Categories
Academic Paper

This and That: Jewishness in the Dances of Daniel Nagrin – Full text

Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World    Arizona State University   Oct 2018

DANIEL NAGRIN:  ON “THIS AND THAT,” TIKKUN OLAM, AND CHOREOGRAPHY

Diane Wawrejko, PhD, MFA, CMT

In this paper, I examine American choreographer and dancer Daniel Nagrin’s choreographic methods as a study in Jewishness. I extend the notion that dancing Jewish not only resides explicitly through overtly Jewish themes, time and place, subject matter, and tropes (Jackson in Ingber 2011, and Rossen 2014), but also is posited subtly yet discreetly in the methods, content/function, and structures and devices used to create and perform concert dances. I ask, “In what ways do Daniel Nagrin’s dances tacitly affirm Jewishness through identity, agency, and questioning?”

My personal experience with Nagrin and admiration for his work is the inspiration and force behind this research. By tracing patterns (Adshead et al 1988, and Kane 2003), I assert that Nagrin’s choreographic methods embody characteristics of Jewishness that are implicit yet tangible.  My analysis contributes new knowledge to the dialogue surrounding both Jewishness in American dance and American modern dance, therefore calling for a re-thinking of their defining criteria.

1.  Jewish Identity
Daniel Nagrin’s (1917-2008) Jewishness shaped his identity, his worldview (Banes 1987, Graff 1997, Jackson 2000, Prickett 1994a&b), and his works.  Nagrin was married to and performed with modern dance pioneer Helen Tamiris.  Both were native New Yorkers who lived and danced in the cultural hotbed of New York City during the 20thCentury.  They were secular Jews whose parents fled the pogroms in Russia (Nagrin 1988).  Nagrin’s background, time, and place shaped his desire to create dances that in turn reveal aspects of Jewish cultural identity and values.  I ask, what is at the core of Jewish cultural identity? And in what ways are these made manifest in Nagrin’s dances?
The New York Jewish identity embraced a Marxist ideology that can be traced to the status of Jewish workers in czarist Russia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their humanism was a dual reaction to impoverishment, oppression, pogroms, and mass unemployment that produced a need for altruism (Smithsonian 2004, Goldberg 1988, Jackson 2000). I assert it also extended from centuries-long histories of struggles, conflicts, and persecutions.  In America, Jewish immigrants embraced the common bonds of community and non-religion and largely subscribed to collective Marxist ideals (Franko 1995, Jackson 2000, Perelman 2004).  Overall they were intellectual, artistic, socially conscious, humanistic, and sensitive to the Jewish experience as evidenced in their art, ideology, and values (Copeland 2004, Greenberg 1955, Jackson 2000). In conversations with Nagrin and from examining his works and writings (Nagrin 1989, 2001, and LoC 2014), I know that he embraced secular existentialism, which is rooted in Marxism.  Nagrin eschewed religion including Judaism, calling all of it a ‘crutch for the weak.’  In conversations with him, he stated he was agnostic.  We students would hear him quote Karl Marx, “religion is the opiate of the masses.”
However, I argue that he did embrace Jewishness as his cultural ethos. It has shaped and is embodied throughout his choreographic work (see Albright 1997, Foulkes 2002, Giersdorf 2013).  Since his high school Depression days of the 1930s, Nagrin adopted skepticismsince no one could be certain of anything as many ideologies were present (Nagrin 1997).  By the late 1940s and 1950s, he embraced the Marxist existentialists, particularly Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Satre, who offered what he called a “lovely gift” of confusion (Nagrin 1997:xvi).  As a result, Nagrin grounded his thinking in doubt and uncertainty which he said were “exciting” ways to live; and since he was “sure of nothing,”each “should be all the more ready to think, choose and reformulate for him.herself” (ibed).
Undoubtedly, his personal philosophy transferred to his professional work, evidenced by the ambiguous and thought-provoking natures of Indeterminate Figure (1957), Path (1965), Peloponnesian War (1968), Poems Off the Wall (1982),experiments with his performative improvisation company the Workgroup, and most specifically in The Fall (1977) which is based on Camus’ work. For Nagrin, dance was full of unknowns and mysteries that unveiled human character and increased sensitivity and awareness within the viewer.  It caused one to think and ask self-reflexive questions to gain personal understanding, or “our own poem” (Nagrin 2001:15).
In his book Thou Shalt Innovate, Avi Jorisch (2018) discusses how Israel’s prophetic tradition over thousands of years produced an innovative culture from which the entire world benefits.  On his list of 50 top Israeli innovations are Moshe Feldenkrais’ Awareness through Movement and Noa Eshkol and Abraham Wachman’s Language of Dance movement notation system (Jorisch 2018:185).  To the Jew, one is mandated to make the world a better place:

In Jewish tradition, the prophet Isaiah 42:6 commanded them to be a ‘light
unto the nations.’ Its symbol is Israel’s national emblem, the menorah or
seven-branched lampstand.  It also means taking responsibility for repairing
the world, or engaging in tikkun olam.
(Jorisch 2018:6-7)

Tikkun olam is at the “heart and soul” of the Jew, the core of Jewish identity.  It produces a culture of people who seek higher meaning through the defining purpose of “repairing the world” through the chutzpah of persistence, determination, talent, and intellect (Jorisch 2018:7).  Tikkun Olamis the “secret sauce” that is embedded into the DNA of the Jewish people and is part of their cultural “osmosis” (Jorisch 2018:XVII).
Theinnovative success behind tikkun olamcomes from several factors.  One of these factors is to nurture a culture that encourages one another to “challenge authority, ask the next question, and defy the obvious” (Jorisch 2018:4). Another factor is to “elevate the mundane” as seen in everyday rituals, blessings, and activities which then “transforms it into something holy” (Jorisch 2018:6).  I will show how these factors are characteristics of Jewishness that are threaded throughout Nagrin’s works.

2.  The Nagrin Method
Nagrin’s greatest gift to make the world a better place, his tikkun olam, is his innovative, six-step choreographic process based in asking the next question. I affectionately have dubbed it The Nagrin Method.  It relies upon internal questioning and debate, what Nagrin often referred to as “this and that.”  (The way I make sense of this as a goyis to compare it to how Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof made decisions by questioning and debating with himself.)  Drawing from the six-question acting model of Moscow Art Theatre director Constantine Stanislavski (1924 & 1936), Nagrin, with encouragement from Tamiris, schematically adapted it into his own way of working:
1.                 Who or what? (the subject)
2.                 Is doing what?(the verb)
3.                 To whom or what?(the object)
4.                 Where and when?  (the context)
5.                 To what end?  (the reason for the action)
6.                 The obstacle?([tension that] justifies theatrical viability)
(Nagrin 1997:34)

Specific image.  The identity for each of Nagrin’s Dance Portraits was found through searching for the specific image, his ‘X.’   It is found in the content of a specific character doing a specific action for a specific purpose (Nagrin 1994, 1997, 2001). In an informal telephone interview with Nagrin (2004), he defined it as a “doing approach through movement/dance based in acting techniques” that can only come from an internal place by analyzing a character’s actions.  The X doessomething (Roses-Thema 2003).  From the choreography and improvisation classes I have taken from him, Nagrin consistently stressed the specific image and specific doing, the “who are you?” and “what are you doing?”

Metaphors. Nagrin’s specific characters are revealed through movement metaphors.  Drawing from literary theory, metaphors translate actions into abstracted or distorted communicable ideas.  Nagrin defined it as one thing “as if it were another” (Nagrin 2001:76, Sparshott 1970:263).  He gleaned from the ideas of Stanislavski, Tamaris, and Open Theatre’s Joseph Chaikin (1991) whoall used metaphors. According to Nagrin, metaphors are so common that they are in every thought, movement, and action (Nagrin 1994). His use of metaphors gave new insight by comparing and illuminating the person or object while simultaneously creating another context (Nagrin 1994 and 2001).
Nagrin also used tasks as metaphors for deeper meaning.  In Ruminations (1976), he depicted his mother washing dishes (Nuchtern 1976) and then he built a bench.  He questioned and challenged the viewer on whether the action of building a bench is literal or metaphorical:
can you be sure that the carpenter driving in the nail is simply driving in that nail or is it a metaphor for something entirely different?
Nagrin 1997:56

Within the work, he commented that perhaps his intention in building a bench was not just for the sake of doing it.  Instead, the specific task was a personal tribute to his father who was a skilled woodworking artisan (Nagrin 1997).
Gestures. Searching for and developing movement metaphors sprang from ordinary gestures that were central and essential, as these were the windows into the core of X (Nagrin 1994:11).[1]  Literal and exaggerated gestural movement metaphors, or Sparshott’s (1970) simulacra, create each character’s personality (Carbonneau 1995, Kisselgoff 1994, Manchester 1957, McDonagh 1976, Schlundt 1997). Nagrin exaggerated ordinary gestures into dual-coded, deeper metaphorical meaning, which is part of tikkun olam’sethos. Dancer Shane O’Hara (2005) commented that Nagrin’s work “always was about gesture and metaphor” to reflect an internal, humanistic movement that goes beyond “simple realism” which is “pure Daniel.”  Indeed, a holy act!
However, critics did not always agree. Anna Kisselgoff (1982) saw Nagrin’s abstracted gestures as highly dramatic, “predicated on fierceness and originality.”  In contrast, critic Doris Hering (1951) saw them only as superficial pantomime.  John Gruen (1975) defended them as aesthetic social gestures that contained meaning, an idea extended from cultural theory (Desmond 1997).  Nagrin explained:

When the metaphor is a specific image the work has life.  And when the literal is flipped, our imagination is fired up . . . In choreography, a flip can go into another century, to a different part of the body, to an animal, the list is endless.
Nagrin 1994:98 and 2001:89

Nagrin’s method of “clarifying” the literal into a metaphorical “springboard” demonstrates how to “bend it, stretch it, squeeze it” by using improvisation. Literal gestures “cancel the role of theaudience” by removing mystery, inhibiting imagination, and destroying creative impulses (Nagrin 1994:96).
Abstracted gestural metaphors are prevalent in several of his dances. Strange Hero’s (1948)heightened pedestrian antics of smoking, running, chasing, and shooting were metaphors to poke fun at America’s morbid fascination and cult hero worship of gangsters.  Man of Action’s (1948)stressed-out busy businessman looks franticly at his wristwatch, sits anxiously in a meeting, and runs to hail a taxi.  His wide, second-position lunges both literally and metaphorically attest to being pulled in two directions before finally collapsing backward.  Gestural metaphors reveal not only the identity of X through actions, but also the relationship between his characters, whether real or imagined. For example in Jacaranda (1979), the daily act of pulling on clothing was interpreted as a final layer of protective skin for the emotionally distant, “defensive, cocky” lover (Nuchtern 1979, Robertson 1979:112).
The simple, non-codified, mundane movement in Getting Well (1978) was not just a metaphor, but also was his actual convalescence from knee surgery.  It “orchestrated an ode to the joy of locomotion” (Robertson 1979:110).  Sally Banes (in Docherty 1999) argues that the analytic task dancers of the 1960s and 1970s primarily did not use metaphor as meaning as their meaning or content occurred in performing the task itself and nothing more. Therefore, Nagrin challenged and differed from his contemporaries because he used task as metaphor rather than as ‘art for art’s sake.’

3.  Agency and The Human Condition
Nagrin’s methods and works harmonized well with both Judaism’s tikkun olam and the early 20thCentury aesthetic ethos that an artistic ideal was the solution. The prevailing Nietzschean, Kantian-based philosophy privileged “Dionysian Being” over “Apollonian Thinking”[2]so that experience and expression were viewed as important critiques of reason and scientific objectivity (see Habermas 1999).  Art now could have an ameliorative function, capable of causing reflection on one’s own experiences and ideals for the purpose of improving society, maintaining order, and producing solidarity (Sparshott 1970). Leo Tolstoy’s Russian Socialist Realism regarded art as a useful unifying function through communicating feelings. This “progressive ideology of tolerance and egalitarianism” appealed to the New York independent Jewish choreographers (Jackson 2000:9, Perelman 2004, Prickett in Garafola 1994a).  Francis Sparshott (1970:295) asserted that in a society that values the human condition, as did these Jewish immigrants and their children including Nagrin, the greatest value will be placed on artistic works that embody the deepest feelings and ideas “about the world in which he lives.”  For the Jewish artist in New York City at this time, three potent ethos synthesized  tikkun olam,Russian Socialist Realism, and an American identity through modern dance. The resultant unifying message was that one could transcend circumstances to make positive, powerful statements for oneself and the community/world.  Nagrin’s work is the embodiment of these three intersections.
Agency.  But how does one actually do Tikkun olam?  By doing good, helping others, and engaging in social activism (Jorisch 2018).  Nagrin’s driving concern for the world around him can be defined as social activism or what anthropologists call agency. His “doing-acting” approach weaves character, intentions, and emotions into deliberate social action that assigns a specific kind of agency to any character (Meglin 1999:105, Schlundt 1997:2).  Therefore, his dances are embodied expressions (Franko 1995) of contemporary social and political actions.
Anthropologist Jennifer Hornsby (2004:16 & 21) views human agency’s “realistic” bodily actions as deliberate,willful,and intentional.These actions are ethical choices and are treated as causal power, or agent-causation (1980 and 2004:19). Nagrin defined action as “the inner life that drives what we see on the stage . . . It refers to the verbthat drives the dance and the dancer” (Nagrin 2001:44).  Hornsby’s theories are very useful here to elucidate tikkun olam’s human agencyin Nagrin’s works.
Through the deliberate actions of his characters, Nagrin “explores, values, and makes accessible what it means to be human” (Evans 2002:58) by provoking “audiences to share and ponder” (Schlundt 1998:531). His specific characters embodied a critique of society that confirms Hornsby’s concept of agent/causation: persons as agents who do something [action] that bring about “the things that they actually do [cause]” (Hornsby 2004:16).  Nagrin wanted his audiences to “look at their lives and think about their values” (Schlundt 1997:62) through conflicted characters.  His characters prompted viewers to acknowledge personal biases and to reflect on relevant, current social issues (Evans 2002).  He articulated his agency as:

It makes no sense to make dances unless you bring news.  You bring something that a community needs, something from you:  a vision, an insight, a question from where you are and what churns you up.
Nagrin 2001:21

Some examples of agency in his works include a tribute to the hard labor of construction workers in Path (1965), challenging America’s morbid fascination with the mob gangster in Strange Hero(1948), displaying fears of nuclear annihilation in Indeterminate Figure (1957), and confronting racism in Not Me but Him (1965).  He protested the Vietnam conflict in Peloponnesian War (1968) and resisted institutional racism and sexism in Poems Off the Wall (1982). He focused on disturbing, dysfunctional relationships through Jacaranda’s (1978)self-centered, cold-hearted man (Nuchtern 1979:38), Ruminations’ (1976)pain of loneliness as he quoted Nietzsche, and The Duet’s(1971) blatant domestic abuse.  By bringing attention and immediacy to these issues, Nagrin’s work blurred the boundaries between art and life, becoming “one step closer to real experience” (Kahn 1972:79).  By exposing these messier aspects of life, Nagrin’s tikkun olam compelled the viewer to grapple with and then repair and make the world a better place by looking at one’s own life first.
Content and Marginalization. From his Dance Portraits to performative improvisation to performance art, Nagrin’s commitment to human agency differed radically from most choreographers.  However, it came with a price as it set him against the hegemonic modern dance canon. Nagrin’s use of agency did not fit with modern dance’s aesthetic guidelines set by Graham, Holm, Horst, Humphrey, Laban, the Judsons, and Merce Cunningham. These formalist, expressionist (Franko 1995) artists elevated empirical, external structures of classical form by manipulating space, floor pattern, body shape, texture, rhythm, and dynamics. Nagrin’s works contrasted. Instead, he preferred working with the grittier, weightier, Dionysian aspects of contemporary life.  Several people noted his Hellenistic penchant. Critic Louis Horst (1957:103) described some of his works as a “bitter social comment.”  John Gruen (1988) stated that his works conveyed social, political, and psychological attitudes. Scholar Christena Schlundt explained he “dealt with the plight of people in this world” and his focus was “always human beings and their relationships with their environment” (1997:70). Dancer Shane O’Hara (2005) said his works “still resonates today.”  Writer John Martin referred to his intrinsic motivational content as “motor characterization” (cited in Schlundt 1997:30).  Nagrin (2001) simply called it “heart/mind.”
Aesthetics philosophers Sheldon Cheney (1946) and Louis Arnaud Reid (1969:80) stated that art consists of two strands, “the discovery and construction of form,” or finding and making, respectively. Accordingly, Nagrin is a ‘dancefinder,’not a ‘dancemaker,’ since he created his dances through the act of discovering motivations and actions rather than by manipulating form.  Nagrin’s nonformalist, nonexpressionist method was not popular at the time, and his maverick approach was in direct contrast to the form-based works of his contemporaries. His treatment of privileging content is thedefining characteristic that distinguishes The Nagrin Method and shapes his style throughout his entire life. Therefore, Nagrin’s tikkun olam positions him within a separate strand of modernism as he dared to challenge and defy the methods developed by the authorities of dance formalism. These differences are important when considering Nagrin’s place in the history of American modern dance since these highly visible formalists constructed its prevailing view based in making dances (Jackson 2000, Kane 2002).

4. Structures and Devices:  Alienation and Improvisation
I examine Nagrin’s use of choreographic structures and devices, in particular alienation and improvisation, through the lens of Jewishness.  Alienation and improvisation in and of itself are not peculiar Jewish traits, but I argue that the way Nagrin used them are examples of Jewishness through tikkun olam’s mandate to challenge authority, ask the next question, and defy the obvious(Jorisch 2018).
Alienation.  In general at this time, American audiences were familiar with German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s (1898-1956) “epic theatre” of alienation (Chaikin 1991:38).  Its aim is to alienate, dislocate, or interrupt strategically the habitual frames of reference or convention through a critical opposite, thereby making strange and peculiar the startling obvious, the ordinary, and the familiar (Mitter 1992). Also called detachment, it presents events with an unsentimental view yet calls the audience to action, even if it is merely to choose between two things (Chaikin 1991). It can be achieved through iconic gestures, improvisation, and privileging the everyday (Banes 2003).
Jorisch (2018:6) states that perhaps the center of all tikkun olamteachings is to elevate and transform the mundane, including rituals, blessing, and everyday things, “into something holy.” Used in this way, alienation becomes an agentic device.  For instance in Spring ’65, Nagrin chats informally with the audience during and in between his dances while doing collectively familiar activities such as changing clothes and shoes and sipping a glass of water. He thus draws the audience into the performance through a familiarity of the everyday actions, then but defamiliarizes them from their quotidian contexts by displacing or dislocating them within a performance framework.
Nagrin presented, problematized, and challenged relationships and hegemonic ideals through alienation’s questioning and reflection to produce an “enquiring, cynical spectator” (Evans 2002, Nagrin 1997:82, and Schlundt 1997).  As in Brecht’s epic theatre, he wanted to make the spectator assume a reflexive, questioning attitude toward events through dissociation, but without pity.  For instance after a soliloquy about an unpleasant, sad relationship in The Fall(1977), Nagrin abruptly looked into his audiences and asked whether they have had a similar experience.  InGetting Well, the audience relived his injury and convalescence “in total empathy” (Rosen 1979:12). Jacaranda’smoral theme of “loss” (Robertson 1979:47) invited personal reflection.
Nagrin’s defamiliarization can be seen as a structuring device by interrupting or blurring the boundaries between performer and spectator.  Peloponnesian Waris one of the best examples of Nagrin’s use of strategic interruption. Strategic interruption compels the audience to react or respond by personally identifying with X.  He allowed the sound tape to run for several minutes while the audience waited in the dark for the performance to begin. When the light arose, he was dressed as one of them — an audience member.  Then he mimic-ed their actions from his seat on stage as they stood for the national anthem (Schlundt 1997, Siegel 1969).  After a performance in Guam, a spectator told Nagrin that he resented the performer/audience role reversal by implicitly making the audience the spectacle. Nagrin said this man captured the core of the performance.  Nagrin challenged the automatic willingness of the audience to act without thinking, which elicited contradictory and angry responses from them (Schlundt 1997). He also used “visceral responses” (Goldberg 1988:205) such as “continuous blackouts and bump ups — to make darkness and fear palpable,” suspended a chicken about to have its head cut off, used a live snake, fired a rifle point-blank at the audience, and threw things at them (Schlundt 1997, Siegel 1969:23). With the exception of the Judson group, Meredith Monk, and Pina Bausch, this “manner of working the audience” (Goldberg 1988, Nagrin 1997:83) differed from many companies of the time.
Improvisation.Nagrin’s use of improvisation is another example of Jewishness due to his innovative approach.  It is based upon observation, imitation, and imagination to construct a specific image. Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman, and Helen Tamiris all used improvisation (Fuller-Snyder and MacDonald 1991, Nagrin 2001, Chujoy cited in Van Camp 1982). However, Nagrin’s improvisation differed because he used it as a structuring device.
By the 1960s and 1970s, Nagrin created a new aesthetic called “interactive improvisation” which emphasized performative improvisation and formed his Workgroup (Nagrin 1994:ix, Schlundt 1997:70).  His experimental aim was to give a distinctively fresh quality of unexpectedness in performance as opposed to set choreography, permitting greater diversity within the movement (Nagrin 1994). An important progression was the realization that group work was founded on interconnectedness, interchange, and an intense focus on the other, or “what the other person was doing” (Nagrin 1994:13). Nagrin believed this re-directed process demanded attention and receptivity on all levels. He developed specific “exercises, games, and structures” or “EGAS” that were designed to increase awareness of one another during practices (Nagrin 1994:15).

Summary and Conclusion
I argued that Daniel Nagrin’s dances are studies in Jewishness as seen through Jorisch’s (2018:4, 6-7) lens of tikkun olam as historical and cultural values.  It produces an innovative people mandated to repair and “make the world a better place” by seeking higher meaning and purpose, challenging and defying authority, asking questions, and transforming the mundane into something holy. By examining Nagrin’s methods, content and function, and structures and devices as examples of tikkun olam, dancing Jewish emerges clearly through Nagrin’s identity, agency, and questioning.
His innovative, six-step choreographic process that I have termed The Nagrin Method finds the specific image through specific action to define a specific purpose, what he called ‘this and that.’  He began by extending and exaggerating gestures into movement metaphors to arrive at deeper meaning, content, and function that centered on humanistic, relevant issues from the world around him.  I draw upon Jennifer Hornsby’s (2004:23) theory of agent-causation with its “realistic account of human agency” to view his works as studies in agency, and aspect of tikkun olam.
Nagrin’s innovative methods and works focus on the messier, complicated web of human interactions andrelationships.  The aim was to bring about both reflexivity and change, his version of repairing the world and making it a better place, through confrontation, questioning, and reflection. He used Alienation and Improvisation differently, often as structuring devices to dig deeper into the core of his character’s X to make audiences think, ponder, reflect, and act.
Nagrin’s Method provides an alternative lens through which we can analyze, read, and narrate the genre of American modern dance in new ways. He was a maverick and a man of conviction, not afraid to privilege content over form even though it placed him at odds with most other choreographers.   His compelling social critiques not only distinguished him from them but also from formalist writers and critics, subsequently leading to his marginalization and elimination by positioning him within a different strand.
Nagrin’s strand of modernism merits a re-visiting of historical strategies and modes of analyzing choreographic processes. It suggests the need for both a deeper examination of extant critical and historical writings and more thorough, critical analyses of concert works.  Nagrin’s confidence in his way of working led him unapologetically to challenge and defy hegemonic canons.  His passion and innovation to create a new Method to focus on the human condition embodies the essence of tikkun olam. Daniel Nagrin’s works are studies in Jewishness.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Adler, Norma. Reports: Tamiris Conference (Arizona State University, 19-20 April,
1986) Dance Research Journal:  Congress on Research in Dance. 18:2, Winter
1986-87:75-76.

Adshead, Janet (ed).  Choreography:  Principles & Practice. Study of Dance
Conference 4, Guildford:  University of Surrey, April 1986.

Adshead, Janet (ed) Briginshaw, Valerie Hodgens, Pauline and Huxley, Michael.
Dance Analysis:  Theory and Practice.  London: Dance Books, 1988.

Albright, Ann Cooper.  Choreographing Difference:  The Body and Identity in
Contemporary Performance.  Hanover, NH:  Wesleyan University Press and the
University Press of New England, 1997.

Banes, Sally.  Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance. Middletown, CT:  Wesleyan University Press, 1987.

________.    Introduction to Terpsichore in Sneakers in Docherty, Thomas
(ed).   Postmodernism:  A Reader. New York and London:
Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1999:157 – 171.

________, (ed).  Reinventing Dance in the 1960s: Everything was Possible.
Madison, Wisconsin:  University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Brin Ingber, Judith.  Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance. Detroit MI:  Wayne State
University Press, 2011.

Carbonneau, Suzanne.  Nagrin’s Revived Visions, The Washington Post,10
October 1995.  www.nagrin.com.  Accessed 4 July 2004.

Chaikin, Joseph.  The Presence of the Actor. New York:  Athenaeum, 1977.

Cheney, Sheldon.  Expressionism in Art.  Revised edition, New York:  Tudor
Publishing Company, 1946.

Chujoy, Anatole.  [no article title given]. Dance News.  32:6, June 1958:11.

Chujoy, Anatole cited in Van Camp, Julie Charlotte.  [Microfilm]. Philosophical Problems
of Dance Criticism.  Unpublished PhD dissertation.  Philadelphia: Temple University,
1982.

Copeland, Roger.   Merce Cunningham:  The Modernizing of Modern Dance.
Routledge: New York and London, 2004.

Desmond, Jane C. (ed.) Meaning in Motion:  New Cultural Studies of Dance.  Durham:
Duke University Press, 1997.

Docherty, Thomas (ed).   Postmodernism:  A Reader.  New York and London:
Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1999.

Evans, Bill.  A Strange Hero’s Influence.  Dance Magazine,76:4, April 2002 :57- 58.

Foulkes, Julia.  Modern Bodies:  Dance and American Modernism from Martha Graham
to Alvin Ailey.  Chapel Hill, NC:  University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Franko, Mark.  Dancing Modernism/Performing Politics.  Bloomington and Indianapolis:
Indiana University Press, 1995.

Fuller Snyder, Allegra and MacDonald, Annette (producers).  [Videotape].  When the
Fire Dances between the Two Poles:  Mary Wigman 1886-1973. Performed by Mary
Wigman.  Dance Horizons, Pennington, NJ: Princeton Book Company, 1991.

Garafola, Lynn (ed).  Of By, and For the People:  Dancing on the Left in the 1930s.
Studies in Dance History, The Journal of the Society of Dance History Scholars, 5:1,
Spring 1994.

Gere, David (ed).  Looking Out:  Perspectives on Dance and Criticism in a Multicultural
World. New York:  Schirmer Books, 1995.

Giersdorf, Jens Richard.  The Body of the People:  East German Dance since 1945.
Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.

Goldberg, RoseLee.  Performance Art:  From Futurism to the Present,second edition.
London: Thames and Hudson, 1988.

Graff, Ellen.  Stepping Left:  Dance and Politics in New York City, 1928-1942.  Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

Greenberg, Clement.  The Collected Essays and Criticism.  O’Brian, J. (ed).  Chicago
and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1955.

Gruen, John.  Original archival manuscript ofinterview with Daniel Nagrin.  One
transcript, 23 leaves.  New York Public Library:  Jerome Robbins Dance Collection,
1975.

________.   People Who Dance: 22 Dancers Tell their Own Stories.  [Chapter on Daniel Nagrin]. Pennington, NJ:  Dance Horizons Books:  Princeton Book Co., 1988:96 – 105.
Habermas, Jurgen.  The Entry into Postmodernity:  Nietzsche as a Turning Point in
Docherty, Thomas (ed).   Postmodernism:  A Reader. New York and London:
Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1999:51 – 61.

Hering, Doris.  Daniel Nagrin and Donald McKayle with guest artists, Hunter
Playhouse, May 25, 1951. Dance Magazine.  25:6, July 1951:9.

Hornsby, Jennifer.  Actions.  London:  Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

________.  “Agency and Actions,” in Agency and Action, eds. H. Steward and J.
Hyman. Cambridge University Press, 2004:1–23.

Horst, Louis. Tenth American Dance Festival; Connecticut College, August 15-18.
Dance Observer.  24:7, Aug-Sept 1957:102-103.

Jackson, Naomi M.  Converging Movements:  Modern Dance and Jewish Culture at the
92ndStreet Y.  Hanover NH and London:   Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

________.  “Searching for Moving Metaphors:  Jewishness in American Modern and
Postmodern Dance” in Judith Brin Ingber, ed,Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance.
Detroit, MI:  Wayne State University Press, 2011:357-375.

Jorisch, Avi.  Thou Shalt Innovate:  How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World.  Gefen
Publishing House Ltd., Jerusalem, 2018.

Kane, Angela. Contrived Preciousness, with Meager Choreographic Substance.
Proceedings, Society of Dance History Scholars.   June 2002:62 – 67.

Kane, Angela.  Through a Glass Darkly:  The Many Sides of Paul Taylor’s
Choreography in Dance Research:  The Journal of the Society for Dance Research.
21:2, Winter 2003:90 -129.

Kisselgoff, Anna. Dance:  New Nagrin Solo Looks Into the Abstract, The New York
Times,13 May 1982.  www.nagrin.com.  Accessed 4 July 2004.

________.  A Lesson From the 1940’s:  Expression in Just a Few Bold Strokes, The
New York Times,25 March 1994.  www.nagrin.com.   Accessed 4 July 2004.

LoC [Library of Congress].  Daniel Nagrin Collection, Music Division, Library of
Congress, Washington, D.C.  Several boxes accessed May 19-24, 2014.

Manchester, P[hyllis] W[inifred].  Daniel Nagrin, with Sylvia Marshall, pianist, at
YM-YWHA, New York, March 2.   Dance News.  22:4, Apr 1958:10.

Macaulay, Alastair. Notes on Dance Classicism in Adshead, Janet (ed).
Choreography:   Principles & Practice.  Study of Dance Conference 4, Guildford:
University of Surrey, April 1986 :63 – 79.

________.  What is Classicism?  International Critics Look at Javanese Bedhaya in
Gere, David (ed).  Looking Out:  Perspectives on Dance and Criticism in a Multicultural
World.  New York:  Schirmer Books, 1995:141-164.

McDonagh, Don. The Complete Guide to Modern Dance.  New York: Doubleday &
Company, 1976:228-231.

Manchester, P[hyllis] W[inifred].  Daniel Nagrin, Geoffrey Holder and Company, William
Hug and Company.    Dance News.  31:4, Dec 1957:11.

Martin, John.  America Dancing.  New York:  Dodge Publishing Company, 1936.

________.   Introduction to the Dance.  New York:  W. W. Norton, 1939.

________.  America Dancing.  [Reprint from 1936 edition with additional information
and used comparatively by this researcher.]  New York:  Dance Horizons, 1968.

________.   Introduction to the Dance. [Reprint from1939 edition with additional
information and used comparatively by this researcher.]  New York:  Dance Horizons,
1975.

Meglin, Joellen A.  Book review of Six Questions.  Dance Research Journal.  New York:
Congress on Research in Dance.  31:1, spring 1999:104-108.

Mitter, Shomit.  Systems of Rehearsal:  Stanislavsky, Brecht, Grotowski, and Brook.
London and New York:  Routledge, 1992.

Nagrin, Daniel.  [Videotape].  Solos, 1948-1967.  Performed by Daniel Nagrin, 1967.

________.  [Videotape].  Nagrin Videotape Library Sampler. Performed by Daniel
Nagrin, 1985.

________.   How To Dance Forever:  Surviving Against the Odds.  New York: Quill and
William Morrow, 1988.

________. Helen Tamiris and the Dance Historians. Proceedings, Society of Dance
History Scholars,Arizona State University, Tempe.  1989:15-43.

________.   Dance and the Specific Image:  Improvisation.  Pittsburgh, PA:  University
of Pittsburgh Press, 1994.

_______.   The Six Questions: Acting Technique for Dance Performance.  Pittsburgh,
PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

________.  Choreography and the Specific Image:  Nineteen Essays and aWorkbook.
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

________.  [Email].  nagrin@asu.edu  4 January 2004.

Nuchtern, Jean.   A Weighty Matter.  Dance Magazine.  50:9, Sept 1976 :32-33.

________.  Jacaranda.  Ballet News,53:9, Sept 1979 :38.

O’Hara, Shane. [Email].  oharast@jmu.edu, 1 March 2005.

Perelman, Josh.  [Conference paper presentation].  The Dance is a Weapon:
Communism, Modern Dance, and the Roots of American Jewish Identity. Durham:
North Carolina, Society of Dance History Scholars Conference, Duke University, June
2004.

Prickett, Stacey. The People:  Issues of Identity within the Revolutionary Dance in
Garafola, Lynn (ed).  Of, By, and For the People:  Dancing on the Left in the 1930s.
Studies in Dance History, The Journal of the Society of Dance History Scholars, 5:1,
spring 1994a:14 – 22.

________.  Reviewing on the Left:  The Dance Criticism of Edna Ocko in Garafola,
Lynn (ed). Of, By, and For the People:  Dancing on the Left in the 1930s.  Studies in
Dance History, The Journal of the Society of Dance History Scholars, 5:1, spring
1994b:65 – 103.

Reid, Louis Arnaud.  Meaning in the Arts.  London and New York:  George Allen &
Unwin LTD, and Humanities Press, 1969.

Robertson, Allen.  Daniel Nagrin (in Sam Shepard’s Jacaranda,Playhouse 46, New
York, June 7-17, 1979).  Dance Magazine.  53:9, Sept 1979:47, 110-112.

Rosen, Charles.  The Classical Style:  Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven.  London:  Faber and
Faber Ltd., 1971.

Roses-Thema, Cynthia. Interview with Daniel Nagrin.   Journal for the Anthropological
Studies of Human Movement, 12:3, spring 2003:114 – 119.

Rossen, Rebecca.  Dancing Jewish:  Jewish Identity in American Modern and
Postmodern Dance.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Schlundt, Christena L.  Daniel Nagrin:  A Chronicle of His Professional Career.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

________.  Daniel Nagrin in Cohen, Selma Jeanne (ed).  International Encyclopaedia of Dance.  New York and Oxford:  Oxford University Press, vol 4, 1998:530-31.
Shahn, Ben.  The Shape of Content.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1966.

Siegel, Marcia B. (ed).  Dancers’ Notes.  Daniel Nagrin:  “War” Diary.  New York, Dance
PerspectivesFoundation, 1969 :18-23.

Smithsonian Institute. [Television documentary]. Russia: Land of the Tsars.  The History
Channel, aired 4 September 2004.

Sparshott, Francis E.  The Structure of Aesthetics. University of Toronto Press, 1970.

Stanislavski, Constantin.  My Life in Art.  Robbins, J. J. (trans).  New York: Little,
Brown, and Company, 1924.

________.   An Actor Prepares.  Reynolds Hapgood, Elizabeth (ed and   trans).  New
York:  Theatre Arts Books, 1936.

Van Camp, Julie Charlotte.  [Microfilm].  Philosophical Problems of Dance Criticism.
Unpublished PhD dissertation.  Philadelphia: Temple University, 1982.

Williams, Drid.  Anthropology and the Dance:  Ten lectures, second edition. Urbana and
Chicago: University of Illinois Press.  2004

Endnotes

 

1 Tamiris handled literal gestures by transferring movement to another part of the body.  Another way was to go inside the body with the action instead of bringing it out to the surface with transference; that    is, the inner body reacts to the sensation of the action, then allows an outward manifestation. Character    roles could shift as long as the action was the same which allowed for a variety of metaphors guided by    imagination and personal taste (Adler 1987, Nagrin 2001).

[2] Apollonian vs Dionysian.  John Martin associates classicism with ancient Greece and Rome or working from another surviving period, aristocratic rather than from popular culture, order and beauty, set rules of form, standard or specified technique, codified vocabulary, and a balanced, symmetrical design.  The approach is not exploratory or adventurous but orderly, mental and reflective, and takes delight in things made and created (Martin 1939/75). Alastair Macaulay defines classicism as expressiveness of pure dance, order and beauty, and a keen sense of style (Macaulay in Adshead 1986) that diachronically transcends time periods and cultures. He further delineates classicism as two-fold:  based in the Homeric principle that something divine is embedded in humans’ lives and behaviours, such as the gods’ activities [particularly Apollo’s]; and in the Genesis principle that God created man in His own image.  For example, Macaulay cites the use of the element of repose in dance as a classicist trait as opposed to what he considers the more Dionysian look of African dance (Macaulay in Gere 1995).Although some of these characteristics are present in modernism and modern dance, clearly Nagrin and his works do not fit classical ideals. Form, beauty, aristocratic works, set technique or vocabulary, rules, symmetry, and the making of dances are not of interest to Nagrin.  Instead, he privileged popular culture, experimentation, metaphors, and finding dances through the specific image of a character, the X. These are characteristics of Hellenism, which privileged the god Dionysius.

Categories
Academic Paper

This and That: Jewishness in the Dances of Daniel Nagrin – Abstract

Abstract Daniel Nagrin 1

Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World

Arizona State UniversityOctober 2018

naomi.jackson@asu.edu email 9.30.2017

page1image1728143920

THIS AND THAT: JEWISHNESS IN THE DANCES OF DANIEL NAGRIN

by

Diane Wawrejko, PhD, MFA, CMT wawrejko@comcast.net

page1image1728602848

Abstract Daniel Nagrin 2

Abstract. In this paper, I examine American choreographer and dancer Daniel Nagrin’s choreographic method as a study in Jewishness. I attempt to add to the multilayered dynamic framework begun by Naomi Jackson (in Ingber 2011) and Rebecca Rossen (2014). I argue that dancing Jewish not only resides explicitly through the selection of overtly Jewish themes, time, place, subject matter, and tropes but also is posited implicitly in the strategies, methods, content, and function used to create and perform concert dances. I ask, “In what ways do Daniel Nagrin’s dances tacitly affirm Jewishness through identity, questioning, agency, and site?”

I demonstrate that Jewishness is implied yet evident through these four cultural markers. I examine how Nagrin’s Russian-Jewish secular heritage combined with living and dancing in New York City during most of the 20th Century (Jackson 2000) shaped his identity and worldview (Banes 1987, Graff 1997, Prickett 1994), thus impacting the way he choreographed. His action-based portraits of non-Jewish but specific characters in conflict differed from his contemporaries’ methods. His six-question approach, which I call The Nagrin Method, was adapted from the six-step acting model of Russian theatre director Constantine Stanislavski (1924). Nagrin located/found his content through “this and that” or internal questioning and debate expressed through movement metaphors. His driving concern for the world around him exhibited through his characters’ actions are embodied expressions (Franko 1995) of contemporary social and political actions. These can be defined as social justice, or what anthropologists Jennifer Hornsby (1980, 2004) and Drid Williams (2004) term ‘agency.’ Site is re-negotiated through daring binary tropes of virtuosity/pedestrian movements, concert stage/non-traditional spaces, choreography/improvisation, music/sound, talking/silence, and live/video performances.

Abstract Daniel Nagrin 3

Primary source materials include Nagrin’s written books (Nagrin 1994, 1997, and 2001), videos (1967, 1985), and several boxes in the Library of Congress Daniel Nagrin Collection archives. Other videotapes, professional critiques, and reviews are probed. As a dancer, I rely upon my chorographic studies with Nagrin and draw further from the corporeal approaches of Jens Giersdorf (2013) and Rebecca Rossen (2014). The body- as-culture theories of Ann Cooper Albright (1997), Jane Desmond (1997), Susan Foster (2005), and Janet Lansdale (2007) in which aesthetic, social, and cultural moments are constructed and embodied through the performing body are useful. The adapted post- structural models of Janet Adshead (1988) and Angela Kane (2003) are used to probe and analyze select dances, concluding with a case-study of Path (1965). By tracing patterns in his choreographic method, my analysis both contributes new knowledge to the dialogue surrounding Jewishness in American dance and problematizes the criteria used to define modern dance. I assert that Nagrin’s dances imply Jewishness and are worthy to open for debate; as a result, rethinking what constitutes dance modernism is needed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (partial)

Adshead, Janet (ed) Briginshaw, Valerie Hodgens, Pauline and Huxley, Michael.Dance Analysis: Theory and Practice. London: Dance Books, 1988.

Albright, Ann Cooper. Choreographing Difference: The Body and Identity in Contemporary Performance. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press and the University Press of New England, 1997.

Banes, Sally. Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. 1987.

Abstract Daniel Nagrin 4Desmond, Jane C. (ed.) Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance. Durham:

Duke University Press, 1997.

Foster, Susan Leigh, ed. Choreographing History. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: University of Indiana Press, 2005.

Foulkes, Julia. Modern Bodies: Dance and American Modernism from Martha Graham to Alvin Ailey. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Franko, Mark. Dancing Modernism/Performing Politics. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Giersdorf, Jens Richard. The Body of the People: East German Dance since 1945.Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.

Graff, Ellen. Stepping Left: Dance and Politics in New York City, 1928-1942. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

Gruen, John. Original archival manuscript of interview with Daniel Nagrin. Transcript, 23 leaves. New York Public Library: Jerome Robbins Dance Collection, 1975.

Hornsby, Jennifer. Actions. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980. ________. “Agency and Actions,” in Agency and Action, eds. H. Steward and J.

Hyman. Cambridge University Press, 2004:1–23.
Jackson, Naomi M. Converging Movements: Modern Dance and Jewish Culture at the

92nd Street Y. Hanover, NH, and London: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

________. “Searching for Moving Metaphors: Jewishness in American Modern and Postmodern Dance” in Judith Brin Ingber, ed, Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2011:357-375.

Kane, Angela. Through a Glass Darkly: The Many Sides of Paul Taylor’s Choreography in Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research.21:2, Winter 2003:90 – 129.

Lansdale, Janet. The Struggle with the Angel: A poetics of Lloyd Newson’s ‘Strange Fish’ (DV8 Physical Theatre). Hampshire: Dance Books LTD, 2007.

Manning, Susan. Modern Dance, Negro Dance: Race in Motion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Nagrin, Daniel. [Videotape]. Solos, 1948-1967. Performed by Daniel Nagrin, 1967.

Abstract Daniel Nagrin 5________. [Videotape]. Nagrin Videotape Library Sampler. Performed by Daniel

Nagrin, 1985.

________. Dance and the Specific Image: Improvisation. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994.

_______. The Six Questions: Acting Technique for Dance Performance. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

________. Choreography and the Specific Image: Nineteen Essays and a Workbook.Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

________. Daniel Nagrin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Several boxes accessed May 19-24, 2014.

Prickett, Stacey. The People: Issues of Identity within the Revolutionary Dance.Studies in Dance History 5(1), 1994:14–22.

Rossen, Rebecca. Dancing Jewish: Jewish Identity in American Modern and Postmodern Dance. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Schlundt, Christena L. Daniel Nagrin: A Chronicle of His Professional Career. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Siegel, Marcia B. (ed). Dancers’ Notes. Daniel Nagrin: “War” Diary. New York, DancePerspectives Foundation, 1969 :18-23.

Stanislavski, Constantin. My Life in Art. Robbins, J. J. (trans). New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1924.

Williams, Drid. Anthropology and the Dance: Ten lectures, second edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Categories
Academic Paper

A Tribute to Daniel Nagrin: Russian Jewish Influences in American Modern Dance – Full Text

First publish in Dance Voices, Haifa Israel, 14 November 2009. Used with permission.http://www.dancevoices.com/en/dance-discourses/118-a-tribute-to-daniel-nagrin-russian-jewish- influences-in-american-modern-dance

A TRIBUTE TO DANIEL NAGRIN:
Russian Jewish Influences in American Modern Dance

By Diane Wawrejko, MFA, CMT, PhD ©

1. INTRODUCTION.

On the first anniversary of his death, this paper is a tribute to my former teacher and mentor, Daniel Nagrin. Nagrin (22 May 1917 – 29 December 2008), actor, Broadway dancer, and minor pioneer of American modern dance, was inspired and influenced professionally by three main people. The first major influence was Russian theatre director Constantin Stanislavski, whose method reached Nagrin through three New York-based acting teachers. The first was Miriam Goldina who studied in Moscow under Yevgeniy Vakhtangov, one of Stanislavski’s best directors and considered his ‘disciple.’ And lastly, through two Group Theatre actors/teachers: Stella Adler who studied with Stanislavski in Paris and married Group Theatre founder Harold Clurman, and Sanford Meisner who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse. The second major influence was that of his professional partner and modern dance pioneer, Helen Tamiris, who later became his wife. The third were the techniques of Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theatre (Cohen, 1998 Kissel, 2000 Moore, 1984 Nagrin, 1994 Schlundt, 1998 and Silverberg, 1994). It is argued that these individuals and their artistic processes contributed to Nagrin’s worldview and aided in the development of his system of choreography, which I have termed ‘The Nagrin Method.’ As a result, Stanislavski’s system has influenced American modern dance choreography and performance through the praxis of Russian-Jewish immigrants.

2. MAJOR INFLUENCES.

Questions are raised as to what extent the Russian acting director Constantin Stanislavski influenced Nagrin’s life and work; how far he unintentionally influenced not only American theatre and film but also modern dance; and the extent of influence that his acting methods had upon Nagrin’s choreographic process. Stanislavskian traces in modern dance and the Russian-

1

page1image5864096page1image5817920page1image3739696page1image3731792

Jewish background and connection of many American modern dance artists have been researched and examined to limited but illuminating degrees by various scholars. Stanislavski’s work appears to have appealed to American actors and dancers of Eastern European Jewish heritage, which is an area for further investigation.1 Although not of this heritage, Duncan was influenced by Stanislavski and his work regarding emotion and expression (Layson, 1987). Stanislavski’s mutual association with and reciprocal admiration for Duncan and her work is documented (Layson, 1987 and Stanislavski, 1924). Finally, Stanislavski’s influence reached Nagrin due to his association with Tamiris, the Group Theatre through Adler and Meisner, and eventually the Living Theatre and Open Theatre of Chaikin.

2.1. Constantin Stanislavski.

Constantin Stanislavski2 (1863 – 1938) was director of the Conservatory of the Opera Studio of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and actor and co-founder with Vladimir Nemirovitch- Dantchenko of The Moscow Art Theatre (MAT) during the last part of the 19th Century until his death. Later renamed the Stanislavski Theatre, MAT’s focus was on popular culture and symbolism (Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, 1936 and Stanislavski, 1924 and 1961a). His method or system, as he preferred to call it (Stanislavski, 1924 and 1961a) was a means to an end, not theend, which is reverberated by Nagrin (2001). As a young actor, Stanislavski discovered improvisation by working alone to develop his character roles (Stanislavski, 1936 and 1961b), and both Tamiris and Nagrin used improvisation to find dances. The focus was not on dramatic form but based in truthful acting upon the character (Stanislavski, 1961a and 1961b Stanislavski and Rumyantsev, 1975 and Moore, 1984). This foundational, improvisational-based concept of form following content, or content-then-form, is a major premise in both Tamiris’ and Nagrin’s choreographic methods.

Some of Stanislavski’s important principles were simplicity of action, the elimination of clichés, imagination, scenic truth, emotion memory, and communion with others. Stanislavski’s methods are categorized as “elements” (Moore, 1984 and Stanislavski, 1936 and 1961a), and these elements played a central role in Nagrin’s development of his choreographic methodology. Some of these are treated briefly here, due to restrictions of time and space, with their application and adaptation to Nagrin’s method through my own experience of working under him.

2

page2image1665216page2image5798784page2image1657312

Every action that happened on stage must be for a specific purpose or simplicity as “’thoughts are embodied in acts’” and are inseparable (Stanislavski cited in Stanislavski and Rumyantsev, 1975:4). It can be proposed that Nagrin also possessed an economy of movement in which every movement was directly integral to the character or action. Stanislavski’s method of ‘Physical Actions’ was based on his discovery that internal experiences and their physical expressions are inseparable and united (Moore, 1984 and Stanislavski, 1936). As a result, Stanislavski developed a series or system of physical exercises, largely based in structured improvisations, to find internal expression. The actor was to do the action and then the emotion would follow and was instructed not to think of feelings but to focus on the actions themselves (Stanislavski, 1936 and 1961a). Nagrin never focused on the emotion to create movement, but rather on the action or the doing, to explore the depth of character (Nagrin, 2001). Feeling and emotion come from doing; acting is doing, and these “’are the same thing’” (Adler in Kissel, 2000:44). Actions need to be believable and specific (2000). Tamiris and Nagrin both embraced this, and from my own experience Nagrin particularly worked with the specific image doingrather than feeling (Nagrin, 1989 and 2001). An example is the epic gangster cum hero in Nagrin’s Strange Hero (1948).

For Stanislavski, overacting develops into mechanical acting which develops into clichés. In his autobiography My Life in Art (1924), Stanislavski indicated that arbitrary poses without spiritual connection to the inner truth are not believable. This is in contrast to Delsarte’s theory which codified meaning through movement gestures. Nagrin, and arguably Stanislavski (1924), worked through clichés and was against the Delsarte concept that codified every little movement into specific meanings all its own (Nagrin, 1997). Nagrin quoted the line from the musicalMadam Sherry but which is associated with Ted Shawn: “’Every little movement has a meaning all its own, Every thought and feeling by some posture may be shown’” (cited in Nagrin, 1994:99). Mimetic and literal gesturing was not acceptable. Duncan embraced this same concept (Layson, 1987), Tamiris called it working “’too close to the bone’” (in Nagrin, 2001:82) which was too close to the real image rather than finding a metaphor (Nagrin, 2004e), Chaikin emphasized working through the cliché (Chaikin, 1977), and Nagrin integrated this as well (Nagrin, 1997 & 2001). Both Nagrin and Chaikin worked through clichés to open up new possibilities involving an inner acting technique, or building “the life of the human spirit” per Stanislavski (Moore, 1984:8 and Stanislavski, 1961a:25).

3

page3image1687472

Imagination is the inspirational key to stimulating the if which involves an activity (Stanislavski, 1924 and 1936). The “magic if” or ‘what would I do if I were X?’ brings the actor into the character and into the “realm of imagination” (Moore, 1984 and Stanislavski, 1936:43). The if evokes a real and inner activity and is built upon the given circumstances which help create an inner stimulus (Stanislavski, 1924 and 1936). These are dictated by the script’s contextual elements of stage, time, place, et cetera (Moore, 1984 and Stanislavski, 1961b). All movement and speech on stage are the direct result of the imagination of a correct focus, and Stanislavski developed six steps to follow to clarify the object of focus through the magic ‘if’: who you are, where you came from, why, what you want, where you are going, and what you will do when you get there (Stanislavski, 1936). To achieve the specific image, Nagrin schematically adapted the six questions to his choreographic process:

1. Who or what? (the subject)
2. Is doing what? (the verb)
3. To whom or what? (the object)
4. Where and when? (the context)
5. To what end? (the reason for the action)
6. The obstacle? ([tension that]justifies theatrical viability)

(Nagrin, 1997:34)

Stanislavski’s “Always know who you are” (Moore, 1984:28) translated into Nagrin’s “get to the core of X” (Nagrin, 1997:92). Nagrin’s imagination involved improvisation and playfulness (Nagrin, 1994). “’An actor develops a character from the things he does,’” says, and wears; and the action needs to be justified (Adler cited in Kissel, 2000:103).

Two kinds of truth were defined as actual and scenic. In life, truth is what really exists; on stage, it is a product of the imagination. Truthful probing of the inner life of a character creates a belief in that reality. Nagrin refers to this by the question, ‘to what extent?’ (Nagrin, 1997). “This process is what we call justification of a part . . . Truth on the stage is whatever we can believe in with sincerity, whether in ourselves or in our colleagues” (Stanislavski, 1936:122). An element of falseness resides in the sense of truth. On stage, most everything is invented and reality is constructed, and Stanislavski taught that an actor who thinks he is a character is emotionally unstable (Stanislavski, 1936). Nagrin also applied this to the role of a dancer (2001). Truthfulness and believability come from feeling and experience; believing in

4

page4image1687264page4image1699328

one’s own internal actions and emotions within the context surrounding the character is important and was Stanislavski’s method of approaching emotions. He advised to avoid falseness and everything that is against nature, logic, and common sense (Stanislavski, 1936 and 1961a).

Emotion memory is an area that even today has caused a split in the interpretation of Stanislavski’s teachings, as acting teachers in New York taught their own versions of their interpretation of Stanislavski’s method.3 A stage emotion is different from an emotion in life as the cause is different; one is re-created, the other is primary. Combined with the inner rhythm of the script, these stir the actor’s emotions as it is not enough to rely on physical actions which need to have a given, imaginative circumstance (Stanislavski, 1961a and Stanislavski and Rumyantsev, 1975). Emotions inherent within the character help an actor to do this successfully (Kissel, 2000 and Stanislavski, 1936). Nagrin concurred in order to find or develop his characters or ‘X’ (Nagrin 1997, 2001 and 2004e).

On-stage relationships or communion first begin with the self, then others, and then objects that are unreal or imagined.4 In communication with others and/or an object, the goal is to reach the living spirit by communicating either directly or indirectly and is always mutual (Stanislavski, 1936, 1961a and 1961b). The actor must communicate his actions to those on stage, and believe in the relationship rather than the object (Moore 1984, and Stanislavski and Rumyantsev 1975). This was reinforced through Chaikin’s improvisational work and implemented as a primary focus by Nagrin into his Workgroup,5 emphasizing the ‘other’ and the non-verbal exchange of communication between performers (Nagrin, 1994).

Briefly, the above are highlights of some of the major tenets of what Stanislavski calls his ‘system’ and what others refer to as his ‘method’ (Moore, 1984 and Stanislavski, 1924, 1936, and 1961a). Arguably the most important concept Nagrin gleaned was to work from content rather than form or emotion through the doing of a specific image.

2.2. Helen Tamiris.

Modern dance pioneer Helen Tamiris was undoubtedly the greatest influence on Nagrin’s life and career. Like Nagrin, she was born to Russian-Jewish immigrants. She is remembered as a “breathtaking panther” in performance, a “true popular artist” who added “glamour and

5

page5image1656064page5image3673552page5image3762576

vitality”, and caused “excitement when she danced” (Nagrin, 1988:267; Siegel 1987:6; and Schlundt, 1972:28 and 1998).

Named after an Amazonian Queen who was known for her beauty and bravery by carrying the pickled head of a slain king into battle, Tamiris called her own work “’Living Art’” since it was meaningful only when viewed (Tamiris, 1989:3).6 She pursued the quest to create American dances to American music using American themes, such as Negro spirituals and sports. This was undoubtedly a strong influence in Nagrin’s works. Nagrin recalled “she always probed and searched for new forms to express her central concern for human dignity” (Schlundt, 1972 Siegel, 1987 and Nagrin, 1988:267). In contrast to the “Big Four” (that is, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman), she was willing to explore any method to attain her art form, was concerned with human dignity, and blurred the boundaries between high art and the vernacular. These Marxist ideologies, I assert, were evident in the MAT as well. The other American modern dancers would not incorporate the vernacular since ‘popular’ was translated as ‘not artistic’ at this time (Evans, 2002 Lloyd, 1949 Nagrin, 1994 and Siegel, 1987). Tamiris’ philosophy of dance is apparent in highlights taken from her “Manifest” printed in her second modern dance solo concert program of 29 January 1928.7

When Nagrin began to work with Tamiris in 1941, her way of working was to allow the dancer to work improvisationally under a directed framework to find the movement that she wanted (Gruen, 1988). Tamiris did not impose her own movement style on other dancers, but saw them as individuals who could create movement through improvisation out of their own bodies. She believed the body knew how to move and offered no theories, just an existential approach (Schlundt, 1972).

Tamiris was different in her choreographic method than the other founders of modern dance. The underpinnings of her choreographic method, reflecting Stanislavski’s influence through the Group Theatre, were to explore “who you were, where you were, what you were doing, and how you were doing it” (Adler, 1986-87 and Nagrin, 2001).8 She used both improvisation to find movement and metaphors based in an accurate sense memory in order to distort and abstract movement and adapted these from Stanislavski’s sense memory as the key to the magic ‘if,’ allowing the dancer to take what is not real and make it real through the imagination. Nagrin borrowed his sense memory work from both her and Stanislavski (Nagrin, 2001). Literal gestures were handled by transferring movement to another part of the body

6

through her dictum “Don’t illustrate,” and to go inside the body with the action (Nagrin, 1989, 2001 and 2004e). Nagrin cannot recall whether Tamiris ever indicated to him exactly where and when she was first introduced to Stanislavski’s methods (Nagrin, 1989), but I can attest that he continued to use improvisation to various degrees and metaphors throughout his professional work as well.

Nagrin confided that he never received any formal instruction from Tamiris on choreographic design or structure, either on Broadway or in his solo concert works (Gruen, 1988 and Newman, 1975). He never focused on design or form but followed the necessity of the action and assumed the work would have design (Nagrin, 2001). Instead, he privileged form or what I term ‘form follows function.’9 An example, which reverberates Judson’s task dances, is his repetitive work Path (1965).

What was learned from Tamiris was combined with Nagrin’s own contributions, and they both influenced one another. He affected her methods in ways that he cannot define precisely. In turn, he worked these out in his body and does not know where her teaching stops and his begins (Nagrin, 1989 & 2001). Tamiris continued to work this way with him, asking questions, talking about the Stanislavski method of acting, and paralleling it to dance. Instead of doing attractive movement, he began to work with inner conviction, movement metaphors, content rather than form, and combined virtuosity (Gruen, 1988). This method is based in Stanislavski’s teachings to “find truth not in trying to look like something or someone but in doing-acting’” (Schlundt, 1997:60). Thus, Nagrin’s concept that the entire person is doing whilst dancing is a driving force and major influence in his work and teaching (Nagrin, 2001 Palfry, 1999 and Schlundt, 1997). Although he learned the “bones” of choreography from the many years of working with her, his method differs in that he works more consistently from a specific image (Nagrin, 2001, 2004a and 2004e) or act, a concept borrowed directly from Stanislavski (Nagrin, 1997). This image is so inherent and specific that I can still hear Nagrin instructing us to “get to the core of X.” The specific image was central to Tamiris’ later work which brought out a personal movement vocabulary. This methodological development came late in Tamiris’ career and is probably due to the influence of Nagrin. As Nagrin stated that twenty years earlier, this was one of the aspects which differentiated their work (Nagrin, 2001).

The need to discover the inner life that fired movements was the most profound insight that Tamiris gave him. When this “conceptual door” was opened for him, Nagrin found a

7

technical freedom which exceeded his training as well as an endless choreographic freedom. Its foundation is attributed to the Stanislavski method (Nagrin, 2001).

2.3. Joseph Chaikin.

A final, but important, major influence on Nagrin was his working with Joseph Chaikin’s actors at the Open Theatre in the late 1960s. Chaikin was born in 1935 to Russian-Jewish parents, moved to New York during his college years, and joined the Living Theatre. He founded the experimental Open Theatre in the early 1960s with the initial premise of abandoning speech and thus developed a series of improvisational exercises based in movement and sound to achieve this goal (Chaikin, 1977). Nagrin began to adopt and create his own improvisations for his Workgroup company based on what he encountered with the Open Theatre (Nagrin, 1994).

Nagrin recognized the importance of connecting internally with the others while working, the ability to exchange this inter-connectedness amongst one another, and the awareness of“what the other person is doing” rather than focusing on themselves which was the typical way of working with dance, improvisation, and theatre in general (Nagrin, 1994:13 and 2004e). This would develop into becoming what he called the ‘other person.’

It is important to understand the influence of Brecht’s epic theatre on Chaikin’s work which was based on the premise that people can change. Brecht involved the audience as a partner, used irony, parody, humor, restraint and understatement, and allegory to “disturb our smugness and bend our fixed logic” (Chaikin, 1977:39 and Greenberg, 1961) to show we live by the choices we either make or accept. Brecht was known for his performance style of the ‘A’ effect, or alienation (Verfremdung) of the audience, in contrast to arousing pity. Tamiris and Nagrin also opposed the arousal of pity for the ‘A’ effect, which in turn causes the audience to feel, think, and reflect upon what was experienced in the theatre and apply it to their own lives (Nagrin, 1997).10 Chaikin’s intention was to make theatre events from juxtaposed images, or collage and montage, as used by Brecht’s epic theatre. Nagrin employed these same concepts in his works as early as the 1940s with the essences in Spanish Dance (1948) and Strange Hero (1948), but were clearly evident in his works from 1968 onward and in my choreography classes under his tutelage.

Chaikin was influenced by and exposed to Stanislavski’s method-acting involving tasks set up in the form of internal actions called ‘Physical Actions’ mentioned earlier (Chaikin, 1977

8

page8image1689344

Moore, 1984 and Stanislavski, 1936). Nagrin was influenced by Chaikin’s approach of relating to given situations, observing, and living; the actor began with nonverbal questions about experiences and later transformed these into the disguise of character; and the use of imagination. Of importance in this process is where the impulse from a character is derived; who/what is the character, what is the context of the character, and what is the goal. No absolute principles are upheld in order to remain open and flexible (Chaikin, 1977). These are very similar to Nagrin’s and Stanislavski’s six questions. If the temptation to play the cliché is present, Chaikin believed it could be worked out through improvisation into what he termed as “emblems.” Another similar device that was borrowed from jazz was jamming, the improvisational study of an emblem through storytelling using words, movements, sounds, and silence to clarify meaning and attention (Chaikin, 1977). I deduce that Chaikin’s emblem is Nagrin’s metaphor. Nagrin defined the term ‘metaphor’ as:

a transferring from one word the sense of another . . . a figure of speech in which one thing is likened to another, different thing by being spoken of as if it were that other.

(Nagrin, 2001:76)

As an actor, Nagrin found all his images and metaphors within the script after studying the character; as a choreographer, this process remained intact (Nagrin, 1997). From my personal experience, metaphors were central to his choreographic method. According to Nagrin, metaphors are so common that they are in every thought and every movement; every action can be seen as a metaphor for something else, and anything can be done in dance through a metaphor. Most dance metaphors cannot be articulated clearly but can be felt and experienced, and he suggests that “this ambivalence is a characteristic of metaphors” (Nagrin, 2001:80). The concepts gleaned from Chaikin inspired and were implemented into Nagrin’s Workgroup. These are exemplified in Nagrin’s Duet (1973) with his Workgroup.

3. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION.

Daniel Nagrin, considered a minor pioneer in American dance by scholars, historians, and critics, began his acting studies in the 1930s with several teachers from the Stanislavski- based Group Theatre. The Group Theatre’s influence on both Nagrin and Tamiris was evident in

9

page9image7889904

their works. Decades later, The Living Theatre and eventually the Open Theatre grew out of the embodied concepts articulated by the Group Theatre, and Nagrin worked with them under director Chaikin and implemented these into his dance works and teaching.

It is concluded that the major tenets of what I term The Nagrin Method are: form follows content, “get to the core of X,” working with a specific image doing, heavy reliance on improvisation to ‘find’ not ‘make’ movement, usage of metaphors to work through clichés, and a focus on ‘the other.’

ENDNOTES:

1

3

As mentioned earlier, a dichotomy continues to exist in the teaching of Stanislavski’s technique of emotional memory led by two different groups of teachers, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler/Sanford Meisner, all initially from the Group Theatre. Both groups have produced academy award-winning actors (Nagrin, 1997). Strasberg emphasized re-creating the emotional experience through a psychological approach using personal experiences to arouse emotion similar to those in the script. In other words, the actor needed to step out of character and into himself, delve into the memory of his personal background to obtain the emotion, retain the emotion while leaving himself behind, and then step back into character. All of this needs to occur immediately onstage during each performance in the role, and the focus is on feelings or emotions. Adler and Meisner taught that truth in the role was derived from an imaginative life within the text and that relying solely on personal experience to evoke emotions would produce distortion. They felt that the character itself provided a richness of depth which needed to be explored by the actor prior to the rehearsal process. This thorough examination of the character, or getting to the core, revealed and generated all the emotions needed and could be called upon immediately within performance, and the focus is on the portrayal or doing of the character. Meisner advocated a concentrated compassion on the character’s time and context elicited through the actor’s personal life experiences within the role. Adler advocated going outward into the audience through the character, as acting was based in actions which elicited emotions in both the actor and the audience. With both, the emphasis was on doing rather than feeling (Kissel, 2000). Adler (Kissel, 2000) stated that the reason she went to Paris to study under Stanislavski initially was for her own benefit to rectify the confusion that had arisen in the teaching of Stanislavski’s techniques regarding emotional memory. She further commented that many New York acting teachers began to teach their own versions or adaptations of Stanislavski’s methods. Nagrin stated that he studied with Adler and Meisner (Nagrin, 1997), and both he and Chaikin were influenced by these teachings and incorporated them into their ways of working. The question arises as to whether this provided a

Some of these Eastern European Jewish immigrants and/or their children and their connections are as follows. Tamiris studied briefly at the Duncan school in the 1920s (Tamiris, 1928 & 1989). Nahum Zemach founded Habima, a Jewish theatre company in Moscow, and was drawn to Stanislavski’s symbolic characterization, stage sets, and costumes – the essence of Jewishness rather than following a type of theatre which emphasized details of Jewish life. Vakhtangov, “Stanislavski’s top pupil” (Moore, 1984:9) worked with Habima on the staging of The Dybbuk in 1922, choreographed by Benjamin Zemach whom critic John Martin credits with choreographing the first Jewish ballet in history. After immigrating to America, Benjamin was instrumental in bringing Jewish dance and Zionist ideals (that is, the settling of a homeland in Palestine) to the YMHA in New York (Jackson, 2000) where both Tamiris and Nagrin performed. Many of the Stanislavski-based Group Theatre members of the 1930s were Jewish who saw the theatre as their religious obligation to the economic depression as they concentrated on themes of social value of the average person rather than on royal or military heroes (Kissel, 2000 and Nagrin, 2004e).

2
wealthy Moscow merchant business (Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, 1936 and Stanislavski, 1961a).

His given name was ‘Alexeyev’ but used his stage name instead in order to not bring shame to his father’s

10

page10image1655648

The element of communion or unity is a hallmark of Chekhov’s works which were produced heavily by The Moscow Art Theatre (Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, 1936 and Stanislavski, 1924). Thus, Chekhov’s influence of awareness of the ‘other’ upon both Stanislavski and Nagrin is apparent.

5
improvisational work of Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theatre.

Nagrin formed an improvisation dance/movement company, the Workgroup, from 1969 – 1974, which used the

6
earlier designation that I took from her autobiography first penned in 1928.

7

Some of Tamiris’ ‘Manifest’ highlights are (Tamiris, 1989:51[condensed and paraphrased]):

8

9

10

Adler, from NYU, does not say whether or not she attended this conference in her review in Dance Research Journal. The invited participants from the former Tamiris-Nagrin Dance Company were Marion Scott, Phoebe Neville, Elina Mooney, Cliff Keuter and Elizabeth Keen. As a graduate student at ASU at the time, I helped with various activities during this conference.

Nagrin (2004e) told me that he never heard Tamiris mention her work as “Living Art,” so perhaps this was an

Art is international, but the artist is a product of nationality
We must not forget the age we live in.
There are no general rules. Each work of art creates its own code.
The aim of the dance is not to narrate
Dancing is simply movement with a personal concept of rhythm.
A dancer must create his own reality, independent of the reality we live

in. The word, pattern has become a standard term for choreography, decorative poses and external attitudes. Pattern is really what style is in any other art:

an individual form of expression.
The dance of today is plagued with exotic gestures, mannerisms and

ideas borrowed from literature, philosophy, sculpture and painting. Will people never rebel against artificialities, pseudo-romanticism and

affected sophistication? The dance of today must have a dynamic tempo and be valid, precise, spontaneous, free, normal, natural and human.

Nagrin commented that many of his procedures and methods are very different from those of Tamiris but discussed a specific turning point in his career at Unity House during the summer of l942 when choreographingRhumba Bum (1943). Tamiris took an interest and offered some advice, such as understanding to whom the dance was addressed. Although he had an acting background, he did not apply these skills to dance but focused on the technical aspects of movement instead, and her recommendation was to begin from an acting premisewhen dancing which would omit the majority of technical problems. Tamiris taught him that his acting craft and skill should be an integral part of his dance work; no separation was necessary, since he was a human being doing something and we danced it instead of talking it (Gruen, 1988 Nagrin, 2001 and Schlundt, 1997).

This correlates with Heidegger’s Dasein (Hollinger, 1985:3).

11

page11image5784432

foundation for Nagrin’s method of choreography, of “getting to the core of X,” as early as the 1940’s and his non-use of emotion to find movement.

4

12

page12image1644000

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Adler, Norma. Reports: Tamiris Conference (Arizona State University, 19-20 April, 1986) Dance Research Journal. [CORD] New York. v 18, no 2, Winter 1986-87, p. 75-76.

Adshead, Janet (ed). Choreography: Principles & Practice. Study of Dance Conference 4, Guildford: University of Surrey, April 1986.

Banes, Sally. Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987. ________. Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962 – 1964. Durham and London: Duke University

Press, 1993.

Chaikin, Joseph. The Presence of the Actor. New York: Atheneum, 1977.

Cohen, Selma Jeanne. (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Dance. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Vols. 3 & 7, 1998.

Evans, Bill. A Strange Hero’s Influence. Dance Magazine, 76:4, April 2002, pp. 57- 58.
Foster, Susan Leigh. Dances that Describe Themselves: The Improvised Choreography of Richard Bull. Chapter

section on Daniel Nagrin’s Workgroup. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002, p. 73 – 79.

Franko, Mark. Dancing Modernism/Performing Politics. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Garafola, Lynn (ed). Of By, and For the People: Dancing on the Left in the 1930s. Studies in Dance History, The Journal of the Society of Dance History Scholars, 5:1, Spring 1994.

Greenberg, Clement. The Collected Essays and Criticism. O’Brian, J. (ed) Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1955.

________. Art and Culture: Critical Essays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.
Gruen, John. People who dance: 22 dancers tell their own stories. Pennington, NJ: Dance Horizons Books:

Princeton Book Co., 1988, pp. 96 – 105 [Chapter on Daniel Nagrin].
Harris, Joanna Gewertz. From Tenement to Theater: Jewish Women as Dance Pioneers: Helen Becker (Tamiris),

Anna Sokolow, Sophie Maslow in Judaism. 45:3, 1996, pp. 259-276.

Hollinger, Robert. Hermeneutics and Praxis. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1985.

Jackson, Naomi. Jewishness and Modern Dance in Adshead-Lansdale, Janet (ed). Dancing Texts: Intertextuality in Interpretation. London: Dance Books, 1999, pp. 83-103.

________. Converging Movements: Modern Dance and Jewish Culture at the 92nd Street Y. Hanover, NH and London: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

Kissel, Howard (ed). Stella Adler: The Art of Acting. New York: Applause Books, 2000.
Layson, June. Isadora Duncan: Her Life, Work and Contribution to Western Theatre Dance. Unpublished PhD

13

page13image1685184

thesis, University of Leeds, 1987.

Lloyd, Margaret. The Borzoi Book of Modern Dance. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1949.

Martin, John. America Dancing. New York: Dance Horizons, 1968 & 1936.

________. Introduction to the Dance. New York: Dance Horizons, 1975 & 1939.

Meglin, Joellen A. Book review of Six Questions. Dance Research Journal. NY: Congress on Research in Dance. 31:1, spring 1999, p. 104-108.

Melosh, Barbara. Preface in Garafola, Lynn (ed). Of, By, and For the People: Dancing on the Left in the 1930s.Studies in Dance History, The Journal of the Society of Dance History Scholars, 5:1, spring 1994, pp. v – vii.

Moore, Sonia. The Stanislavski System: The Professional Training of an Actor. NY: Penguin Books, 1984. Nagrin, Daniel. How To Dance Forever: Surviving Against the Odds. New York: Quill and William Morrow,

1988a.

________. “Helen Tamiris and the Dance Historians.” Society of Dance History Scholars. Proceedings, 12th annual conference. University of California, 1989, p. 15-43.

________. [Videotape.] Jazz and Me: Six Jazz Dances and a Lecture. 1991.

________. Dance and the Specific Image: Improvisation. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994.

________. The six questions: acting technique for dance performance. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

________. Choreography and the Specific Image: Nineteen Essays and a Workbook. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

________. [Phone dialogue] 14 Jan 2004a.

________. [DVD]. Spring ’65 Concert. Tempe, AZ: The Daniel Nagrin Theatre, Film, and Dance Foundation, produced 2004b.

________. [DVD]. Two Works by The Workgroup. Tempe, AZ: The Daniel Nagrin Theatre, Film, and Dance Foundation, produced 2004c.

________. [DVD.] Strange Hero from Six Jazz Dances and a Lecture videotape. 2004d.

________. [Postal correspondence]. 11 May 2004e.

Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, Vladimir. My Life in the Russian Theatre. Cournos, John (trans). New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1936 and 1968.

Newman, Barbara. Original archival manuscript of interview with Daniel Nagrin. One transcript, 14 leaves. New York Public Library: Daniel Nagrin Collection, 1975.

Palfy, Barbara. Book review of Christena Schlundt’s Daniel Nagrin: A Chronicle. Dance Research Journal.Congress on Research in Dance. 31:1, Spring 1999, pp. 100-103.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1971.

14

page14image1694544

Schlundt, Christena L. Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career 1927-1955. New York: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, 1972.

________. Daniel Nagrin: A Sketch for a Dance Portrait. Dance History Scholars. Proceedings, Sixth annual conference, 1983, p. 253-257.

________. Daniel Nagrin: A Chronicle of His Professional Career. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

________. Daniel Nagrin, in Cohen, Selma Jeanne (ed). International Encyclopaedia of Dance. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, vol 4, 1998, pp. 530-31.

Siegel, Marcia. Modern dance before Bennington: sorting it all out. Dance Research Journal: Congress on Research in Dance. New York. 19:1, summer 1987, pp. 3-9.

Silverberg, Larry. The Sanford Meisner Approach: An Actor’s Workbook. Lynne, New Hampshire: Smith and Kraus, 1994.

Stanislavski, Constantin. My Life in Art. Robbins, J. J. (trans.). New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1924. ________. An Actor Prepares. NY: Theatre Arts Books, 1936.

________. Stanislavsky (sic) on The Art of The Stage. Magarshack, David (trans). New York: Hill and Wang, 1961a.

________. Creating a Role. Reynolds Hapgood, Elizabeth (trans) and Popper, Hermine (ed). New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1961b.

Stanislavski, Constantin and Rumyantsev, Pavel. Stanislavski on Opera. NY: Theatre Arts Books, 1975.

Tamiris, Helen. “Tamiris in Her Own Voice: Draft of an Autobiography.” Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Daniel Nagrin. Studies in Dance History. Fall/Winter 1:1, 1989, p. 1-64.

Categories
News

A Tribute to Daniel Nagrin: Russian Jewish Influences in American Modern Dance

Dance Scholar Dr Diane Wawrejko, PhD, MFA, CMT, has researched and written extensively on Daniel Nagrin’s influence on Modern American Dance. Dr Wawrejko and Henia Rottenberg, editor at Dance Voices, have recently given the Nagrin Foundation permission to post Dr Wawrejko’s 2009 DV academic paper on Nagrin, A Tribute to Daniel Nagrin: Russian Jewish Influences in American Modern Dance, for which we thank them. An overview is presented here, with links to the full text HTML and PDF formats.

On the first anniversary of his death, this paper is a tribute to my former teacher and mentor, Daniel Nagrin. Nagrin (22 May 1917 – 29 December 2008), actor, Broadway dancer, and minor pioneer of American modern dance, was inspired and influenced professionally by three main people. The first major influence was Russian theatre director Constantin Stanislavski, whose method reached Nagrin through three New York-based acting teachers. The first was Miriam Goldina who studied in Moscow under Yevgeniy Vakhtangov, one of Stanislavski’s best directors and considered his ‘disciple.’ And lastly, through two Group Theatre actors/teachers: Stella Adler who studied with Stanislavski in Paris and married Group Theatre founder Harold Clurman, and Sanford Meisner who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse. The second major influence was that of his professional partner and modern dance pioneer, Helen Tamiris, who later became his wife. The third were the techniques of Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theatre (Cohen, 1998 Kissel, 2000 Moore, 1984 Nagrin, 1994 Schlundt, 1998 and Silverberg, 1994). It is argued that these individuals and their artistic processes contributed to Nagrin’s worldview and aided in the development of his system of choreography, which I have termed ‘The Nagrin Method.’ As a result, Stanislavski’s system has influenced American modern dance choreography and performance through the praxis of Russian-Jewish immigrants.

Full text:

https://nagrin.org/a-tribute-to-daniel-nagrin-russian-jewish-influences-in-american-modern-dance-full-text/

PDF (https://nagrin.org/wp-content/uploads/PaperDanceVoices-2009.pdf):

First published in Dance Voices, Haifa Israel, 14 November 2009. Used with permission. http://www.dancevoices.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=118:a-tribute-to-daniel-nagrin-russian-jewish-influences-in-american-modern-dance&catid=21:dance-discourses&lang=en&Itemid=46.


Dr Wawrejko recently presented her paper This and That: Jewishness in the Dances of Daniel Nagrin at Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World, an Arizona State University (ASU) Jewish Studies conference, October 13th-15th 2018. For additional info, see https://nagrin.org/this-and-that-jewishness-in-the-dances-of-daniel-nagrin/.

Dr Diane Wawrejko’s biography can be found at Dance Voices:
http://www.dancevoices.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=119:dr-diane-waarejko&catid=3:about-dance-voices&Itemid=99&lang=en

Other work on Daniel Nagrin by Dr Diane Wawrejko:
http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/1052/1/fulltext.pdf

 

 

Categories
Academic Paper

Daniel Nagrin’s Dance Portraits: Choreographing Agency – Full Text

Academic Paper Full Text:

Daniel Nagrin’s Dance Portraits: Choreographing Agency

Citation MLA Style:

Wawrejko, Diane, Daniel Nagrin’s Dance Portraits: Choreographing Agency, Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement19.1 (2012): 56 pars. 13 Feb. 2013, http://jashm.press.illinois.edu/19.1/wawrejko.html.

Daniel Nagrin’s Dance Portraits: Choreographing Agency

Diane Wawrejko

Overview

This paper examines American choreographer and dancer Daniel Nagrin’s use of specific images and actions to privilege choreographic content over form. I ask, “In what ways do Nagrin’s background, his choreographic methods of ‘doing-acting,’ and his dancing body affirm Jennifer Hornsby’s notion of the subject as ‘agent-causation’ (1980 and 2004)?” I show how Nagrin’s selection of iconic American characters in specific situations, juxtaposed with his cause-and-effect choreographic structures, resulted in dance portraits of the human condition that reflected American values at that time. By tracing patterns that occur in Nagrin’s arrival at what he calls the “core of X,” I argue that he renegotiates choreographic content as compelling social critique and that this departure from the formalist approaches to American modern dance subsequently contributed to his marginalization. As a result of my analysis, I challenge and problematize ideas of what constitutes American dance modernism. As a former student of Nagrin’s, I rely on my chorographic studies with him, supplemented by his written texts (Nagrin 1988, 1994, 1997, and 2001). Other sources of analytic data and historical context include his videotapes, professional critiques, and reviews. I adapt the poststructural models offered by Janet Adshead et al. (1988) and Angela Kane (2003) to analyze Nagrin’s choreographic methods. A representative case study of one of his most famous works, Strange Hero(1948), is included at the end to elucidate further Nagrin’s use of agency in his work.

Introduction

American choreographer and dancer Daniel Nagrin (1917–2008) is often regarded as a minor pioneer of American modern dance (Gruen 1975). He described his unique six-step choreographic methodology as follows:

At the heart of Stanislavski’s teachings and Tamiris’s [sic] development of them lies a creative act which amazingly enough tends to be ignored most of the time by much of the dance profession. It asks the imagination, the heart and the mind of the dancer to build the entire performance around a specific set of images which are linked as if they were a model sentence having a subject, a predicate and an object with subordinate clauses. The entire process can actually be encapsulated in one sentence: Who (or what) is doing what to whom (or what) and where, in what context and under what difficulties and why?(Nagrin 1997: 33–34)

As a Master’s of Fine Arts choreography and performance student for three years under Nagrin at Arizona State University during the mid 1980s, I constantly heard him refer to this six-question process as “getting to the core of X.” This concept of X motivates the creation of his dances and is the crux of his entire works. I call this “the Nagrin Method” and argue that it is grounded in the notion of human agency. I discuss Nagrin’s use of agency (through actions) and the extent to which this distanced Nagrin from his contemporaries.

Context

Just as Nagrin deemed important his character’s contexts, defining a choreographer’s context helps us to understand his dances. Nagrin was married to and danced with modern dance pioneer Helen Tamiris; both were natives of New York City whose Russian-Jewish parents fled the pogroms. He performed and choreographed for over five decades from the late 1930s to the late 1980s. These years and the location are significant, not only for American dance history but also because of the societal changes that occurred at that time within the larger cultural framework of modernism (Banes 1987, 1994; Schlundt 1997). Nagrin worked within and overlapped various genres throughout his career, fusing acting techniques with modern dance, jazz dance, Broadway, film, and improvisation. His crossing of these genres in this time and place significantly shaped his choreographic and performance styles, using human agency as both a theme and a method. I believe that Nagrin’s Jewishness and his social milieu while living and working in New York City in the mid-twentieth century shaped his desire to create dances about the human social condition.

Several key individuals in the American modern dance movement in the 1920s and 1930s were Jewish, such as Helen Tamiris, Irene Lewisohn, Esther Junger, Benjamin Zemach, Anna Sokolow, and Sophie Maslow. These dancers, like Nagrin, were children of Eastern European Jewish working-class immigrants (Jackson 2000: 15). The New York brand of Jewishness embraced a Marxist ideology that can be traced to the status of Jewish workers in czarist Russia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scholars have suggested that their humanism was a dual reaction to impoverishment, oppression, pogroms, and mass unemployment that produced a need for altruism (Smithsonian Institution 2004; Goldberg 1988; Jackson 2000). In America, Jewish immigrants were joined by the common bonds of community, socialism, nonreligion, and a Protestant working-class social structure that was a particularly important theme during the 1930s Great Depression. It was in this context that many of these Jewish immigrants embraced the arts, modernism, and the dance (Copeland 2004; Greenberg 1955; Jackson 2000). Overall, they were intellectual, artistic, socially conscious, and humanistic. That they were sensitive to the Jewish experience was evident in their art, ideology, and values. They largely embraced collective Marxist ideals (Franko 1995; Jackson 2000; Perelman 2004). From personal communication and from his writings (1989 and 2001), I know that Nagrin also embraced existentialism, which is rooted in Marxism.

The underpinning aesthetic ethos that fueled the merging of a Jewish identity and desire for assimilation was the socialist notion of shaping a new American culture through art. The nineteenth-century belief in Hegel’s view of history-as-progress was replaced by the Nietzschean concept (based in Kantian philosophy) that an aesthetic, artistic ideal was the solution. This position privileged “Dionysian Being” over “Apollonian Thinking,”1so that experience and expression were viewed as important critiques of reason and scientific objectivity (see Habermas 1999). Art was thought to have an ameliorative function, capable of causing reflection on one’s own experiences and ideals to convey both the mood and structure of experience or emotion for the purpose of improving society, maintaining order, and producing solidarity (Sparshott 1970). This fitted well with Leo Tolstoy’s Marxism, which regarded art as a useful unifying function through the communication of feelings, but this view contrasted with the then-current minimalist, Apollonian modernist narrative. For the most part, Eastern European Jewish immigrants and dancers in New York embraced the ideals of both Nietzsche and Marx. Sparshott (1970) asserts that, in a society that values the human condition, as did these Jewish immigrants and their children, including Nagrin, the greatest value will be placed on artistic works that embody those feelings and ideas. Thus, morality and society can be intertwined, and art can contribute by endorsing, supporting, or opposing them. This notion is useful to investigate further Nagrin’s use of dancing as inherently agentic.

My framework for describing Nagrin’s actions as a conscious use of human agency is built on the following theories. Jennifer Hornsby’s “realistic account of human agency” views bodily actions as a person’s “exercises” of the will in order to “bring about the things that they actually do” (Hornsby 2004: 16, 21). Thus, the choices made are treated as causal power or agent-causation at work when actions are manifest. The agent has the capacity to act deliberately and intentionallybased on ethics and motivation, and action is defined as “a person’sintentionally doing something” (2004: 19).

Drid Williams’s semasiological theory contributes further when she states that human actions cannot be independent of the “social settings, intentions, and value systems in which they exist” (2004: 204). Likewise, Rom Harré’s notion of agency is intertwined with identity as a socialconstruct—the agent is in control of decisions and actions, and human interaction is the “primary human reality [of] persons in conversation” (1984: 58). An agent has “drives, motivations, intentions, and desires” that are coupled with beliefs; but intention is an outcomeof action [not a precondition] (ibid., 29). In alignment with this social psychological approach, but, like Williams, emphasizing action as inclusive of bodily movements and lived experience, Nagrin defines action as “the inner life that drives what we see on the stage . . . ‘action’ becomes central. It refers to the verbthat drives the dance and the dancer” (Nagrin 2001: 44).

Portraits of the Human Condition

From his original concert programs of the 1940s–50s, we know that Nagrin titled his early works “Dance Portraits.” These featured socially constructed characters in action who displayed aspects of the human social condition. Considered a “great dancing personality” of the 1950s (Siegel 1977: 237), Nagrin shaped and translated into movement specific complex characters who were prevalent and believable in American society at that time. From viewing videotapes (Nagrin 1967, 1985, 2004b) and various writings, I conclude that the crux of Nagrin’s solos, or his “X,” are personalities defined through specific actions. These solo portraits of active social subjects were his first attempts at choreography, and they contrasted with the group characters and themes of modern dance choreographers such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and José Limón. These solo portraits include the club-dancing, cola-drinking soldier in Private Johnny Jukebox(1942) andLandscape with Three Figures, 1859(1943), based on John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry that catapulted America into civil war (Concert Programs, 1951). Also important are an exuberant autumn walk in Dance in the Sun(1951), the good-looking, cigarette-smoking gangster on the run in Strange Hero(1948), and the busy businessman in Man of Action(1948).

In contrast to his contemporaries, who were concerned with manipulating form and embracing Apollonian themes rather than the world around them, Nagrin’s dances offered a social critique of American society. His idiosyncratic characters were at the center, constructed from his observations and interactions with real people, from his own worldview and the world around him (Schlundt 1997). For example, he exposed fears of nuclear annihilation in Indeterminate Figure(1957), which Louis Horst described as a “bitter social comment” that condemned the present generation (Horst 1957a: 103). Drawing from his personal experiences, Nagrin explained how he obtained the idea for Man of Action:

Tamiris and I lived in Croton-on-Hudson from 1948 to 1950, which meant that we spent a lot of time in Grand Central [subway station], going and coming. One day we were on that elevated section on the west side of the station looking down at a late afternoon crowd criss-crossing the enormous space. My eye was caught by a man moving faster than anyone there. Suddenly he changed direction, without losing a beat and then just as abruptly he changed back to his original direction, but before long he was headed in an entirely new direction. I laughed and knew that he had given me a new dance. (Nagrin cited in Schlundt 1997: 212)

Nagrin’s solos are “about the human condition [which] still resonates today” (O’Hara 2005). Schlundt explains that Nagrin “dealt with the plight of people in this world” and his focus was “always human beings and their relationships with their environment” (1997: 70). His social motivation contrasted with the Greek and Jungian psychological motivation of Graham’s expressionist works, based on inner thoughts and feelings expressed through movement (Franko 1995). From my work under Nagrin’s tutelage, I can affirm that an enduring interest in portraying human agency as action motivated his dances and was his raison d’etre.

The extent to which Nagrin’s social consciousness emerges through the deliberate actions of characters reflecting the human condition is central to understanding his work. Nagrin “explores, values, and makes accessible what it means to be human” (Evans 2002: 58) by provoking “audiences to share and ponder” (Schlundt 1998: 531). Rather than dance someone else’s choreography (as on Broadway), Nagrin wanted “to be an artist who demanded straight out that people look at their lives and think about their values” (Schlundt 1997: 62). He accomplished this by confronting viewers with dramatic, conflicted characters, prompting them to acknowledge personal biases and to reflect on relevant, current social issues (Evans 2002).

For the most part, the “Big Four”2modern dance choreographers—Graham, Holm, Humphrey, and Weidman—avoided working with these grittier aspects of contemporary life in lieu of more formalist, psychological, and/or Apollonian ideals. In contrast, Nagrin’s use of these multicultural agentic portraits placed the reader/viewer firmly in the current historical moment. For example, in a time of overwhelming Euro-American cultural hegemony in the U.S., Nagrin’s “Dance Portraits” confronted racism by privileging Latino heritage inSpanish Dance(1948), African American inspired dances and music in Jazz Three Ways (1957), and Southeast Asian island culture in With My Eye and With My Hand(1957). Nagrin’s specific characters embodied a critique of society that confirms Hornsby’s concept of agent/causation: here we see persons as agents doing something [action] that bring(s) about “the things that they actually do [cause]” (Hornsby 2004: 16; these ideas are also in Hornsby 1980).

Content and the Specific Image

Another prominent feature in finding the “core of X” is Nagrin’s approach to choreography during this period. Unlike his contemporaries, he privileged subject matter as content rather than form. This choreographic structuring further articulates his attention to agency.

From my experience working with Nagrin’s videos and methods, I can say that his movement responses stem from the character’s motivations and are discovered or found (not made) through analyzing each character and focusing on content or essence rather than working from emotion or form: “I try not to make up movement. I try to find it. I find it out of what happens” (Nagrin 2001: 35). In other words, the content justifies the action. Martin referred to this intrinsic motivation based within internal content to define character as “motor characterization” (cited in Schlundt 1997: 30). Nagrin (2001) called it “heart/mind” which is at the core of the actions of X. In other words, he discovered his choreographic content through the social actions of specific characters, rather than making dances by manipulating formal elements or privileging the psyche.

Aesthetics philosophers Sheldon Cheney (1946) and Louis Arnaud Reid (1969: 80) state that art consists of two strands, “the discovery and construction of form,” which are finding and making, respectively. Accordingly, we can say that Nagrin is a ‘dancefinder,’ not a ‘dancemaker,’ since he created his dances through the act of discovering motivations and resultant actions rather than using expressionist ways of constructing dances by manipulating form.

Nagrin’s nonformalist, nonexpressionist method was not popular at the time and was in direct contrast to the form-based works of his contemporaries. Rather than allowing current social content and actions surrounding the “core of X” to shape the dance as Nagrin did, for the most part the formalist expressionist choreographers such as Graham and Humphrey manipulated the elements of space, floor pattern, body shape, texture, rhythm, and dynamics to convey or express an inner psychological theme or quality through movement.

Nagrin believed that ‘X’ is found through the content of a specific character doing a specific action for a specific purpose (Meglin 1999; Nagrin 1994, 1997, 2001; Schlundt 1997, 1998; Tamiris 1989). It is important to emphasize that Nagrin asserts that a certain character (his X), doessomething (Roses-Thema 2003); thus, his “doing-acting” approach assigns a specific kind of agency to any character (Schlundt 1997: 2; Meglin 1999: 105). In an informal telephone interview with Nagrin in 2004, he summed it up as a “doing approach through movement/dance based in acting techniques” that can only come from an internal place through an in-depth analysis of a character’s function/action, or agency (2004a). This differs from pantomime and gesturing as an in-depth character analysis appropriated from acting theory that weaves character, intentions, and emotions into deliberate social action. From the choreography and improvisation classes I have taken from Nagrin, I know he consistently stressed the specific image and specific doing, the “who are you?” and “what are you doing?” above everything else and any other element or process.

In sum, Nagrin’s use of agency does (and did) not fit with modern dance’s aesthetic guidelines of elevating the empirical, external structures of form standardised by Graham, Holm, Horst, Humphrey, or Laban. Instead, he placed primary importance on expressing internal elements of the human condition (Dunning 1982; O’Hara 2005; Schlundt 1997) with content and function as the core of X’s identity. Nagrin’s privileging of agentic content and function over form was a maverick approach to modern dance at that time. It is thedefining principle that shapes and distinguishes Nagrin’s choreographic method and style during this period and underpins the work of his entire life. To search for the intrinsic function or content—rather than external form, or develop movement from an emotion or psyche, or for art’s sake, or from personal style and preferences—is key.

This process is the antithesis of emoting, but not in the romantic sense; and, unlike Graham, Nagrin rarely based his work in emotional or psychological content or in expressive emoting to find movement (Franko 1995). For Nagrin, structural elements remain important as these provide the framework to shape a dance, but the heart of a work is in the content (Hutcheon 1988; Jenkins 1991, 2001). Content provides a means to meaningful reflection by artist and viewer alike and, in its poststructural sense, can be applied to the ‘abstract’3or plotless, movement-for-movement’s sake dances of Cunningham and Balanchine in which the movement and/or chance procedures arethe content (Copeland 2004; Macaulay 1986). However, having studied both Graham and Cunningham techniques for many years from company members and having performed in their works, I find that Nagrin’s (1994) approach is quite different: he used content as meaningful reflection to create social portraits that portray aspects of human agency.

Although several dance writers and critics recognized Nagrin’s emphasis on content over form (for example, Carbonneau 1995; Cohen 1960; Hutchinson Guest 1967), they did not always agree. For example, Dance Magazinecritic Doris Hering, on seeing Nagrin’s first full solo concert, completely dismissed the content-driven intent of many of his dances as nothing more than the “eternal” problem of the relationship “between form and content” (Hering 1958: 83). In contrast, the Dance Encyclopediaeditor P. W. Manchester (1953, 1957a and b; 1959a, b, c, d) and Louis Horst, musical composer, editor of Dance Observer, and a teacher of dance composition who was also Graham’s mentor, remained steadfast in recognizing the merit of Nagrin’s works his attention to content notwithstanding (1957a, 1957b, 1958, 1959). The penchant for privileging form at the time is evident from Hering’s criticisms (1951, 1958), whereas others such as Manchester remained more amenable to content. Clearly, the hagiographical nature of critical writing during this time needs to be examined further.

We can position Nagrin within a separate strand of modernism, one that differed significantly from that adhered to by formalist critics and choreographers. These differences are important when considering Nagrin’s place in the history of American modern dance, since it was the critics and other writers who constructed the prevailing view of modern dance based in formalism (Jackson 2000; Kane 2002).

Marginalization

Research reveals that writers and critics had four plausible reasons for marginalizing Nagrin’s work. The first was his association with Tamiris and her social activism. Second, he used Stanislavski’s theater techniques rather than Horst’s choreographic principles that were grounded in musical form. Third, his Broadway career, use of jazz music and dance, and popular cultural and agentic themes were seen as problematic. Fourth, as mentioned above, some critics simply rejected his artistic choice to privilege content over form. These key factors not only distinguish Nagrin but also account for his marginalization in the accepted canon of American modern dance history.

First, Nagrin, as Tamiris’ husband, was associated with her controversial social activism. Some historians have inadvertently linked Tamiris with the leftist revolutionary dance movement since she addressed the plight of the underprivileged, but this is now questionable (Manning 2004a; Prickett 1994a, b; Schlundt 1972). During the 1930s, she developed several dance organizations such as the Arts Project for the Federal Theatre of the Works Progress Administration (Tamiris 1989[1928]) in an attempt to organize modern dancers into a collective voice. This was perceived by critic Paul Douglas (in Franko 1995) as too closely linked to the socialist practice of forming large groups as a collective voice. Additionally, the Communist Party supported some of the other dance organizations at this time. These were later dismantled by a forerunner of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee (Manning 2004b). By this time, some considered Tamaris “red,” and she was placed on the government’s “Red Listing” of dancers during the 1930s (Manning 2004a). Ironically, however, revolutionary critics such as Edna Ocko (Prickett 1994b) criticized Tamiris because she would notuse movement as propaganda, as did revolutionary dancers in the United States such as Anna Sokolow and Sophie Maslow (Banes 1994; Harris 1996) and arguably Rudolf Laban and Mary Wigman in Nazi Germany.

Like Isadora Duncan, Tamiris refused to adopt capitalist-based bourgeois dance forms in lieu of addressing the working proletariat (Franko 1995, 2002). However, Graff (1994), Prickett (1994a: 16) and Schlundt (1997) agree that Tamiris was not in fact leftist, as her ideal for a dance aesthetic actually collideswith socialism; additionally, it displaced modernist formalism, like Nagrin’s work (Franko 1995). Jackson’s (2000) omission of both Tamiris and Nagrin in her examination of the leftist elements in American modern dance implicitly corroborates this. On reviewing the literature, I have discovered that critics such as John Martin, Louis Horst, Edwin Denby and others eschewed the leftist revolutionaries, systematically omitting these artists and their works from their books and reviews during the 1930s–40s.4A similar attitude and ideology are found in the work of dance critic and historian Sally Banes, who divides the modern dancers of this time into two groups—the noble “progressive liberals” such as Graham and Humphrey and the derogatorily labeled “radical,” “leftist” revolutionaries such as Sokolow and Maslow (Banes 1994: 203).

Louis Horst, author of the well-known and widely used choreographic primer in the United States Pre-Classic Dance Forms(1937), helped shape American modern dance of the 1920–40s through his writings and dance composition classes that applied musical structures to choreographic form. He founded the publication Dance Observerin an effort to establish American modern dance as an art form (Schlundt 1997). However, a critical reading of his writing reveals that Horst selectively included reviews of dances and dance concerts that used formalism and excluded those that did not. He favored the works and ideals of Graham, Humphrey, and Weidman who mirrored his own formalist, traditionalist principles (Kane 2002) and the works of Wigman and Holm who used Laban’s approach to form and dynamics (Laban 1971 [1950]). Reference to alternative approaches such as Nagrin’s were markedly absent from his writings. Likewise, dance critic John Martin (1939, 1975) privileged the structural theories based in musical form taught by Horst and promoted choreographers who used them. As the dance critic for the New York Timesfrom 1927 to his death in 1962, Martin “shaped dancers’ careers as well as the public’s perception of dance” (Jackson 2000: 57).

Martin and Horst were powerful advocates and critics. They constructed a historical picture of American modern dance as formalist in two ways: politically, through their journalistic visibility and power; and aesthetically, through their avocation as formalist critics. Martin, for example, recommended that the Big Four dancers establish dance programs at the YMHA and Bennington summer dance workshops (Siegel 1987). The Bennington workshops eventually inspired the formation of American college and university dance programs that, even today, overwhelmingly utilize Horst’s writings and the works of Graham, Humphrey, Cunningham, and Laban. Martin’s selective choices shaped not only modern dance itself but also American dance history. His choices were positioned to exclude nonformalist, nonexpressionist choreographers such as Tamiris and Nagrin.5In addition, Nagrin’s appropriation of Russian theater director Constantin Stanislavski’s six-step acting method really put him at odds with these powerful formalist writers and dance critics.

The third reason for being excluded from the canon was Nagrin’s theatrical embrace of popular culture, Broadway, and African American jazz music and dance. Positioned as socially relevant “proletariat art,” such popular forms were seen as conflicting with the “bourgeois” art of the Big Four (Franko 1995: 27).6Nagrin’s work on Broadway was considered “low brow” and lacking a recognizable dance technique comparable to Graham’s or Humphrey’s (Franko 1995). In telling contrast, the ballet-trained Jerome Robbins was treated favorably as a Broadway choreographer during the 1940s (Jowitt 2004).

Most dance critics did not treat jazz dance with seriousness or respect (Roses-Thema 2003). Nagrin was just as passionate as Tamiris about an American dance form using jazz and African American themes (Nagrin 1989; Tamiris 1989 [1928]). However, African American-based music and dancing were not being explored by most of their formalist contemporaries, possibly due to xenophobia but also because of the conflict between high and low, bourgeois and proletariat, and black and white art at the time.

As a dance critic, Martin regarded the Big Four as elite dance artists, and he ignored the vital expressions of agency located within the themes of nation, class, race, and gender found in the more socialist roots of alternative forms of American modern dance. We can now recognize a double standard existing among critics at the time, since any ethnic and racial dimensions presented in the dances of the Four were acknowledged. At the same time, critics tended to demean or dismiss dance artists who wereJewish, African American, or Latino. Manning argues that critics such as Martin and Walter Terry of the New York Times only accepted black concert dance when it was staged on an Euro-American white body, such as Tamiris’ embodiment of black themes, which Manning labels “metaphorical minstrelsy” (Manning 2004a: 10; 2004b).

Nagrin’s use of multicultural characters was both “convincing” and egalitarian, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or social class (McDonagh 1970: 79). Inspiration came from his culturally diverse reality that thematically shaped and directed his characters within this cluster of dances. Nagrin appropriated the unpopular notion of Africanisms into his Dance Portraits. These included featuring jazz music and dance; polycentrism and polyrhythms (whereby different body parts do different movements and rhythms simultaneously); emphasis on the ‘cool’ or “dwo” (Jonas 1992) seen in the cigarette-smoking gangster in Strange Hero(1948) and the oblivious narcissist in Indeterminate Figure(1957); and improvisation (Dixon Gottschild 1995; Welsh Asante 2001).

Once again, Nagrin’s artistic choices contrasted with the “aesthetic modernist narratives” that omitted attention to politics and mass culture (Franko 1995: ix). Nagrin transcended these barriers because both his dances and dancing body defied labels. They were neither ‘black’ nor ‘white’ nor ‘Jewish,’ but a cultural fusion that was ‘American.’ His performance style and dancing body, in fact, created a new aesthetic through fusing the genres of modern and jazz dance.

Re-Thinking Dance Modernism

The decade of the 1950s commenced with McCarthy’s campaign to purge America of artists and intellectuals with communist ideals. Political dissent was suppressed (Manning 2004b), and modern dance was “laundered . . . of its redder tints” (Banes 1994: 204). As a result, socially oriented, content-based works, an aspect of Marxism favored by the leftist revolutionaries and Nagrin, were not privileged (Laing 1978).

Franko asserts that the most “hotly contended issues” in modern dance at this time were the politically intertwining, complex notions of “form versus content and heritage versus innovation” (1995: 27). There were historical factors at work in shaping this, of course. Before, during, and immediately after World War II, artists, critics, dealers, and collectors fled Europe for New York, which “universalized” the content of art (Goldberg 1988; Greenberg 1961; Hodson 1986; Martin 1968 [1936]). These bohemians were identified as the avant-garde who narrowed their art to the absolutist, modernist expression, “art for art’s sake” (Greenberg 1961: 5). Content was dissolved into form, exemplified in dance works in which the body was the medium and content of its expression. Subject matter turned away from the common experience to the personal, finding inspiration in the medium itself and departing from the angular lines of cubism (Greenberg 1961).

In marked contrast to Nagrin’s work, the choreographic methods of James Waring, Merce Cunningham, and George Balanchine during the 1950s reflected the nation’s cultural and artistic trend toward such abstract and plotless expression. Waring, for example, eliminated narrative and dramatic structure, blending both music and dance styles and using intuition, parody, and collage (Banes 1987, 1993). Cunningham’s aesthetic turned from the psychological and expressionist to Zen Buddhism, featuring minimalism, uncluttered, indeterminancy, and chance selection of content, since he felt that the dance is inherently about the human body and its movements (Banes 1987; Copeland 2004). Meanwhile, Nagrin continued to dance and choreograph on Broadway, receiving prestigious awards for his performing (see Concert Programs, 1956) and embarking on his first full-evening concerts featuring African American popular jazz music and social dance.

At this time, dance critics such as Doris Hering (Dance Magazine) and Jill Johnston (Dance Observerand later The Village Voice) favored the “new dance” of the 1950s Dance Associates and the Judson Church group of the 1960s (Jackson 2000; Johnston 1955, 1957; Kane 2000). These new dance critics were, however, just as exclusivist as Horst and Martin had been, distancing themselves from those choreographers who operated outside their own personal ideologies of what constituted modern dance or “new” dance. For example, questions of objectivity plagued Johnston’s reviews in terms of the critical strategies she used and her preference for certain genres. Deborah Jowitt goes so far as to call Johnston an “engagingly partisan commentator” in light of the latter’s personal relationship with Judson member Lucinda Childs during the 1960s (Jowitt 2003: 113; Manning 2004a). Likewise, Horst’s personal partnership with Martha Graham made his privileging and promotion of her work suspect. Kane (2000) argues that this bias signaled a change in writing dance criticism that represented an avoidance of the critical, formalist model set by Horst and others.

Nagrin acknowledged that his work “attracted only a limited segment of the New York dance audience and . . . critics” (Nagrin 1994: 80). He seemed to believe that most critics and audiences were used to being shownsomething rather than recognizing the involvement of doing. This position elucidates the evaluative criteria being used by viewers, critics, and writers about the dance at the time. It is plausible that writers and critics did not have the necessary historical knowledge to understand Nagrin’s nonformal ‘agency-as-content’ within dance modernism. Critical strategies for viewing dance performance, such as Siegel’s concern for what dancers are “actually doing” (1977: 55; 1995) needed to be developed through systematic scholarly attention to choreographic analysis combined with better historical methods.

Only decades later did critic Anna Kisselgoff (1994) recognize the educational value of examining the choreographic content of Nagrin’s works, seeing this as an alternative model for young choreographers trained only in the manipulation of form. She understood that Nagrin’s works not only provided another way to choreograph but also greatly enhanced the notion of what constitutes ‘modernism’ in the dance.

Summary and Conclusion

I have argued that Hornsby’s (2004: 23) articulation of agent-causation with its “realistic account of human agency” can be seen throughout Nagrin’s cluster of choreographic works in his Dance Portraits. These works involve an action-oriented, motive-based, observational analysis of a specific character, addressing relevant social issues and offering conflicting results. I have called this “The Nagrin Method.” Within his six-step compositional model, Nagrin’s Dance Portraits are based in his ‘X’ or specific characters [agents], and his ‘core’ is found from the doingof specific tasks or functions [actions] with effects [from causes]. Nagrin’s choice of characters-in-action as agency at work are “exercises of [his] capacities” (ibid.). These bring about both reflexivity and change.

My analysis aims to illuminate Nagrin’s conception of the dancing body and his methods, such as the use of agency. He asserts human agency in two ways: creating social critiques and blending genres, using multicultural characters, movement, music, and social themes as content. These compelling social critiques in danced form demonstrate a progressive fusion of what it meant to be American at that time for him. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Nagrin privileged content over structural form and embraced themes of social action and popular culture. This distinguished him from his contemporaries, but, as my examination of the literature reveals, it also led to his marginalization in historical accounts of American Modern Dance.

The Nagrin Method provided a new way to create dances, which positions Nagrin within a separate strand of modernism, one that differed significantly from that adhered to by other choreographers and favored by critics of the time. It is important to emphasize that powerful critics and other writers constructed the prevailing view of modern dance based in formalism (Jackson 2000; Kane 2002). Nagrin’s method provides an alternative lens through which we could analyze, read, and narrate the genre of American modern dance differently. Nagrin’s use of agency through content and action, among other factors, is part of a larger legacy certainly, but a strand of modernism that merits a re-visiting of historical strategies and modes of analysis of choreographic processes. It suggests the need for both a deeper examination of extant critical and historical writings and more thorough, critical analyses of concert works.

Case Study: Strange Hero (1948/1962)

Nagrin’s performance of Strange Hero(Nagrin 2004b) is a thematic portrait of an immediate aspect of the human condition that he chose to feature. This absurd, cult-status, ironic/iconic gangster/hero was portrayed widely in American popular culture of the 1940s: “Our novels, films and stories have made this hero all too familiar. It is only strange that he is a hero” (Notes from Concert Program 1951).

 
Photo 1. Photo by Peter Bausch, 1948. Courtesy The Daniel Nagrin Theatre, Film and Dance Foundation, Inc.
 

First performed in a hotel ballroom in the spring of 1948, Nagrin’s Hollywood icon was “one of the few convincing portraits that we have on the dance stage” (McDonagh 1976: 229). A “masterpiece” that passionately “pulls and tugs at one’s emotions” (Horst 1957b: 85; 1958: 55), it is considered Nagrin’s best and most famous work by both McDonagh (1997) and Williams et al. (1958). Hailed as an “undoubted triumph with his compelling study of viciousness” (Manchester 1953: 7), it is only three minutes and ten seconds in length.

Nagrin confronts the action or problem (Nagrin 1997) through developing a clearly defined specific image and actions as his ‘X.’ O’Hara (2005) confides that, in rehearsal, Nagrin described the Strange Herocharacter as a “cartoon, a caricature of a lost hero.” This dramatic, complex “invisible duet” (Evans 2002: 58) with enemy gang members on the back streets or alleys of an inner city centers on and layers stereotypical, hyped mob actions that help define the character thematically. From my repeated viewings of the videotape, I classify these deliberate actions as smoking, strutting, deceiving, chasing, hiding, and killing.

Several complex relationships help to define X. Spatial tension is created through the simple but strong opening movement pattern of strutting on the downstage diagonal—which, Nagrin (2001) comments, is a metaphor for entering a dangerous place—and by the frantic focus changes. An underpinning angst and fear resonant in the agitated jazz piano music is noted: “The insistent rhythm of the score supports the mounting tension of a doom-happy character” (Concert Programs, 1951, 1957, 1958[?]).As a recurring thematic relationship throughout the dance, this produces a conflicting texture of anxiety and ease. Further thematic relationships are evident in the minimal but distinct set and the detailed costume of a heavily shoulder-padded pinstriped suit. This opening cluster of components and their interrelatedness immediately frames the contextual period of the impressionistic narrative and establishes the dualistic personality of the attractive hero/terrifying gangster.

Nagrin began choreographing Strange Heroby working alone in a studio and exploring the recorded “‘progressive jazz'” music of Stan Kenton kinetically (Nagrin cited in Schlundt 1997: 211).7The strong, ominous rhythm of the song “Monotony” changed his initial intent and shaped his choreographic process. This developed accidentally since he had planned to choreograph a blues dance. Since Nagrin was still “convinced” that he was not musical, he probed the rhythm by using his feet “as if they were fingers picking out the notes” (ibid.). He began walking carefully on the beat and noted that the opening bars of the theme were a bit behind the downbeat; suddenly, an “irreverent feeling emerged . . . Humphrey Bogart and his tribe [of] tough guys” (Nagrin 1951: 23). Strange Hero, thus, fuses popular culture’s jazz dance, considered lowbrow at that time, with high-art modern concert dance. This isthe work’s historical relevance.

When performing the piece, every second has a precise inner life that moves it forward, one thing leading to the next, as in life itself. This is why the solo works even today: the pathos of it (backed by the intense inner commitment by the performer) takes it beyond the dated music, costume, and concept (O’Hara 2005).

The skillful use of jazz rhythms as a tool to explore the X has been recognized and the character described as a “jazz-inflected criminal” with “caffeinated responsiveness” (Carbonneau 1995). Even though music and plot contribute to form, Nagrin’s emphasis is on process and content, not appearance or codified steps. Commenting on his arbitrary, yet structured, choreographic process of ‘getting to the core of X’, Nagrin writes that creating a dance is similar to entering a “trackless jungle” as rules, principles, and theories can be a hindrance (Nagrin 1951: 23). This indicates Nagrin’s avoidance of manipulating form or dance steps as a primary choreographic structuring device and further substantiates my argument that his dances centered on or from the agency and actions of the characters. In Strange Hero, content or function is privileged over any structural elements in the creation of the dance, while recognizing the integral, connected relationship between content and form.

APPENDIX A

Structural Outline for Case Study of

Strange Hero (1948/1962)

[my sectioning and sub-titles]

Choreography and Performance: Daniel Nagrin, 1948

Music: Stan Kenton and Pete Rugolo

Costume: based on a Karinska design

Pianist: Sylvia Marshall

Filmed at WGBH Boston 1962 for the TV series, “A Time to Dance,” directed by Martha Myers and produced by Jack Venza.

     Time:

No. Start End Sections Given Interpretive Titles
       
1 0.01 0.28 Enter the Gangster:  Strutting and smoking cigarette
       
2 0.28 1.17 Intrusion, Betrayal, and Fight:  Hears sound, pulls out gun, offers foe cigarette in friendship, then betrays him, punches and knocks out, gloats and struts off
       
3 1.17 1.34 Attacked:Startled by another foe, adrenaline jump, ducks, hides, peeks, sees no enemy in sight, then confidently walks away
       
4 1.34 1.49 The Chase and Catch:  Sees enemies coming, is chased, hides against brick wall, takes a break to smoke, is found, begs for mercy, hands up in surrender
       
5 1.49 2.24 The Escape and Climax:walks with hands high, rolls to escape, pulls out imaginary gun, shoots twice, encircles two dead victims, kicks and punches them
       
6 2.24 3.10 The Denouement and Death:Pauses to smoke, is surprised, is shot, then shot again, falls down, gets back up, falls backward, Italian-like obscene arm gesture, is shot again, reels and spins and falls backward again, gets up, reels and spins and falls backward again, then lights fade to blackout

From the structural outline I created for this analysis, we can ascertain that Strange Heroelucidates a dominant cause-and-effect, nonlinear narrative that also is based in essences and effects. The choreographic phrases based in actions are juxtaposed to create the specific image of American popular culture’s gangster-cum-hero. We see the repetition of various movement patterns depicting the engagement with gang enemies in the course of daily life, then killing them. This is consistent throughout except for the last phrase when the gangster/hero is killed. Nagrin explains how content, or essence based in ideas and feelings conveyed through actions, structures this dance and shaped his agency and actions:

Constructing thisdance was a cinch. I had the music. The nearest movie house was my source material. The simple, monotonous plot shaped the form of the dance: enter the tough guy armed to the teeth, cigarette drooping from arrogant lower lip. He calmly greets his enemies, smashes one, struts a bit, then the chase, the killing and being killed and killing and being killed and so on, ad nauseum(Nagrin 1951: 23).

Nagrin’s six-question thematic obstacle is demonstrated in this cause-and-effect layering of duality or contradiction, which shapes the phrases and further defines the X. McDonagh (1976) articulates this in his detailed description and interpretation. O’Hara, who performs some of Nagrin’s works, sums it up as “in order to go left, . . . you have to go right” (O’Hara 2005). For example, the first dualistic or binary (in this sense, opposite movement themes rather than rhythmic structures) theme is the impressionistic calm produced by an attractive man smoking whose menacing gangster personality abruptly emerges through aggressive punching. Yet, Nagrin layers these with a contrastingly charming, glamorized impression of a handsomely dressed, Humphrey Bogart-looking street thug (Hering 1958: 82; Jowitt 1974, 1976: 206; Nagrin 1951: 23; Schlundt 1997: 114; 1998: 530). Thus, the conflicted gangster context is juxtaposed against a relational opposite: the “tough” character is also “tender” (Horst 1957b: 85). This binary structure is repeated thematically, and the relationship between these two components creates a continual tension throughout the dance.

Nagrin’s treatment of subject matter in Strange Heroincludes a rhythmic, virtuosic solo that once again relies on the heavy use of literal and exaggerated actions as gestural movements developed from the ‘core of X.’ For example, smoking and pulling out an imaginary handgun are abstracted into metaphors of a gangster’s personality and actions. Contrasting with the use of these gestural and stylized walking movements are virtuosic, noncodified, daring leaps including jumps in the air from a crouched position with legs folded under during the chase and hide scene.

Africanist movement themes (Acocella et al 1995; Dixon Gottschild 1995; Manning 2004a; Welsh Asante 2001) are seen in Nagrin’s fluid spine and pelvic freedom. Prosaic movement is demonstrated in the off-centered lunges and balances, various unusual fast spins and turns, and hinges and “incredibly fluid” backward falls (Kisselgoff 1994), all of which give kinetic thrill and excitement. The Hero literally kicks and then punches prone bodies in a straddled, low-level modified split. He steps over bodies to stand in the oft-repeated exaggerated right lunge position, smoking calmly. No graceful, ballet-like movement or specific modern dance technique is used in this work, which further supports the masculine-but-ethnocentric character of the gangster and revealing identity through agentic, empowered personal action. Lights fade to blackout.

Notes:

1The classical Greeks Socrates and Plato respected order, reason, intellect, form, beauty; the noble god Apollo represented these ideals. Later, this contrasted with the Hellenists who privileged Aristotle’s attention to emotions and feelings, venerating experienced-based, nonformalist kinetic learning by discovery. This ‘doing’ approach was embodied in Dionysius, the god of wine and orgies.

2This term is commonly used to refer to these four modern dancers. It was applied by dance critic John Martin who privileged their works while omitting Helen Tamiris (1936, 1968).

3“Abstract” is a misleading word since so-called abstract works are not devoid of meaning, intention, or imagery.

4For example, Denby 1968 [1949]; Jowitt 2004; Martin 1936, 1939; Nagrin 1989; Prickett 1994b; Siegel 1977, 1985; and Theodores 1996.

5Scholars such as Franko 1995; Graff 1994; Harris 1996; Jackson 2000; Melosh 1994; and Prickett 1994a and b have, however, challenged the modern dance history based on Martin’s critiques.

6Greenberg suggests that popular culture’s art or ‘kitsch’ is a product of the industrial revolution’s urbanized masses that brought about a demand for a less elite culture and art (Greenberg 1961: 15).

7Schlundt confuses the date of the first performance with the year that it was choreographed, saying it was first performed “sometime in spring 1948” (1997: 31) but that Nagrin began work on this in the “summer of 1948” (211), while her index lists the premier in 1949 (84).

References Cited:

Acocella, Joan, Deborah Jowitt and Marcia B. Siegel
1995. Coming to Grips with the “Other”: A Discussion among Writers. In Looking Out(eds. David Gere et al), 187–191.

Adshead, Janet (ed.)
1986. Choreography: Principles and Practice. In Proceedings, Study of Dance Conference 4, April 4–7. National Resource Centre for Dance, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.

Adshead, Janet, Valerie Hodgens, Pauline Briginshaw and Michael Huxley (eds.)
1988. Dance Analysis: Theory and Practice. London: Dance Books.

Banes, Sally
1987. Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
1993. Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962–1964. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press.
1994. Writing Dancing in the Age of Postmodernism. Hanover, MA: Wesleyan University Press.
2003. (ed). Reinventing Dance in the 1960s: Everything Was Possible. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Carbonneau, Suzanne
1995. Nagrin’s Revived Visions. The Washington Post, October 10. http://www.nagrin.com/frames.htm. Accessed July 10, 2012.

Cheney, Sheldon
1946. Expressionism in Art. Rev. ed.New York: Tudor Publishing Company.

Cohen, Selma Jeanne.
1960. Daniel Nagrin; 92nd Street “Y.” Dance Magazine34(1), 26.
——— (ed.)
1998. International Encyclopaedia of Dance. 7 vols. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Copeland, Roger.
2004. Merce Cunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance. Routledge: New York and London.

Denby, Edwin
1968 [1949]. Looking at the Dance. New York: Horizon Press.

Dils, Ann and Ann Cooper Albright (eds.)
2001. Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A DanceHistory Reader. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Dixon Gottschild, Brenda
1995. Stripping the Emperor: The Africanist Presence in American Concert Dance. In Looking Out(eds. David Gere et al), 95–122.

Docherty, Thomas (ed.)
1999. Postmodernism: A Reader. New York and London: Harvester/Wheatsheaf.

Dunning, Jennifer
1982. Nagrin on How to Dance Forever. The New York Times, May 7. http://www.nagrin.com/frames.htm. Accessed July 10, 2012.

Evans, Bill
2002. A Strange Hero’s Influence. Dance Magazine76(4), 57–58.

Franko, Mark
1995. Dancing Modernism/Performing Politics. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
2002. The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement, and Identity in the 1930s. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Gere, David, Lewis Segal, Patrice Clark Koelsch and Elizabeth Zimmer (eds.)
1995. Looking Out: Perspectives on Dance and Criticism in a Multicultural World. New York: Schirmer Books; London: Prentice Hall International.

Goldberg, RoseLee
1988. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. 2d ed. London: Thames and Hudson.

Graff, Ellen
1994. Dancing Red: Art and Politics. Studies in Dance History5(1), 1–13.

Greenberg, Clement
1955. The Collected Essays and Criticism(ed. J. O’Brien). Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
1961. Art and Culture: Critical Essays. Boston: Beacon Press.

Gruen, John
1975. Original archival manuscript of interview with Daniel Nagrin. One transcript, twenty-three leaves. New York Public Library: Jerome Robbins Dance Collection.

Habermas, Jurgen
1999. The Entry into Postmodernity: Nietzsche as a Turning Point. In Postmodernism(ed. Thomas Docherty), 51–61.

Harré, Rom
1984. Personal Being. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Harris, Joanna Gewertz
1996. From Tenement to Theater: Jewish Women as Dance Pioneers: Helen Becker (Tamiris), Anna Sokolow, Sophie Maslow. Judaism45(3), 259–76.

Hering, Doris
1951. Daniel Nagrin and Donald McKayle with Guest Artists, Hunter Playhouse, May 25, 1951. Dance Magazine25(6), 9.
1958. Daniel Nagrin in a Program of Dance Portraits; 92nd Street “Y,” March 2, 1958. Dance Magazine32(4), 82–83.

Hodson, Millicent
1986. Composition by Field: Merce Cunningham and the American Fifties. In Choreography(ed. Janet Adshead), 80–92.

Hornsby, Jennifer
1980. Actions. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
2004. Agency and Actions. In Agency and Action(ed. John Hyman and Helen Steward). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1–23.

Horst, Louis
1937. Pre-classic Dance Forms. New York: the Dance Observer.
1957a. Tenth American Dance Festival; Connecticut College, August 15–18. Dance Observer24(7), 102–3.
1957b. Daniel Nagrin, Geoffrey Holder and Company, William Hug Dance Company, YM-YWHA, October 27. Dance Observer24(8), 85, 153.
1958. Anna Sokolow Dance Company; Daniel Nagrin; “Everyman Today,” choreography by Joyce Trisler. Dance Observer25(4), 55–57.
1959. Twelfth American Dance Festival, August 13–16, Connecticut College, New London. Dance Observer26 (3)

Hutcheon, Linda
1988. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York and London: Routledge.

Hutchinson Guest, Ann
1967. Daniel Nagrin, LAMDA Theatre, London, May 6, 1967. The DancingTimes57(682), 517.

Hyman, John and Helen Steward (eds.)
2004. Agency and Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jackson, Naomi M.
2000. Converging Movements: Modern Dance and Jewish Culture at the 92nd Street Y. Hanover, NH, and London: Wesleyan University Press.

Jenkins, Keith
1991. Re-thinking History. London: Routledge.
2001 (ed). The Postmodern History Reader. London: Routledge.

Johnston, Jill
1955. Thoughts on the Present and Future Directions of Modern Dance. Dance Observer22 (7), 101–2.
1957. The Modern Dance—Directions and Criticisms. Dance Observer24(4), 55–56.

Jonas, Gerald
1992. Dancing: The Pleasure, Power, and Art of Movement. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Jowitt, Deborah
1974. In Dance, Male Lib Means Less ‘Masculinity.’ Dance Scrapbook. New York TimesAugust 25.
1976. A Private View of Criticism. Arts in Society13(2), 204–9.
2003. Monk and King: The Sixties Kids. In Reinventing Dance in the 1960s(ed. Sally Banes), 113–36.
2004. Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kane, Angela
2000. Paul Taylor’s Choreography: In the Public Domain. PhD diss., University of Kent at Canterbury and the London Contemporary Dance School.
2002. Contrived Preciousness, with Meager Choreographic Substance. Proceedings, Twenty-Fifth Annual Conference, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 20–23 June, 2002. Stoughton, WI: Society of Dance History Scholars, 62–67.
2003. Through a Glass Darkly: The Many Sides of Paul Taylor’s Choreography. Dance Research21(2), 90–129.

Kisselgoff, Anna
1994. A Lesson From the 1940’s: Expression in Just a Few Bold Strokes. The New York Times, March 25. http://www.nagrin.com/frames.htm. Accessed July 10, 2012.

Laban, Rudolf von
1971[1950]. The Mastery of Movement. 3d ed., revised and enlarged by Lisa Ullman. Boston: Plays, Inc.; London: Macdonald and Evans.

Laing, David
1978. The Marxist Theory of Art. Hassocks, Sussex, UK: Harvester.

Lepecki, André (ed.)
2004. Of the Presence of the Body: Essays on Dance and Performance Theory. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Macaulay, Alastair
1986. Notes on Dance Classicism. Choreography(ed. Janet Adshead), 63–79.

Manchester, P[hyllis] W[inifred]
1953. New Dance Group Co. at Ziegfeld Theatre N. Y. Dance News2(4), 7.
1957a. Daniel Nagrin, Geoffrey Holder and Company, William Hug and Company.Dance News31(4), 11.
1957b. Daniel Nagrin, with Sylvia Marshall, pianist, at YM-YWHA. Dance News22(4), 10.
1959a. Sophie Maslow and Company, Daniel Nagrin, Anna Sokolow Dance. Dance News34(5), 11.
1959b. Twelfth American Dance Festival at Connecticut College. Dance News35(1), 11.
1959c. Helen Tamiris, Daniel Nagrin, and Ruth Currier in an Afternoon Matinee. Dance News35(1), 11.
1959d. Daniel Nagrin at YM-YWHA, New York. Dance News35(4), 9.

Manning, Susan
2004a. Modern Dance, Negro Dance:Race in Motion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
2004b. Danced Spirituals. In Of the Presence of the Body(ed. André Lepecki), 82–96.

Martin, John
1936. America Dancing. New York: Dodge Publishing Company.
1939. Introduction to the Dance. New York: W. W. Norton.
1968. America Dancing. Reprint of 1936 edition with additional information. New York: Dance Horizons.
1975. Introduction to the Dance. Reprint of 1939 edition with additional information. New York: Dance Horizons.

McDonagh, Don
1970. The Rise and Fall and Rise of Modern Dance. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.
1976. The Complete Guide to Modern Dance. New York: Doubleday & Company.
1997. Birthday Boy: Book review of TheSix Questions: Acting Techniques for Dance Performance. Dance Magazine 71(11), 78–79.

Meglin, Joellen A.
1999. Book review of TheSix Questions: Acting Techniques for Dance Performance. Dance Research Journal31(1), 104–8.

Melosh, Barbara
1994. Preface. Studies in Dance History5(1), v–vii.

Nagrin, Daniel
1951. In Quest of a Dance. Dance Magazine25(8), 23–25.
1967. Solos, 1948–1967. Performed by Daniel Nagrin. Videotape. Daniel Nagrin Dance, Theatre, and Film Foundation.
1985. Nagrin Videotape Library Sampler. Performed by Daniel Nagrin. Daniel Nagrin Dance, theatre, and Film Foundation.
1988. How to Dance Forever: Surviving Against the Odds. New York: Quill and William Morrow.
1989. Helen Tamiris and the Dance Historians. Proceedings, Twelfth Annual Conference, Arizona State University, 17–19 February 1989. N.p.: Society of Dance History Scholars, 15–43.
1994. Dance and the Specific Image: Improvisation. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
1997. The Six Questions: Acting Technique for Dance Performance. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
2001. Choreography and the Specific Image: Nineteen Essays and aWorkbook. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
2004a. Personal telephone communication. January 14.
2004b. Strange Hero.In Six Jazz Dances and a Lecture. Performed by Daniel Nagrin. DVD. Daniel Nagrin Dance, theatre, and Film Foundation.

O’Hara, Shane
2005. Personal email communication. March 1.

Perelman, Joshua
2004. Communism, Modern Dance, and the Roots of American Jewish Identity. Paper presented at the Society of Dance History Scholars Conference, Duke University, Durham, NC, June 17–19.

Prickett, Stacey
1994a. The People: Issues of Identity Within the Revolutionary Dance. Studies in Dance History5(1), 14–22.
1994b. Reviewing on the Left: The Dance Criticism of Edna Ocko. Studies in Dance History5(1), 65–103.

Reid, Louis Arnaud
1969. Meaning in the Arts. London and New York: George Allen & Unwin LTD, and Humanities Press.

Roses-Thema, Cynthia
2003. Interview with Daniel Nagrin. JASHM12(3), 114–19.

Schlundt, Christena L.
1972. Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career 1927–1965. New York: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
1997. Daniel Nagrin: A Chronicle of His Professional Career. Berkeley: University of California Press.
1998. Daniel Nagrin. In International Encyclopaedia of Dance. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, Vol 4, 530–31.

Siegel, Marcia B.
1977. Watching the Dance Go By. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
1985. The Shapes of Change: Images of American Dance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
1987. Modern Dance before Bennington: Sorting It All Out. Dance ResearchJournal 19(1), 3–9.

Smithsonian Institution
2004. Russia: Land of the Tsars. The History Channel.

Sparshott, Francis E.
1970. The Structure of Aesthetics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Tamiris, Helen
1989 [1928]. Tamiris in Her Own Voice: Draft of an Autobiography [originally written in 1928 and 1951]. Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Daniel Nagrin.Studies in Dance History1(1), 1–64.

Theodores, Diana
1996. First We Take Manhattan: Four American Women and The New York School of Dance Criticism. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Welsh Asante, Kariamu
2001. Commonalities in African Dance. In Moving History/Dancing Cultures(ed. Ann Dils and Ann Albright Cooper), 144–51.

Williams, Claire, W. H. Stephan, and James Damien Holmes
1958. The Dance in New York. Dance Digest8(3), 243–51, 267.

Williams, Drid
2004. Anthropology and the Dance: Ten Lectures. 2d ed. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Concert Programs

  1. Daniel Nagrin and Donald McKayle. Program of Solo and Group Works. Hunter Playhouse. [Original flyer, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Daniel Nagrin Collection]. May 25.
  2. Oh, Men! Oh, Women!at Westchester Playhouse, Mt. Kisco, NY (play). [Original program, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Daniel Nagrin Collection]. July 31–August 5.
  3. The Dance Center of the YM-YWHA. Daniel Nagrin and Two Other Companies. [Original concert program, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Daniel Nagrin Collection]. October 27.

1958(?). The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, presents Dance Recital and Discussion. [Original concert program, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Daniel Nagrin Collection]. (NYPL note: probable date 1958).