daughters_etude
92Y_chronology_mythology
suite_of_three
photo credits
© 2009-2011 Nancy Allison
email us at info@jeanerdmandance.com

Introduction
The Transformations of Medusa
Ophelia
Passage
Creature on a Journey
Hamadryad
Daughters of the Lonesome Isle
Daughters: An Etude
Chronology and Mythology
Suite of Three: 3 Solos by Jean Erdman

Repertory

Erdman’s early dance training in Hawaii in the first part of the 20th century included ancient hula, tap and Isadora Duncan technique. 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. Creative interchange with her husband, the scholar Joseph 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 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…”

John Martin
The New York Times
1944

”There is a lightness in the rhythm, a quality of generosity and spaciousness in the movement that struck me as the content of a dance should, as a poetic presence.”

Edwin Denby
New York Tribune
1945

“The dances are about magic, metamorphosis, rite…the performers look not feminine, but resonantly female.”

Deborah Jowitt
The Village Voice
1988

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The Transformations of Medusa
(1942) (9min:15sec)
Watch the Video

This solo traces the evolution of destructive power in the mythological character Medusa. From her mesmerized youth as a Temple Virgin, through her stunted womanhood as Lady of the Wild Things, to her eternal raging as Queen of Gorgons, each of Medusa's psycho-spiritual states is brought to life in classic two-dimensional archaic movement style. The solo piano score, commissioned from renowned American composer and teacher Louis Horst, with its striking simplicity and rhythmic clarity intensifies the development of the emotional theme. The costume, designed by Charlotte Trowbridge, is inspired by images from early Greek vase paintings.  This signature work, the subject of a film by avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren remained in Erdman’s active repertory throughout her performing career.

 “…extremely well put together and full of interesting material”

John Martin
The New York Times
1945

“Erdman’s very first and still wonderful solo”

Anna Kisselgoff
The New York Times
 1985

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Ophelia

(1946) (8min:44sec)
Watch the Video

This dance is a portrait of psychic dismemberment as epitomized by Shakespeare’s tragic heroine. The breath-based movement ripples out from the body in waves of subtly developed choreographic themes that follow Ophelia’s unsuccessful struggle to integrate an experience she cannot resolve, absorb or even understand. The unrelenting chords of the commissioned solo piano score by John Cage echo the theme of dismemberment.  Xenia Cage designed the billowing white costume with its blood red nerve endings painted on the inner arms and down the sides of the torso that add even more to the feeling of fragility. One of Erdman’s most acclaimed solos, she performed this striking dance throughout the U.S. and abroad, most notably in her 1954 tour to India and Japan where she was the first American modern dancer to appear after WW II.

 “…a consistently affecting dance, delicate in its lamentation, rich in its revelations of a tragic figure.”

Walter Terry
The New York Times
1946

“…the strange unhinging of a sensitive mind.”

Ernestine Stodelle
New Haven Register
1982

Passage
(1946) (3 min:03 sec) Watch the Video

An image of the journey of an individual soul this dance is an elegant example of Erdman’s abstraction of a spiritual concept found throughout the world’s mythologies. The commissioned score for piano and voice by Otto Janowitz and the shimmering black and gold net dress designed by Eilene Holding create the perfect aural and visual environment for this choreographic contemplation of the human desire to break through the struggles of day to day life into a realm of pure bliss.

“strongly evocative.”

John Martin
The New York Times
1946

“all strong, lyrical swoops and curves. The dancer seems to hover on the brink of something, her hands pressing down on air as if that might make her rise.”

Deborah Jowitt
The Village Voice
1984

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Creature on a Journey
(1943) (2 min:43 sec)  Watch the Video

Inspired by the people and dance forms of Bali, this comic embodiment of the human condition is a bold choreographic contrast to Passage. The bird-like movement vocabulary along with the delicately rowdy percussion score by Lou Harrison, and the brightly colored costume by Elizabeth H. Parsons conjure up a lighthearted vision of the hero’s journey. This solo is one of three that Erdman performed on the concert she shared with Merce Cunningham at the Arts Club of Chicago announcing the choreographic emergence of these two young modern dance stars.

“a quite delightful bit of grotesque fantasy”

John Martin
The New York Times
1944

“the brisk fussy heroine might be the well-known chicken pondering the value of road crossing”

Deborah Jowitt
The Village Voice
1988

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Hamadryad
(1948) (3 min:48 sec) Watch the Video

Named for the Greek word meaning "the spirit belonging to a particular tree," this passionate, lyrical, dance celebrates the pure joy of movement. Set to the classic flute solo, Syrinx by Claude Debussy this dance is a marvelous example of Erdman's acclaimed approach to the relationship of music and dance in which dance is a spatial counterpoint, rather than an accompaniment to the music. The costume by Roxanne Marden suggesting a rustic Greek tunic highlights Erdman’s subtle and complex use of the torso, a result of her blending of Graham and ancient hula dance techniques. This dance premiered on Broadway at the Mansfield Theatre (now the Brooks Atkinson) as part of a New Dance Group concert. As a member of this choreographers’ collective, Erdman was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs in 2006.

“a small gem of a dance”

Musical America
1948


”a breath of outdoors, a reflection of nature rhythms, as if the island memories of her childhood had come sifting through her mature intellect in attenuated form”

Margaret Lloyd
The Borzoi Book of Modern Dance
1949

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Daughters of the Lonesome Isle
(1945) (10 min:05sec)
Watch the Video

In this abstract trio three identically dressed dancers represent three aspects of the female psyche: the mother, the youthful virgin, and the woman of experience. The movement themes are an amalgam of world cultures from Hawaiian hula to Brazilian samba, and are developed musically, intertwining like a Bach fugue. The commissioned score by John Cage utilizes his groundbreaking prepared piano, which changes a solo piano into an exotic-sounding orchestra. The costumes, designed by Erdman and executed by Elizabeth H. Parsons, highlight the hourglass form of the female figure.  A striking example of Erdman’s choreographic approach in which expressive content emanates from the interweaving of changing dynamic rhythms and textures, this work has been described by former Balanchine ballerina, Violette Verdy as “ a jewel of true modernism”.

"It is a formal beautiful dance, no more difficult to understand than the beauty of moonlight on water, but as difficult to explain.”

Walter Terry
The New York Herald Tribune
1946

 “Like all the dances it makes the performers look not feminine, but resonantly female”

Deborah Jowitt
The Village Voice
1988

Daughters: An Etude
(2010)(6:00) Watch the Video
In this work for up to seven dancers simplified forms of Erdman’s richly textured choreography from Daughters of the Lonesome Isle are accompanied by an edited version of John Cage’s landmark commissioned score on prepared piano. Costumes by Karen Young capture the shape and movement of the 1945 originals allowing younger, or less technically advanced dancers and their audiences an opportunity to experience the richness of Erdman’s movement language, musicality and aesthetic vision.

“Thanks again for the wonderful work you did with the kids. You really did bring something out of these girls that was special to see.”

Ryan Corriston
Director
Harkness Repertory Ensemble
2010

“ I so appreciate the wonderful work you did with the Harkness Rep. dancers. They are so lucky. We are so lucky.”

Renata Celichowska
Director
92nd St Y Harkness Dance Center
2010

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Chronology and Mythology
(2010) (Various) Watch the Video

Conceived and directed by Nancy Allison this collaborative dance/ video work is a journey into Erdman’s magical world of dance and myth in which movement phrases and/or complete dances from her celebrated repertory emerge from and dissolve into a visual environment of archival video projections. Any number of dancers at various technique levels may be included in the work that is tailored to the resources and needs of each host. Actors, new music composed by a resident composer and/or new video sequences edited by a resident filmmaker/video artist from the host community may also be included. The first version of Chronology and Mythology with music by Fred Israel, video environment by Paul Allman and costumes by Karen Young was presented by the 92nd St Y Harkness Dance Center in 2010 as part of its 75th anniversary season.

“…the students were poignant and powerful… and there was wonderful dancing from the pros”
Laura Jacobs
Dance Critic
The New Criterion
2010

“The stagings and performances were fastidious, the organization illuminated the work, and the costumes--all of them--were ravishing.”
Mindy Aloff
Editor
Dance Critics Association News
2010

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Suite of Three: 3 Solos by Jean Erdman
(2009) (12:00) Watch the Video
Dance history comes to life as performances of Passage (1946), Creature on a Journey (1943) and Hamadryad (1948) are interwoven with rare b & w archival footage of and voice over by Erdman herself. The meditative elegance of Passage, comic antics of Creature on a Journey and sensuous lushness of Hamadryad offer an excellent opportunity to showcase an individual dancer’s range, or can be shared among a company by three very different dancers.

“ Nancy— Thank you for bringing Jean Erdman's and your gift of dance to our university. I never know how older modern dance will go over with our audience, but the solos were a hit. People also loved the video introductions. Our Dean went Saturday night and was very impressed as were some donors.”

Greg Halloran
Associate Professor of Dance
University of Idaho
2011

“On Friday I had several people comment on the way out how much they enjoyed the piece and how much they appreciated the video to context the work. On Saturday the audience was even larger, perhaps 1,500 – 1,700. They were exuberantly appreciative.”

Madeleine Scott
Director
Ohio University School of Dance
2009

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