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Directing the Dance Legacy of Doris Humphrey

The Creative Impulse of Reconstruction

Lesley Main

Publication Year: 2012

Directing the Dance Legacy of Doris Humphrey looks inside four of Doris Humphrey’s major choreographic works—Water Study (1928), The Shakers (1931), With My Red Fires (1936), and Passacaglia (1938)—with an eye to how directorial strategies applied in recent contemporized stagings in the United States and Europe could work across the modern and contemporary dance genre. Author Lesley Main, a seasoned practitioner of Doris Humphrey choreography, stresses to the reader the need to balance respect for classical works from the modern dance repertory with the necessity for fresh directorial strategies, to balance between traditional practices and a creative role for the reconstructor.
    Drawing upon her own dance experience, Main’s book addresses an area of dance research and practice that is becoming increasingly pertinent as the dancer-choreographers of the 20th century modern and contemporary dance are no longer alive to attend to the re-stagings of the body of their works. Insightful and thought-provoking, Directing the Dance Legacy of Doris Humphrey calls for the creation of new forms of directorial practice in dance beyond reconstruction. The radical new practices it proposes to replace the old are sure to spark debate and fresh thinking across the dance field.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-2

I have been fortunate indeed to benefit from the wisdom of some exceptional women in dance. Elaine Macdonald, Pat Mackenzie, Wendy Cook, Ann Hutchinson Guest, Millicent Hodson, and Stephanie Jordan each in their individual ways made me feel that distant aspirations were reachable. I thank my dear friend Alexandra (Sandra) Carter for her unstinting support and encouragement as my writing progressed ...

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Prologue: Negotiating a Living Past

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pp. 3-12

Doris Humphrey made dances for America. Her opus is a repertoire of dances that span abstract, thematic, and narrative works. Many of them have breathtaking choreographic design and sociocultural significance or are just simply beautiful to watch and to dance. This legacy is a vital part of American cultural heritage and demands attention not only from the perspective of preservation but also from a contemporary desire to creatively engage the past. ...

Part One

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Chasing the Ephemeral

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pp. 15-46

If you are reading this book, then you either have heard of Doris Humphrey or have an interest in modern dance and the performing arts. Why is it important that we care about Humphrey and her work? There are some compelling reasons. First, she was one of the foremost pioneers of American modern dance. For that reason alone, preserving her legacy should be important to the American cultural psyche. ...

Part Two

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Exploring the Creative Impulse

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pp. 49-51

The diverse approaches taken with these four Humphrey dances illustrate the kinds of positions available to the contemporary director when dealing with the past. Ideas borrowed and adapted from other disciplines have provided a way forward in supplementing and extending existing practices. Collingwood’s notion of the “living past” alongside White’s “recognizable form” and Eliot’s premise that “the past alters the present as much as the present directs the past” ...

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Water Study

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pp. 52-78

Choreography: 1928
Premiere: October 28, 1928, Civic Repertory Theater, New York
Water Study opens with an ensemble of fourteen dancers clad in skin-toned unitards, arrayed across the stage in asymmetrical formation, bent low to the ground in profile. A series of ripples emerges through the backs of the dancers, who are in a tucked, kneeling position, and traverses the space, one picking up ...

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pp. 79-105

Choreography: 1938
Music: J. S. Bach, Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor
Premiere: August 5, 1938, Armory, Bennington, Vermont
Passacaglia is cast for a group of eighteen, including two “leaders,” originally danced by Humphrey and Weidman. The opening tableau shows the entire group arrayed on a configuration of rising platforms positioned center stage, facing away from the audience with arms held aloft in a striking diamond-shaped pose. ...

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With My Red Fires

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pp. 106-128

Choreography: 1936
Music: Wallingford Reigger
Premiere: August 13, 1936, Armory, Bennington, Vermont With My Red Fires is an exploration of the destructive elements of possessive love. Humphrey structured the dance in two parts, each with indicative subtitles: ...

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The Shakers

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pp. 129-154

Choreography: 1931
Music: Traditional Shaker hymns, arranged by Pauline Lawrence
Premiere: February 1, 1931, Craig Theater, New York
Humphrey based The Shakers on a celibate religious movement that evolved out of the Quakers. The movement was founded in England and transported in the late 1700s to the United States, where it subsequently flourished. The name transpired through a particular swaying action the body took on during prayer rituals. ...

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Epilogue: Dancing the Past Tomorrow

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pp. 155-158

The ideas and strategies presented in this book are intended to illustrate what is possible. The intention is not to replace existing practices, including reconstruction, but to extend current practice in the knowledge that the passing of time necessitates a new form of intervention. ...


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pp. 159-168


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pp. 169-182


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pp. 183-190

Further Reading

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pp. 191-191

E-ISBN-13: 9780299285838
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299285845

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 817068571
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Directing the Dance Legacy of Doris Humphrey