Shoku Shonin, BunlakuTokunaga; Kimura Hayato, Roi " Kojima; NakamuraYosake, MomotaroToyama; O-Yone,HanaYa- " mada; Samisen Pkyer, S. O. Hashi; Kamura,Theodora De Combe " and Regina Cipriano; Sake Girls, Elena Perry and Ruth Averill;
O. Hashi and A.Oki; Samurai Sword Dancer, B. St. Denis; " O-mika, Ruth St. Denis.

The Japan Society of New York, soon after Miss St. Denis's en gagement at the Fulton Theatre, requested a special performance to be given exclusively to the members of their society. This took pkce
in the Astor Hotel and the Japan Society officially proclaimed it the most artistic presentation of Japanese themes America had ever been privileged to see, and expressed a wish that Miss St. Denis might go
to Japan to inspire the Japanese girls to return to the classic dance of their own country instead of taking up the tango. The Japanese Times in its review of the performance said: We have nothing but praise and admiration for the part this famous actress played. The grace of her movement, the delicacy of her touch, the consummate skill she showed in mimicking different types of Japanese womankind, and the refined taste she displayed through out the performance all enforced by the inborn beauty of the actress leave no room for her critic to venture any unfavorable comment.

The costuming, scenic effects, and properties of this production were extravagantly but correctly splendid. The appointments of all three scenes were absolutely authentic, and in many cases the articles used
were not merely stage properties but genuinely Japanese. Because Miss St. Denis is "uncommon tall," it was necessary to have a Japanese dressmaker make her kimonos to order of imported materials.
Once when The Dance of the Flower-Arrangement was being given at Ravinia, a Japanese man-servant who was brought by his mistress to the performance, insisted that it could not be other than a Japanese
woman who was dancing. Truly, her make-up was marvelous. The wig of the courtesan, with its ray of fourteen gorgeous hairpins, the dead-white face of mask-likequality,the lips so red, and glistening with
powdered gold; last and especially, the exquisitely facile hands made her more truly the epitome of Japanese beauty than any real Japanese woman I have ever seen. She was Japanese, not in the grand opera
manner of Madam Butterfly, but of the quality in an Utamaro print.

"The Maharajah of Kuch-Behar,the Maharajah of Kapurthala,and the Gaekwar of Baroda, men who in India have given many a nautch of their own, saw Miss St. Denis, and have expressed their intense
admiration of her nautch dancing."

In a letter from a law student in Calcutta a certain J. Basu, wrote, "We appreciate your refined taste, thoughtfulness, and the amount " of kbor which you have given to studying the spirit and meaning of
" Indian dancing in its highest and noblest form. The unparalleled " success which you have rightly gained by your wonderful dances, " which are poetry, music, and religion combined, has given me great
" satisfaction and pleasure. You have caught the true spirit of the East, " its mysticism, its ceaseless longing for the infinite, its passionate ad" miration for the .energy or 'Shakti' side of Nature, a feat which
" I thought was impossible for any Western artist you have not only caught, you have also interpreted it. You are doing a great service Ruth St. Denis not only to India but to the world at large."

#56 Simon G

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 03:56 PM

Hmmm,

Leonid, I'm not quite sure of your point? True St Denis had fans, no one disputes that, but let's face it ethnic dance in all its myriad forms endures within the cultures in which it was created and has done for thousands of years. Not so St Denis' rather parochial takes on these art and dance forms.

St Denis? Who actually remembers her, her work, what exactly is her legacy? Pretty photos, silly dressing up, an approximation her own version of these traditional dance forms, because she was first and foremost a magpie, a charlatan, a Vaudevillian whose misplaced delusions of grandeur were balanced by her brilliance as a performer.

History tends to keep that which is important to it, especially in dance despite it would often sadly seem the concerted interests of those in artisitc directorships to destroy it. History has forgotten St Denis as nothing more than a curiosity, a forerunner of much greater more important artists and a remnant of a gentler, more naive, sepia tinted postcard era of nostalgia, sentiment and bathos.

But again Leonid, thank you for all those lovely quotes, and for the effort it must have taken to exhume them, I'm sure Miss Ruth wherever she may be is delighted.

#57 leonid17

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 07:01 PM

Hmmm,

Leonid, I'm not quite sure of your point? True St Denis had fans, no one disputes that, but let's face it ethnic dance in all its myriad forms endures within the cultures in which it was created and has done for thousands of years. Not so St Denis' rather parochial takes on these art and dance forms.

St Denis? Who actually remembers her, her work, what exactly is her legacy? Pretty photos, silly dressing up, an approximation her own version of these traditional dance forms, because she was first and foremost a magpie, a charlatan, a Vaudevillian whose misplaced delusions of grandeur were balanced by her brilliance as a performer.

History tends to keep that which is important to it, especially in dance despite it would often sadly seem the concerted interests of those in artisitc directorships to destroy it. History has forgotten St Denis as nothing more than a curiosity, a forerunner of much greater more important artists and a remnant of a gentler, more naive, sepia tinted postcard era of nostalgia, sentiment and bathos.

But again Leonid, thank you for all those lovely quotes, and for the effort it must have taken to exhume them, I'm sure Miss Ruth wherever she may be is delighted.


Observing protocol, all I will say is thanks for saying thanks, and it took me little more than half an hour to find the quotes.

It is difficult to define the legacy of Ruth St. Denis, but it exists, it is real, because we are not alone in discussing her and trying to bring her work and influence into some kind of truthful focus.

As no one contributing to this thread has either seen her works or her dancing, we cannot make a valuable assessment of her performing ability. I have posted what others have said about St. Denis in an earlier post.

Ruth St. Denis status will survive and probably inspire in the future as she did in the past. She is most definitely an interesting woman not just a perfumed poseur who liked to dress up.

Her fidelity to the inspiration of authentic Japanese dance is a reality as are the costumes and settings of her dance works. It seems it was never her original intention to create totally authentic works. For a start where would she have found the musicians?

A regards being forgotten, the American Embassy to Japan's website acknowledges her status which I assume means so do the USA government. See http://aboutusa.japa...rait-usa10.html

She did not just pose and move gently and gracefully as is widely suggested and she must have had some outstanding qualities to find approbation from significantly talented and famous Europeans.

A description of her in Radha and Krishna by Jane Desmond as seen in a 1906 film says, “Frequently through her dance, St. Denis arches her spine and tilts her head back, headpiece still in place, as she whirls across the stage. The music she whirls to sounds like a western classical piece, melodramatic orchestration replacing the vocals so common in Indian dance music. She often gathers up her skirt as she turns, increasing speed to match the music's tempo.” There is an an excellent photograph showing her deep backend and seemingly powerfully physical movement.

It seems to me there is quite a healthy interest in Ruth St. Denis out there at the present time. Reconstructions of her dances are taking place and she is studied in universities. So she will not be forgotten.

Ruth St.Denis has entered my life in a small way, as I have found her to be not quite what I thought I knew her to be and instead, is much more interesting as a creator than she apparently has been given credit for.

#58 Amy Reusch

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Posted 24 August 2009 - 07:34 PM

Another Thank You... the photos were fascinating and unlike others I had seen of St. Denis, and I would never have come across them not being in the habit of researching St. Denis. One of the reasons I adore Ballettalk is being exposed to work like yours.

#59 richard53dog

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 05:08 AM

Another Thank You... the photos were fascinating and unlike others I had seen of St. Denis, and I would never have come across them not being in the habit of researching St. Denis. One of the reasons I adore Ballettalk is being exposed to work like yours.


Isn't this just so true??

Just reading posts the last 5 years or so I've been on BT has exposed me to SO much history and knowledge that I would probably never have explored on my own.

For instance, I knew who St Denis was and vaguely what her perfomance style was like. But it was a very sketchy outline and many, many details have been filled in by the posters who have written about her, her husband, her performance style, and her possible influences on the next generation of modern dance.

Let me add my thanks to, and not just to the posters on this thread.


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