Daniel Nagrin’s Dance Portraits: Choreographing Agency

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 Brenda Farnell, co-editor at the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement, have recently given the Nagrin Foundation permission to post Dr Wawrejko’s 2012 JASHM academic paper on Nagrin, Daniel Nagrin’s Dance Portraits: Choreographing Agency, for which we thank them. An overview is presented here, with links to the full text HTML and PDF formats.

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.

Full text:


PDF (https://nagrin.org/wp-content/uploads/JASHM_published_article19.1.pdf):

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

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:

Other work on Daniel Nagrin by Dr Diane Wawrejko: