In 2006, as part of her 90th birthday celebration Erdman authorized her long time associate, Nancy Allison to teach her dance repertory for the purpose of having the dances notated and to manage future performances of the repertory. Later that year Allison staged three of Erdman’s dances on students at Hofstra University as notators from the Dance Notation Bureau collected data to create Labanotation scores of the historic works. Students and audiences alike were greatly inspired by the work and soon other university and professional companies were interested in performing Erdman’s unique repertory.
In 2008 Allison founded Jean Erdman Dance to preserve and promote the dance repertory, technique and aesthetic philosophy of this remarkable artist. Jean Erdman Dance furthers its mission through performances, stagings, and a wide variety of educational programs. By incorporating the immediacy of live performance with the excitement of new media and hands-on teaching with the inter-active possibilities of information technology Jean Erdman Dance shares the legacy of this American artist with new generations of students, dancers and audiences throughout the world.
Jean Erdman made a significant contribution to American arts as a dancer, choreographer and avant-garde theater director. Beginning with her work as a principal dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1938-42 in which she originated many roles in Graham’s groundbreaking repertory of that time, Erdman established herself as a leading artist of the post-pioneering period of American modern dance. In 1962 her production, The Coach with the Six Insides, an adaptation of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, captivated the New York theater world winning OBIE and Vernon Rice Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Off-Broadway Theater before taking off on a world tour including engagements in Italy at the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds and in Dublin, Tokyo and Paris.Her 1971 Tony-nominated choreography for Joseph Papp’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, Lincoln Center production of Jean Giradoux’s The Enchanted, along with the more than fifty dances and total-theater works she choreographed for her company all demonstrate her sensitive musicality and the intricate blending of world dance and theater styles that is the hallmark of her aesthetic vision.
Erdman’s early dance training in Hawaii in the first part of the 20th century included ancient hula, tap and Isadora Duncan technique. As a student at Sarah Lawrence College she encountered the two other major influences of her life:Martha Graham and and the scholar, Joseph Campbell. In 1938 she married Campbell and began rehearsals with the Graham Company the following day. Throughout her career she continued to study and champion world dance both as a source of individual creativity and an important expression of the human spirit. Her guiding belief that a choreographer should create for each new dance a style of movement intrinsic to its subject led her to develop a varied and exciting repertory, collaborating with some of the most innovative artists of the time, including Louis Horst, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Merce Cunningham and Maya Deren. Her deep, creative interchange with Campbell, contributed to the embrace of the mythological dimension in her work. This coupled with her widely recognized genius for distilling human experience into abstract form give her work a particularly poetic and enduring quality.
“Miss Erdman has an approach all her own. She is keenly alert to modern experiments in the other arts –music, poetry visual design – and employs them freely. She is an interesting and provocative young artist…”
The New York Times
“Anyone wanting to know something about where modern dance is today can find the roots in this Jean Erdman retrospective”
The New York Times
“Jean Erdman is a national treasure.”
Former Chief Curator
Jerome Robbins Dance Research Collection
Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts
Nancy Allison was a member of Jean Erdman’s Theater of The Open Eye from 1976 – 1985 where among other roles she danced a principle role in Op Odyssey, awarded the prize for Best Company at the 13th International Festival d’Automne in Paris. At The Open Eye she also distinguished herself as a leading interpreter of Erdman’s solo dance repertory of the 1940s and 50s. She is the executive producer and featured dancer of the three-volume video archive Dance & Myth: The World of Jean Erdman. Since 1986 she has performed Erdman’s solo dance repertory throughout the US and abroad and has presented Erdman’s work at national conferences and institutes including the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD), the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), the American Dance Legacy Institute (ADLI) and the Carl Jung Institute. She has staged Erdman’s repertory on professional and student dancers throughout the U.S. and has curated an exhibit about Erdman for the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Her own choreography has been presented by the Athens Festival in Greece, Composers Union (Moscow, Russia), Baltimore Museum of Art, Artquake (Portland, OR,) Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival, American Museum of Natural History, P.S. 122, and the 92nd St Y Harkness Dance Center among others. She has taught as a faculty member at New York University, SUNY Purchase, Laban-Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS) from which she received a CMA, Lincoln Center Institute and as a guest teacher in Italy for Danza Venezia. She has received grants from the NEA, NYSCA, Harkness Foundations for the Dance, the Leslie R. Samuels and Fan Fox Foundation as well as the Laurance Rockefeller gift in support of her work.
Allison is also the editor of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines selected as one of 1999s Best Books on Alternative Health by Body & Soul magazine and developmental editor for several series of books about dance for young people including The Library of American Choreographers (Rosen Publishing 2006).
"an eye-riveting dancer”
The New York Times
“Erdman’s dances are so wonderfully performed by Nancy Allison…in certain lights you can imagine that maybe you are looking at the young Erdman herself.”
The Village Voice
“In her capacity as a reconstructor, teacher, director, artist and mentor Nancy Allison brought the intelligence, maturity, refinement and warmth that she exudes on stage to the rehearsal process. In my opinion, she had a profound effect on all the dancers who worked with her; one that will continue to serve them for years to come”
Director of Dance