Sunday, 21 October 2012

Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn

Ted Shawn and Ruth St Denis in 1916
(Wikimedia Commons)
 They weren't Middle Eastern dancers, but if you don't know about Ruth St Denis, Ted Shawn and the Denishawn Dance theatre company please go here immediately. They're in the pantheon of American modern dance, and their dance school produced no less a personage than Martha Graham.

Ruth, in particular, is an obvious influence on the costuming of many a tribal dancer, and both she and Ted were pioneers in bringing Indian influences to Western stages. You may find the short clip of Ted performing as 'Shiva' rather quaint -- if not offensive -- but since Ruth was the one the "real" interest in East Indian dance, I would guess that he performed this at her suggestion and his heart may not really have been in it.

Ted's was inspired by the macho aspects of American culture -- cowboys, athletes, soldiers -- and he founded America's first all-male dance company, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers.

They're a fascinating couple, and here's a wee sampler of them in action:

Ruth was also a fantastic choreographer, and created the epic dance scenes from D W Griffith's epic film Intolerance (1916). It featured literally hundreds of people.

Here's a very brief, poignant clip of Ted speaking about the fragile nature of dance in 1963. He died in 1972, at the age of 81:

As an aside, today would have been Ted Shawn's 121st birthday. Happy birthday, Ted!

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