Choreographers

Historical Works

Loïe Fuller, born in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, started a career as an actress and soon realized she had a gift for dancing with cloth and colored lights. She moved to Paris, France and explored "natural dancing" from the 1890's through the 1920's. Fire Dance (1896) was a turning point in Fuller's career as well as in dance history. This dance not only presented her use of technical advancements such as electric lights, colored glass (gels) and lighting angles, it was also one of the most well known and pictorially documented steps into abstract or natural movement that would later be termed Modern Dance. There is no notation of Fuller's work nor is there a substantial film record, so this presentation of Fire Dance is based on critical reviews, paintings, photographs, sculptures and Fuller's own words with the goal of being as true to the original work as possible.

 Isadora Duncan, dancer, adventurer, revolutionist, ardent defender of the poetic spirit, (born 1878-1927) has become one of the most enduring influences on 20th century culture. Ironically, the very magnitude of her achievements as an artist, as well as the sheer excitement and tragedy of her life, have tended to dim our awareness of the originality, depth and boldness of her thought. Isadora was a thinker as well as poet, gifted with a lively poetic imagination, a radical defiance of "things as they are," and the ability to express her ideas with verve and humor. To best understand Isadora, she was a theorist of dance, a critic of modern society, culture, education and a champion of the struggles for women's rights, social revolution and the realization of poetry in everyday life. Virtually alone, Isadora restored dance to a high place among the arts. Breaking with convention, Isadora traced the art of dance back to its roots as a sacred art. She developed within this ideal free and natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces as well as an approach to the new American athleticism which included skipping, running, jumping, leaping and tossing. With free-flowing costumes, bare feet and loose hair, Duncan restored dancing to a new vitality using the solar plexus and the torso as the generating force for all movements to follow. Her celebrated simplicity was oceanic in its depth - and Isadora is credited with inventing what later came to be known as Modern Dance.

 Doris Humphrey was born in Oak Park, Illinois on October 17, 1895. Her father, Horace Buckingham Humphrey, was a journalist and one-time hotel manager. Her Mother, Julia Ellen Wells, was a trained concert pianist. Through both her parents, Doris was a tenth generation American. Her mother's ancestors had come from England to Boston in 1636. Her father was a descendent of the famous William Brewster who had arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. Humphrey Avenue in Oak Park is named for her paternal grandfather, the Reverend Simon James Humphrey, who settled in the village in 1867. Another village street, Elizabeth Court, is named for his second wife, Elizabeth Emerson Humphrey. A slim, graceful child, Doris Humphrey showed inclination for dance at an early age. Her mother encouraged her and arranged for lessons with eminent ballet masters. However, her real inspiration came from Mary Wood Hinman, who taught dance at the school she attended from kindergarten through high school, the progressive Francis Parker School in Chicago. In addition to teaching, Miss Hinman staged pageants and programs of folk and "interpretive" dances in the school. Doris shone in these and they whetted her ambition to be a dancer. An early opportunity was as a dancer for a concert group sponsored by the Santa Fe Railroad for its Workman's Clubs. With her mother as mentor and accompanist, Doris took a leave of absence from high school to tour the West. After graduation, since her father was not doing well financially, there was a need for livelihood not only for herself, but also to support her parents. At the age of eighteen, Doris Humphrey opened a dance school in Oak Park. Her mother was the business manager and accompanist. The school was an immediate success, offering classic, gymnastic and ballroom dancing for children and a Saturday evening ballroom class for young adults. Some of the classes were held at the Unity Temple, a Frank Lloyd Wright building, and one may speculate about the influence that architectural environment may have had on the budding choreographer. Mary Wood Hinman had retained interest in her talented pupil. She encouraged her to go to Los Angeles for a summer course offered by the renowned Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn in 1917. At their Denishawn School, Doris' talents were recognized. She was given solo roles in presentations and, to assist her to financial independence, she was assigned classes to teach. For the next decade, Doris Humphrey's life and career were tied to Denishawn. Meanwhile, in Oak Park, mother Humphrey and teacher Ethel Moulton maintained the dance school Doris had started, and it contributed to the village's cultural scene for many years. At Denishawn, Miss Ruth encouraged Doris to choreograph. Her first composition was Valse Caprice (also known as Scarf Dance), followed by Soaring, and Scherzo Waltz (Hoop Dance), all of which continue to be performed by various companies today. After a two-year tour of the Orient and several seasons of dancing throughout the United States in top vaudeville theaters, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman (with like rebellious ideas) broke away from Denishawn in 1928. They settled in New York where they became leaders of the radical new dance form known as "modern dance." Doris  Humphrey realized the inadequacy of the colorful but superficial Denishawn dances. Seeking a deeper understanding of the movement possibilities of the human body and its universal expressiveness, she created a new vocabulary based on the principle of fall and recovery from gravity. With it, she built a repertory of works, among them Water Study, Life of the Bee, Two Ecstatic Themes, and The Shakers. The Humphrey-Weidman Company toured the country in the 1930s, establishing the esthetic and audience base for their innovative dance. They created works addressed to contemporary concerns. In this period, Doris Humphrey choreographed the dramatic trilogy Theatre Piece, an exposition of innate human competitiveness and rivalry, With My Red Fires, a portrayal of emotional life, the consuming passion of love, and New Dance, a depiction of the possibility of reaching a state of human harmony which recognizes individualism. As a choreographer, Doris Humphrey excelled in her designs for groups, mass movements and sculptural shapes. This was seen throughout her career from early works such as Soaring, to one of her last, Dawn in New York. In 1945, suffering from arthritis, Doris Humphrey gave up performing and devoted herself to serving as Artistic Director for the Josˇ Lim—n Company and creating works for it. Among these were Day on Earth, Night Spell, Ruins and Visions. In 1958, she made her last and very lasting contribution, a book, The Art of Making Dances, in which she set forth her choreographic principles. Doris Humphrey died December 29, 1958.
- Ann Barzel

 Ruth St. Denis (1878-1968) Born in New Jersey in 1978, Ruthie Dennis grew up with dreams of dancing. At the age of sixteen, she made her professional debut as an acrobatic girl for Worth's museum in New York City, and then worked as a cloak model, skirt dancer and six-day bicycle rider in Madison Square Garden. Discovered and renamed by impresario, David Belasco, she appeared in plays as an actress in Europe and the U.S.A. Her destiny as a dancer was revealed during the run of "du Barry," when, in her own words, "I was sitting in a drugstore having a soda with one of my actress pals, when I looked up and saw this big poster advertising 'Egyptian Deities - No Better Turkish Cigarettes Can Be Made.' Suddenly my whole life was changed." The poster's stylized image of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, became the synthesis of her famed oriental Inspiration and led to "Radha" and its New York Hudson Theatre premiere in 1906, tours of London, France and Germany, and dances including "The Nautch," "The Yogi" and "The Cobra." Ruth St. Denis married her partner, the distinguished Ted Shawn in 1914, and founded with him the legendary Denishawn House in New York and the Denishawn School of Dance in Los Angeles. Their contributions, together and individually, were central to the development of contemporary dance and had a lasting impact on the work of other major figures. Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman were all members of the original Denishawn Company. Throughout her career, Miss Ruth was preoccupied with exploring dance as a form of worship. Her dances, poetry, lectures and teaching were directed toward spiritual realization, and this search for a liturgy of dance continued until her death in 1968.

Charles Weidman (1901-1975) In 1921, Charles Weidman found his way to Denishawn from Lincoln, Nebraska and became a member of the company, performing frequently as Martha Graham's partner. It was at Denishawn also that he met Doris Humphrey, which led to an association that lasted more than twenty years. As a choreographer, he is best known for his satirical and whimsical comedies. However, he also created important dances on serious subjects and choreographed several Broadway shows. Like Miss Humphrey, he had an infallible sense of good theater. He also had a natural spontaneity of expression and the ability to single out human traits. Following the break-up of the Humphrey-Weidman Company, his artistic and personal life began to decline, although he continued to maintain a school and choreograph for his own company and for the New York City Center Opera. After reaching a devastatingly low point in the mid 1950s, he sought to rebuild his career. He opened a new studio, the Expression of Two Arts, which was a miniature replica of the old Humphrey-Weidman Studio Theatre. There, in an inadequate space, surrounded by a few loyal followers, he kept alive his old works and choreographed new ones. The last years before his death brought a new wave of support from the dance world. Charles Weidman, more a doer than a writer, made the following statement for the second edition of "The Dance Has Many Faces (1966). "I have always believed that the audience and the performer are indivisible. Both artist and audience enter the house-although through different doors- from the same street. They have both seen the same headlines, left the same world of reality behind them. And while the artist puts on his make-up, the audiences leaves its everyday disillusionment in the checkroom."

Martha Graham (founder, dancer, choreographer) is recognized as a primal artistic force of the 20th century. She was named “Dancer of the Century” by Time and woman “Icon of the Century” by People. She created 181 ballets and a technique that revolutionized dance throughout the greater part of the century. Using the founding principles of contraction and release, she built a vocabulary of movement to “increase the emotional activity of the dancer’s body,” exploring the depth and diversity of human emotion. Her ballets were inspired by a wide variety of sources including modern painting, the American frontier and Greek Mythology. She created and portrayed prominent women, including Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Medca, Phaedra, Joan of Arc and Emily Dickinson. As an artist, she conceived each new work in its entirety – dance, constumes, and music. During her 70 years of creating dance, she collaborated with other great artists – Noguchi, Copeland, Halston, Schuman and her mentor, Louis Horst, among others. Her company was a training ground fro choreographers Cunningham, Taylor, and Tharp, and embraced classical dancers Margot Fonteyn, Rudulf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov under her direction. At the Neighborhood Playhouse, she taught actors Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, and others. Her creative genius earned numerous honors and awards, including the Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts. Martha Graham’s extraordinary legacy lives on in performances by the Martha Graham Dance Company and Ensemble and in the students of the Martha Graham School. Martha Graham was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania on May 11, 1894 and died in New York City on April 1, 1991. Her autobiography, Blood Money, edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was published by Doubleday in 1991.

José Limón (1908-1972) was born in Culiacan, Mexico, and grew up in Los Angeles. In 1928 he went to New York to study painting, but a performance by the German dancer Harald Kreutzberg so inspired him that he enrolled in classes at the Humphrey-Weidman studio sorthly afterward. Limón studied and danced with the Humphrey-Weidman Company from 1930-1940. He also began choreographing independently and organized the Little Group, which performed at the Humphrey-Weidman Studio. In 1937, he was a recipient of a Bennington School of the Dance Fellowship. From 1940 to 1042, Limón toured the West Coast with May O'Donnell, a former member of the Graham company. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he formed a trio and placed it under the Artistic direction of Doris Humphrey, a position she held until her death. During that time the company grew in size and became one of the major dance companies in the United States. Many of Limón's dances reflect his Mexican-American heritage, and some clearly exhibit the love of music that he inherited from his father, who was an orchestra conductor. One of his main concerns was to present "the grandeur of the human spirit and the basic tragedy of man." Limón's dance style was magnificently strong, masculine, and elegant.

Contemporary Works

 Sandra Kaufmann recently relocated from New York City where she danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company and served as Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Ensemble. Additionally, she performed for several years with the companies of Pearl Lang and Richard Move. Her dance company has had repertory seasons at the Theatre of The Riverside Church, Dance Theatre Workshop, the Ohio Theatre and the Merce Cunningham Studios in New York City. Her choreography has been presented in dozens of showcases in New York, in several regional dance companies and in video festivals internationally. Her work has been supported by Dance Magazine Foundation, Sloan Science and Technology Commission and Tidmarsh Arts Foundation among others. Sandra graduated summa cum laude from Northern Illinois University. She served on the faculty of New York University, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and Barnard College. She currently teaches at the Academy of Movement and Music and works regularly with MOMENTA.

Jon Lehrer is currently the Associate Director and seventh year company member for Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. As a choreographer, Jon has set three works on the Giordano Company, Cesura (2000), Bridge and Tunnel (2001) and Like One Hundred Men (2002) and in the fall of 2003, created The Embrace on MOMENTA. He has also set works at the University of Buffalo, East Central University and Illinois Wesleyen University. In 2002, Jon set a new work, Elements, on dancers from the Joffrey Ballet as part of Dance Chicago's first annual Choreography Project sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust and Sara Lee. Jon received his dance training at the University of Buffalo and was awarded a scholarship to study at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in the summer of 1994. He has danced with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, John Passafiume Dancers, for Merv Griffin in Atlantic City and in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

Cora D. Mitchell, originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, has been dancing since the early age of five. She was trained by Irma Witt O'Fallon and was a member of The Knoxville Ballet company from 1980-86. In 1990, she received her B.F.A from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She also received The Most Outstanding Dancer Award in the Modern Dance Department. Some of her instructors included Alexi Yudenich, Andrew Pap, Barbara Sandonato, Judith Jamison, Maurice Hines, Patricia Thomas and Ronen Koresh. She moved to Chicago in 1991 and was a member of the junior company of the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre for two years under the artistic direction of Randy Duncan. She has also danced with Winifred Haun and Dancers. She has appeared as an "extra" in the movies Just Visiting and Unconditional Love and the CBS television series Turks. Currently, (and for the last thirteen years), she is an instructor/choreographer for The Turning Point Dance Studio in Elmwood Park, Illinois and has been at the Academy since 1999.