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The Daniel Nagrin Theatre, Film & Dance Foundation has established the Daniel Nagrin Dance Scholarship at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.
April 18, 1994, New York
Though the company suffered from temporary amnesia concerning Doris Humphrey, it had the sense to draw on past glories with the revival of three character studies choreographed mid-century by Daniel Nagrin. Two from 1948 were presented in tandem: Strange Hero and Spanish Dance. The first epitomizes a type-the anti-hero of American gangster movies; the second, a genre-flamenco. They’re wonderfully made: concise, alert to structural logic and surprise, witty, and beautiful (the last almost as if by accident). Spanish Dance is a tour de force in that it uses the full spectrum of flamenco conventions-the rooted, profiled stance, the death-I-defy-you carriage, the wreathing arms-but translates them into modern-dance language, a strategy that serves as both homage and ironic comment. Coached by Nagrin, these pieces were performed with enthusiasm and insight, though not with the wry particularity Nagrin himself brought to them even at the end of his stage career.
Friday May 7, 1982
Daniel Nagrin will perform two works tomorrow at the Studio Theater.
By Jennifer Dunning
Daniel Nagrin has an unmistakable style. His dances are dramatic. His way of moving, with the intense, precise deliberation of an animal can be stunning. Say that to Mr. Nagrin, however, and his reaction is likely to be equally stunning. “It’s got nothing to do with form or content,” he says straining up and away from-his chair as he makes his point. “It’s got to do with giving a damn about other people.”
Mr. Nagrin has been dancing for 40 years now in a career that is still going strong. Tomorrow at 8 P.M., he will be performing his recent “Poems Off the Wall” and his new Bartok “Sonata for Solo Violin” at the Studio Theater, 555 Broadway, near Prince Street. (Tickets are $5; Theater Development Fund vouchers are accepted. For reservations, call 924-0077.)
Mr. Nagrin is probably best known for solo concerts, which he has been performing since 1957, when the tap dancer Paul Draper talked him into trying a solo dance program.
His work has long been informed by that sense of “giving a damn.” Sitting in his cramped SoHo loft, Mr. Nagrin grabs a newspaper and reads aloud a blurb for the post-modernist “Para-Narrative” Spring Dance Festival to be held at Public School 1 in Long Island City this weekend. “These choreographers are ‘rethinking the referential import of movement and gesture,’ What have they been doing up until now?” he says, grinning. “It’s like Pesach: Why is this night different from all others?”
He unpins a flyer from the wall, an advertisement for a seminar in which he will participate. The seminar, called “Social Issues and the Arts,” will be held at Jane Adams’s Hull House in Chicago. There is plenty to talk of besides tomorrow’s performance.
Asked how he began his career, Mr. Nagrin replies, “Does anybody ask a banker that?” But he then settles back into his chair and reflects. “I was trying to do the box step one summer in high school,” he says. “I was always slow physically so I worked on it at home. I couldn’t make the step fit the music so I started to do it another way. My family moved around a lot, and I’d finally given up trying to break into new gangs. I’d stay in the house with the radio on, jiggling around. I didn’t know it was dancing. Of course, I’d give anything to know what I was doing then. I remember sailing over armchairs and the rug pattern racing under my feet. Armenian music really got me going.”
A chance meeting at a party led to his first modern-dance classes in the Martha Graham technique at the New Dance Group Studio in New York. He made his Broadway debut in 1945, appearing in such musicals as “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Touch and Go” and “Plain and Fancy.” He went on to become known as a performer in Broadway musicals and, on the concert stage, as a choreographer of such dances as “Strange Hero,” a portrait of a gangster- “Indeterminate Figure,” and the pacifistic “The Peloponnesian War.”
Mr. Nagrin said he was about to begin work on several books. “The first book is essentially about choreography,” he said, “but it dwells a great deal on the thinking of Tamiris and how useful it is as a very flexible and dynamic way of approaching choreography.” Helen Tamiris, to whom Mr. Nagrin was married, was a leading modern dance teacher and performer who choreographed several Broadway shows.
“History has sort of slipped by Helen,” Mr. Nagrin said “but she was one of the founders. She was self defeating in terms of history and schools, because what she was doing was working from the moment. Each class was different. There was no schema, only that you were constantly thrown into yourself.
“Helen helped people to discover the myriad ways of finding movement or dance metaphors for human action,” he went on. “She felt not only that we could change things but also that things needed changing. And, of course, if either of these are meaningless to you, then an art based on action, or doing rather than looking and appearing, becomes useless. I was shocked to read recently that Flaubert, who with Cezanne probably founded the modern movement, wished above all to write about nothing. And Cezanne raged at fruit and people because they wouldn’t be still. They kept changing.
“Picasso wanted to find different ways of seeing things, so he’d pick innocuous things to look at. One-hundred years of art went steadily like an arrow towards white on white. But what are the things that are being looked at? Ideology doesn’t mean a thing. It’s ridiculous to say that Mondrian was not a good artist. But it’s the art of someone in the process of distancing himself from caring and responsibility.”
Mr. Nagrin also plans to write about improvisation as a creative tool as well as performance and acting technique for dance performers, which he will teach this summer at the American Dance Festival, along with traditional jazz dance.
“Kids today get the best dance training,” he said, “but then they’re thrown out on stage and have to assume a role. You do whatever you dance. Rather than perpetuate a vulgar error, they become deadpan and what is a matter of taste and uncertainty becomes an esthetic.
“I want to write about survival as a dancer – how to last forever. I have. I feel very lonely in this field. ”
And the weekend’s performance? Just tell people to come tomorrow, early in the run,” he said. “It gets more expensive the longer they wait.” He was not joking. Ticket prices escalate each week for performances Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through May 20, until May 22, when they reach $25 a seat.
MAY 13, 1982
By Anna Kisselgoff
As both dancer and choreographer, Daniel Nagrin Is intense, powerful and rather angry. All these qualities come together In his 1981 solo “Poems Oft the Wall” and, more obliquely if just as forcefully, in his newest solo “Dance.”
Both works make up his current program at the Studio Theater at 550 Broadway. “If you need clear answers you cannot afford to look at dance” Mr. Nagrin proclaims in a paraphrase of J. P. Morgan during “Poems Off the Wall.” and that pretty much sums it up – not only his own viewpoint but also the rich nonverbal appeal of dance in general.
Paradoxically, Mr. Nagrin is as verbal as one can be in “Poems,” and yet the solo’s full dimension is felt only through the quality of the movement integrated into the text. The point about Mr. Nagrin, who will turn 65 years old next week, is the very individuality of his dancing.
The Nagrin dynamic is predicated on fierceness and originality. He remains Daniel Nagrin. Steps and gestures can be isolated as familiar ones. But when put together by Mr. Nagrin, no specific technique springs to mind, no school or tradition provides a ready context.
There is, obviously, something of the show dancer and the street character in his stage persona. Even in the most abstract of his solos, such as “Dance,” he exudes high drama. Gesture is at the root of his movement. Like a Kabuki dancer, he can amplify it into abstraction. Or he can use it literally and then in purely formal terms, inserted into the interstices of seemingly unrelated phrases.
“Dance” is set to Bartok’s Sonata for Solo Violin. Just as Mr. Nagrin is in black in “Poems,” here he is in white – Sally Ann Parsons’s two piece outfit with colored appliques. Like the music, the dancing begins quietly – In near stillness – moves through several climaxes and then subsides.
The shift in dynamic is always sharp. The quiet center to which Mr. Nagrin returns is the initial pose he struck after a slow spin. He stands two legs together, with a gently twisting torso, arms waving unevenly upward. Suddenly he sits or lies on his back and then moves several times along a diagonal, sometimes accelerating a phrase.
The first jump is as surprising as the pirouettes into which he throws himself before sitting casually, crosslegged, for a rest. When he rises, his sequences become more unexpected – such as the plumb – line drop of the elbow to the floor from a kneeling position. This formality is juxtaposed to some movement with an improvisatory air. Mr. Nagrin gropes forward or rotates his head. Toward the end his legs quiver. Everything is unpredictable.
“Poems Off the Wall” is a dissociated examination of personal and social concerns, thematically tied to clippings and pictures shown in slides by Pablo Orrego. He addresses “Intellectics and Criticuals” and moves with choppy wild-eyed zeal. He asks the hardest questions of himself. The performances will be repeated tonight, Saturday and Tuesday and nest Thursday.