Thursday, November 12, 2009

Common Goods: Ruth St. Denis

Dancer Ruth St. Denis (b. 1879--d.1968), who was credited with bringing modern dance to America in the early 20th century, was a rebel with a mystical spirit. Her performances often centered around Eastern thought, dress, and concepts. Her theatrical accouterments were the embodiment of beautiful costuming. Whether St. Denis was portraying a Hindu Goddess or an Egyptian Queen, her costumes gleamed with gorgeous detailing. The New York Public Library's photostream on Flickr showcases quite a collection of portraits of Ruth in costume, and they are divine.

Before Ruth there were no dance programs at universities and no serious American dancers; and now? Ballerinas can get B.A.s thanks to her engendering of the first academic dance department at Aldelphi University. Also, without Ruth much of the evolution of dance here on American soil would have been stunted--she taught Martha Graham how to move.

So, besides for looking pretty on stage (as important as that is) we have much to thank St. Denis for. How shall we thank her? I say by dancing, in pretty costumes tonight. I know I don't need an excuse to do that, but if you do, you now have one. If you don't feel like dancing I'm sorry for your soul, but I'll let you off the hook if you watch a compilation of Denis photos accompanied by audio of her telling remarkable stories of her carreer in this documentary from 2006:

That's part 1 of 5. Click here to see part 2, 3, 4, and 5. It's wonderfully worth your time for sheer prettiness and wit alone.

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