Welcome to the new National Museum of Dance Blog where we’ll be sharing with you interviews with dance insiders, a series exploring the unique history of our national historic landmark building, highlights from current and upcoming exhibitions, and more. Enjoy. –Lisa Kolosek, Curatorial Associate
May 29, 2020 | Washington Bath House Part V
This week in her series about the history of the Museum’s building, Mary Anne Fantauzzi conveys the distinct experience of taking a mineral bath at the Washington Baths in the first half of the twentieth century.
One of the most frequently asked questions by visitors to the National Museum of Dance is, “What would you recommend we do while we are staying in your city?”. Without hesitation, my response is, “Take a mineral bath!”.
Although the Washington Bath House is no longer in existence, its footprint remains in historical documents from the George S. Bolster Collection of Old Saratoga Springs. A record of services and prices offered in 1938 and 1965 is seen below. In 1938, prices ranged from $.50 for a private room to $1.75 for a mineral bath. Twenty-seven years later, a private room increased to $.75 and a mineral bath to $3.00.
The signature treatment of the bathhouse was a tub bath. By filling the tub with a precise balance of hot and cold mineral water, attendants preserved the natural carbonation of the spring waters at a comfortable bath temperature of approximately 95 degrees.
When bathers immersed themselves in the supersaturated waters, little carbon dioxide bubbles would form on their skin. These bubbles not only provided a gentle and relieving stimulation, but also helped the patient to absorb the gasses through their skin. Once absorbed, the carbon dioxide would dilate the patients’ blood vessels, improving their circulation and digestion while providing a relaxing oasis.
Following this fifteen-minute bath, patients would rest for half an hour in an adjoining bedroom. The intent was to give their bodies a chance to peacefully absorb the minerals but was also essential to their mental health. In these serene, delicately lit rooms, patrons could relax and allow themselves to feel the healing effects of their treatments.
–Mary Anne Fantauzzi, Docent Coordinator
May 28, 2020 | Norton Owen
The National Museum of Dance shares a unique connection with Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival through Norton Owen, the Pillow’s extraordinary Director of Preservation. We are so excited to share our recent interview with Norton in which he discusses his long and wonderful career at Jacob’s Pillow and some of his favorite memories from the Pillow and the National Museum of Dance.
You’ve been associated with Jacob’s Pillow for more than forty years! How did you first arrive at the Pillow and how has your role evolved over these past four decades? Are you still discovering details of the rich history of the Pillow at this point?
I originally came here as a dance student in 1976, just after graduating from college, and my role has truly evolved over the years. I was on scholarship that first summer, so I danced and performed, and I worked on the backstage crew to fulfill my scholarship duties. I began working as an administrative assistant for the Pillow director when I moved to New York City after that first summer, and in 1977 I was given a choice between returning as a dance student or taking a job in the box office that paid $50 per week. I don’t recall it being a momentous decision to shift my focus from dancing to administration—just a practical one, as I had to earn a living at that point.
Even at that early stage in my career when I played a supporting role in the box office, there was something about the Pillow history that spoke to me and made me want to share it with others. In conjunction with a performance of Denishawn dances that second summer, I remember creating a “display” of Denishawn costumes that had been packed into trunks for many years. I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt compelled to make a visible connection between what we were presenting onstage and the Pillow’s own beginnings under our founder, Ted Shawn.
Through a succession of other positions at the Pillow (Public Relations Assistant, House Manager, Associate Manager, Director of Educational Programs), I continued my interest in Pillow history and found ways to explore that interest in various ways. For instance, I instigated inventories of the Pillow Archives and Costume Collection in the early 1980s and organized a 50th anniversary reunion of Ted Shawn’s Men Dancers in 1982. The position of Director of Preservation was created for me as a part-time role in 1990 and that’s the job I still hold (now full-time) to this day.
The list of discoveries I have made over the years is limitless and I’m always learning more. One very proud moment this year was the publication of the first scholarly biography of Ted Shawn, by Paul Scolieri (published by Oxford University Press). I helped provide the impetus for this book by offering a number of research fellowships to Paul and have assisted him at many crucial stages along the way.
Visiting Jacob’s Pillow during the summer season, for me, is like entering a dance utopia – performances, exhibitions, educational programs, residencies, classes, workshops, artistic creation. How do you articulate the magic that is Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival?
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the origins of something that is truly magical, I think there are three essential ingredients to consider. The ongoing dance activity at the Pillow is clearly key, as the performers, student dancers, and interns bring a palpable energy to our grounds. But what if that same activity were happening elsewhere? It might be every bit as worthwhile, but it wouldn’t create the same magic if the same performances and classes were being held in a high school auditorium or a college gymnasium.
So another ingredient is the place itself and all its evocative buildings and outdoor facilities. History seems to ooze from the ground here, and it’s immediately clear to almost any visitor that this is a well-established complex that is an attraction in itself. But would it feel as magical if it weren’t infused with the energy of all the seasonal dance activity? What if we operated only as “The Ted Shawn Historic Site” and welcomed visitors to a place that offered only exhibits and tours? (Ironically, that formerly unthinkable option will be largely how we’ll be operating this summer because of the coronavirus, though we expect this to be only a temporary arrangement.)
Third, of course, is the audience, as we depend upon an active and enthusiastic stream of visitors who engage in our programming and mirror back to us all of the energy and love that we have put into creating this oasis for dance. It’s a very delicate balance between these three elements—the dance, the place, and the audience—and each plays an essential role in making Jacob’s Pillow what it is.
Jacob’s Pillow has made dance in all its forms, from across the globe, tremendously accessible. Was this extraordinary vision part of Ted Shawn’s founding plan for the Pillow? What do you think has drawn the world’s foremost dance artists to the Pillow for nearly ninety years and counting?
One of Ted Shawn’s strongest beliefs was the universality of dance, and the primal role it plays in human existence. More than a hundred years ago, he wrote this statement as a founding principle of Denishawn: “The art of the dance is too big to be encompassed by any one system… Every way that anyone, of any race or nationality, living at any time in the world’s history, has moved rhythmically and expressively, is a vital and enduring part of the dance.” This same viewpoint became one of Shawn’s foundational ideas in establishing Jacob’s Pillow, and I believe his open and welcoming attitude towards dance and dancers of all kinds has continued to this day.
In addition to your work at Jacob’s Pillow you curated the most important and compelling exhibitions at the National Museum of Dance in the 1990s, honoring dance luminaries such as Ted Shawn, Merce Cunningham, Bronislava Nijinska, Paul Taylor, José Limón, and Anna Sokolow. Does one of these exhibitions stand out for you and would you share some highlights from its creation and installation?
I’m so grateful for my association with the National Museum of Dance, as I learned so much from each and every one of those exhibitions and from my colleagues there—designer Kevan Moss and directors Alison Moore, Joanne Allison, and Toni Smith. I would have to say that I still have a special fondness for the Paul Taylor exhibit because it enabled me to forge a strong personal friendship with Paul that lasted until the end of his life. When I still barely knew him and was tremendously awe-struck, I’ll never forget sending him a draft of the biographical overview that I had written to open the exhibit, waiting with great trepidation to hear his response. What he sent me back in return was a satirical riff on what I had written, using some of my prose but interspersing his own hilarious commentary in a mock-serious tone. Of course, it was his way of expressing approval for what I had written, and I have never felt so flattered or honored that he took the time to do that. Unforgettable!
What would you describe as your most memorable moment or moments at Jacob’s Pillow?
Having the opportunity to personally show some of our Denishawn photographs and costumes to Martha Graham in 1984 when she first brought her company here was pretty special! One of the things I love is the steady stream of unexpected visitors—sometimes people I knew long ago, but often total strangers who have a special story they want to share or a favorite dancer that they want to reconnect with through our Archives. One of the single most gratifying events was when we opened the newly-expanded Reading Room in Blake’s Barn five years ago, and I found out at the ribbon-cutting that the room was named for me. That was one of the best-kept secrets ever.
The summer season at Jacob’s Pillow will look very different this year, yet no less robust. What are you working on now and what lies ahead for the Pillow?
What lies ahead for the performing arts in general is a huge question these days, but we have nearly 90 years of struggles and triumphs that have strengthened our core for whatever may be coming. Long before the current pandemic, we started laying the groundwork for another expansion of Blake’s Barn, adding a new Special Collections Room adjacent to the Reading Room and also providing additional climate-controlled storage downstairs. We’ll break ground in the fall and open in Summer 2021, so our focus is ever-onward. Personally, I draw a lot of strength from Ted Shawn’s dogged perseverance in keeping this place going during the depths of the Depression and throughout the Second World War. He somehow found the means to keep going, no matter how broke he was or what obstacles stood in his way. How can we do any less than that now?
To learn more about Jacob’s Pillow please visit their website.
May 26, 2020 | Collection Highlight – 1 to 40 Variations
This important Katherine S. Dreier lithograph in the Museum’s permanent collection has a fascinating history within the landscape of twentieth-century American abstract art as well as American modern dance and the confluence of these forms.
Katherine S. Dreier was an American artist, collector, and founder of the Société Anonyme, an association established in 1920 with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray to promote and support modern art and emerging artists. She was also a friend and patron of Jacob’s Pillow founder Ted Shawn and author of the 1933 monograph Shawn the Dancer.
While living in Paris in the early 1930s, Dreier was inspired both by performances of Beethoven’s Variations and the International Regatta to “translate these experiences into the realm of abstract art.” In 1934 she created 1 to 40 Variations, two groups of twenty lithographs with the same black image on a white ground. Each of the forty is entirely unique with pochoir hand coloring in blue, red, yellow, and umber. With the guidance of Marcel Duchamp, these portfolios were published in Paris in 1937 in a limited edition of eighty.
Inspired by one of Dreier’s 40 Variations, Ted Shawn choreographed A Dreier Lithograph in 1935 for six dancers to a score by Jess Meeker, the Pillow’s composer and musical director. A Dreier Lithograph was performed by Shawn’s Men Dancers at Jacob’s Pillow in the 1930s. It was also presented by the Carol Lynn Ballet at the Baltimore Museum of Art in January 1939 with an all-female cast. Lynn worked with Shawn as associate director of the Pillow from 1943 to 1960.
The Museum’s lithograph from Dreier’s 1 to 40 Variations series was a gift from Stanley Davis, a student at Jacob’s Pillow in the mid-1930s. In 2018, this lithograph was loaned to the Williams College Museum of Art for inclusion in the landmark exhibition Dance We Must: Treasures from Jacob’s Pillow, 1906-1940.
May 22, 2020 | The Washington Bath House Part IV
This week Mary Anne Fantauzzi explores the unique healing properties of the mineral water found in Saratoga Springs and treatments offered at the Washington Baths in her series about the history of our building.
You may be wondering, “What was the allure of the mineral spring water that caused the Washington Bath House to survive for sixty years?” The secret can be found in an article titled “Saratoga Mineral Springs Legend & History”.
If we step back in time, the earliest evidence of the water’s healing powers lies with Native Americans who drank and bathed in the springs. “Local lore says that the Mohawks called the area ‘Serachtuague’ to refer to it as a ‘place of fast-moving water’.” It was believed the name ‘Saratoga’ was a version of this original moniker.
Once the bath houses were built in the early twentieth century, doctors would prescribe patients to visit them for relief from a wide variety of ailments including heart or circulatory trouble, kidney and liver complaints, rheumatism, stomach or intestinal issues, nervous conditions, or skin diseases.
Saratoga’s spring water is not only rich in a wide variety of essential minerals, it is also naturally carbonated. This allowed the bath houses to offer unique natural treatments for irritating and painful ailments. Each bath house offered a different concentration of minerals, therefore each had a “menu” featuring specialized treatments. The most basic treatment was to drink the spring water which is still prevalent today and is given a nod in our city’s slogan, “Health, History, and Horses.”
–Mary Anne Fantauzzi, Docent Coordinator
May 20, 2020 | Karole Armitage
Last spring the National Museum of Dance opened The Karole Armitage Collection, a permanent installation of costumes donated to the Museum by groundbreaking dancer, choreographer, and director Karole Armitage. These extraordinary costumes, designed by David Salle, Alba Clemente, and Christian Lacroix, were first shown at the Museum in Making Art Dance, a major exhibition from Mana Contemporary in 2015 that explored Karole’s dynamic collaborations with visual artists. That same year, Karole choreographed and directed Dido and Aeneas for Opera Saratoga, performed in the courtyard of the National Museum of Dance. We are so pleased to share with you our recent interview with Karole Armitage.
You are unquestionably one of the world’s most prolific and diverse dance artists. What has compelled you to work in and create for not only the concert dance stage but for theater, opera, film, and beyond?
I’ve lived in many countries. One learns different ways of thinking and being when speaking a different language and living in a different rhythm. Different cultures have different ways of understanding how to be human. A diverse point makes for a richer life.
I love the energy of pop culture, I love the traditions of the classical arts, I am inspired by art traditions from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. There is richness everywhere. I like the desert, I like the rainforest, I like the mountains, I like the plains. I like theater, opera, film, and dance. The most important aspect of working in any form, is to have a strong point of view. You have to know what you’re aiming for and eliminate the rest. It is very severe. You must find what is essential.
Collaboration with visual artists is one of the hallmarks of your incredible oeuvre, explored in the exhibition Making Art Dance at Mana Contemporary which later travelled to the National Museum of Dance. Your partnerships with visual artists seem more unique than simply commissioning sets and costumes for a particular production. Would you agree and how do you typically approach these collaborations?
I enjoy collaboration because more
brains create more fun, excitement, and a broader picture of culture. I find
what works best is to choose people whose work is already in harmony with the
underlying philosophy of the work and unleashing them to be totally free. But
you must build in time for everyone to come up with their own point of view.
Everyone has to be generous and willing to discard ideas in finding their way
toward commonality. Without ever constraining the work by defining it, everyone
must intuit what it is and then aim for the underlying point of view in order
for a collaboration to be successful.
Visual artists are very audacious. They work alone and need only an audience of one who has the economic power to purchase a work in order to survive. In dance we need a massive consensus in order to get grants and an audience. This makes for a very different context. Visual artists push their ideas to a wonderful extreme. The artists I worked with brought incredible insight into the cultural moment and where it was going. They are very generous.
Your company, Armitage Gone! Dance, is a permanent resident at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. How has being part of this arts space enhanced your creative process and the evolution of your company?
Being a resident at Mana Contemporary is heaven for us. We have our own studio. This permits us to do a kind of work we could never do otherwise. When you are in the same studio where the shape and size is constant, the dance gets stronger, more sure, more wild, more free. Our own studio also gives us the ability to use props or objects or complex costumes in ways that would be impossible if we had to move from studio to studio every day as is typical in New York City. It has simply changed what our dance company is. It is invaluable.
You have directed and choreographed opera for many years and it was particularly thrilling for this community to have your Dido and Aeneas for Opera Saratoga performed in the courtyard of the National Museum of Dance. What was the genesis of that project and the importance for you in having it performed outside and in nature? What draws you to opera as art form?
Directing opera is my favorite thing
to do. You have an extraordinary piece of music, a poetic story, singers who,
being entirely musical, move beautifully and you can add all kinds of visual
and performance elements to enrich the pleasure of going into a dream-like
experience. Dance, in my way of working, requires inventing the “story” as we
go along. We are not telling or creating a narrative. We are making rules
and structures that become their own story. It is simply harder to make a dance
than to make a narrative come alive.
I was invited to direct Dido and Aeneas by Opera Saratoga. It was their idea to do it outside. When I went to see the space, I wanted it to stretch in ways that would allow us to embrace nature. We created a stage that encapsulated the trees and bushes in the area. Being in nature brings forth the mythic. There is truly magic in the air as the moon rises above you and you sit in the dark, feeling a lovely breeze as you watch and listen. That is potent.
Speaking of nature, your beautiful Fables on Global Warming felt so timely in 2013. Seven years later it feels even more crucial, along with On the Nature of Things (2015) performed at the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History. How does the natural world inspire your life and the creation of your works of art?
I am not interested in art that is
civic lesson, which unfortunately feels like much that is trending today.
However, there’s no doubt the climate change is an existential threat. While in
the middle of this unprecedented pandemic, we mustn’t forget that there is a
greater problem to be faced and that systemic change is essential. Nature gives
me great pleasure and renewal. Seeing it destroyed by a lack of consciousness
is painful to me. I decided to do several works on the theme. By bringing
emotion to a subject, people find the energy to respond. Statistics alone will
never galvanize us to take action. It is thrilling to see that young people
understand the importance of facing climate change and changing our way of
being. A consumer oriented economy based on obsolescence is self-destruction.
The natural world inspires me because of its prolific diversity. In the permutations of plant and animal life there is a boundless imagination and creativity born of adhering to rigorous, systematic structures. Art can never be as rich or profound as nature, but nature gives us a measure for our efforts.
Ideas from nature have inspired me to create complex geometry, curvilinear forms, simultaneous actions that are not unison but dancers moving with the same intentions, a natural ease and spontaneity – a general philosophy of being rather than trying to obtain a goal.
What are you working on now?
Good question and I wish I had an answer. I’m getting my energy up to think about how to think. What I love about Dance is its sensuality, the sharing with people in the room; it is not a form that lends itself to media. The body is an extraordinary technology. Adding an extraneous technology to it, dilutes the power of the body itself. I can imagine conceptual pieces that are more of a visual art experience than a dance experience. Those would be great on zoom. But what to do with dance? I don’t know. Anything on screen is a different form.
To learn more about Karole Armitage and Armitage Gone! Dance please visit her website.
May 18, 2020 | Collection Highlight – Loïe Fuller
The collection of the National Museum of Dance comprises objects such as costumes, set pieces, and works of fine art as well as archival materials including correspondence, season programs, playbills, books, periodicals, audio-visual materials, posters, scrapbooks, and thousands of photographs. The original proposal for the establishment of a permanent collection more than thirty years ago indicated the primary focus should be materials related to Hall of Fame inductees. Over the past three decades, the collection has further evolved to represent exhibitions presented by the Museum in addition to artifacts of consequence to the considerable history of dance. As the Museum remains temporarily closed we would like to highlight some new additions to the collection.
In early 2020 the Museum received an important donation of two costumes known to be from a 1909 Loïe Fuller performance at the Boston Opera House. The costumes were generously donated by the Robinson Ballet from the collection of Ralph Flanders, General Manager of the New England Conservatory of Music and the Boston Opera House in the early years of the twentieth century. Located on Huntington Avenue, the Boston Opera House opened in 1909 as the home of the new Boston Opera Company.
American modern dancer and choreographer Loïe Fuller was a pioneer in theatrical color lighting effects. Born in 1862, she lived and worked in France from the late nineteenth century and was widely known for her experimentation and innovation in color lighting and choreography, most notably utilizing voluminous silk costumes. The abstract imagery she created through choreography, costume, and lighting devices was incomparable and highly enviable. She therefore sought numerous patents to protect her work. After a long solo career in Europe, Fuller was appointed by the Boston Opera House in 1909 to direct the lighting effects as well as the ballet. An article in The New York Times in February that year indicated that productions of Rigoletto, Lohengrin, and Faust at the Boston Opera House would be “most wonderfully lighted” by Fuller. Her own troupe of dancers was also known to have performed in major east coast cities at that time including Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The Boston Opera Company was relatively short-lived and presented only six seasons.
These compelling 1909 costumes from the collection of Ralph Flanders were given to his grandson, Ralph Robinson, who with his wife Jeanne-Marie Aubert founded the Robinson Ballet in Bangor, Maine after careers as principal dancers with Lyon Opera Ballet in France.
To learn more about the Robinson Ballet please visit their website.
May 15, 2020 | The Washington Bath House Part III
In this week’s installment of our building’s history, Mary Anne Fantauzzi discusses the layout of the Washington Baths and its function as one of the world’s premier bath houses.
If you have the opportunity, during these days of social distancing, to take a peek inside the front door of the National Museum of Dance, allow yourself to step back in time and imagine a time when it looked very different. There were no decorative chandeliers illuminating its Foyer, only the massive windows still visible today to bathe the original marble floor in natural sunlight and stalwart pillars that have lasted the test of time.
The Washington Bath House featured eighty semi-private bathing rooms and twenty-four private rooms. It was able to treat large numbers of patrons while simultaneously offering private recuperation for those needing hydration therapy. Erroneously imagined as a spa or resort, it was conversely a long-time respite that lasted weeks if not months. Patients’ ailments ranged from the stresses of everyday life to lethargy from an iron deficiency or a toxic lymphatic system.
While the inside of the building offered healing for both mind and body, the building’s location within the Saratoga Spa State Park also offered outdoor activities that enhanced patrons’ well-being. The facilities included tennis courts, swimming pools, golf courses, calisthenic equipment, and walking paths to allow moderate exercise in addition to relaxation and leisure.
The original building’s interior is shaped like an H. Once wings for treatment rooms, they are now a variety of exhibition spaces, staff offices, archives, a resource library, storage space, black box theater, gift shop, and a multi-purpose room for rentals or classes. Ever-growing in its offerings, the National Museum of Dance continues to evolve as it spreads its mission to celebrate, develop, and promote a lasting appreciation and understanding of dance and its rich history.
–Mary Anne Fantauzzi, Docent Coordinator
May 13, 2020 | The Magic of Fred Astaire
This past Sunday, May 10, was Fred Astaire’s birthday. We’re thinking back to May 10, 2019 when we opened the exhibition Art of the Dance: Posters from Hollywood’s Golden Age from the Mike Kaplan Collection, a date chosen purposely to honor Astaire’s 120th birthday. He was among the first group to be inducted into the Museum’s Hall of Fame in 1987 and is celebrated in Art of the Dance with an entire gallery featuring thirty movie posters from his unparalleled, magnificent career. The following is the text panel from the Astaire gallery in Art of the Dance, a tribute we call The Magic of Fred Astaire, written by Mike Kaplan.
There is only one figure who transformed movie dancing to the level of poetry — Fred Astaire. Over four decades, Astaire’s sophisticated elegance transported us to other worlds, both imaginative and practical.
In the 1930s he essentially extended the life of the movie musical in the nine films he made with Ginger Rogers at RKO. It was said that “he gave her class and she gave him sex appeal” but their chemistry was grounded on wit, confidence, and impeccable timing as they courted and danced through an Art Deco world. He was young but always ageless and never more so than when his beautiful partners were twenty years younger – Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Powell. In the 1940s, besides two successes with the sensual Rita Hayworth, he also had major hits with another partner, Bing Crosby, beginning with Holiday Inn. Crosby was the great popular singer of the period but Astaire was an equally skilled interpreter of the Great American Songbook. All of the landmark composers – George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern – wanted their scores sung by Astaire.
When Astaire went to MGM in the late 1940s the studio’s vast array of musical talent in front of and behind the camera was at his disposal. Included in his MGM years are a trio of major musicals – Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, and what many consider his finest film, The Band Wagon.
There is always an abundance of joy, charm, and inventiveness when Astaire dances with his many talented partners. However, he is just as astonishing performing by himself – dancing on a ceiling, playing with toy instruments, or center stage against multiple images of his outstretched hands. The iconoclastic film director Werner Herzog has said “the greatest single sequence in all of film history is Fred Astaire dancing with his own shadows in Swing Time.”
Gene Kelly once prophesied that “fifty years from now, the only one of today’s dancers who will be remembered is Fred Astaire.” Kelly, as well as his dancing colleagues, have also left an enduring legacy. What Kelly acknowledges is that Astaire is a phenomenon as a singer, actor, comedian, and dancer and that his magic is assured as a highpoint of our cultural heritage. –Mike Kaplan
May 11, 2020 | Iain Webb
In October 2019, we had the great pleasure of welcoming Iain Webb, Director of The Sarasota Ballet, to the National Museum of Dance for the induction of Sir Frederick Ashton into the Hall of Fame. Iain also generously loaned several wonderful artifacts from his own collection for the Museum’s exhibition honoring the extraordinary life and career of Frederick Ashton. Following is a recent interview we did with Iain in which he discusses his own marvelous career, Frederick Ashton, and The Sarasota Ballet.
As someone who worked closely with Sir Frederick Ashton, what was the cornerstone of his choreographic genius?
I don’t think you can pick just one element or cornerstone to explain Ashton’s choreographic genius. Much like his body of work, which is so incredibly varied, there are so many equally important elements to his choreography. Much like Mr. Balanchine, he had an extraordinarily innate musicality, and he was also a remarkable storyteller (creating real people in all his characters). For me personally, I think I’ve always loved (both as a dancer and as an audience member) the way in which he used the whole body, from intricate footwork to those luscious body bends he is so famous for.
You danced Ashton ballets throughout your long career at The Royal Ballet. What were your favorite Ashton ballets to dance and why?
I always felt that his ballets felt so natural to dance, which is why I loved performing all of his works. To pick favorite moments though, it would have to have been my first performance of Colas in La Fille mal gardée. When we started to take our final curtain calls, Sir Fred appeared next to us on stage, as he had (unbeknownst to me) been watching the entire performance. Without a doubt the highlight of my whole career was working closely with him on the revival of Valses nobles et sentimentales. Also, performing one of the Ugly Sisters in his Cinderella was always such fun, and special not only because Sir Fred performed that role with Sir Robert Helpmann, but also because I performed that role for my retirement performances.
The Sarasota Ballet performs more Frederick Ashton ballets than any other company in the world, notably placing you at the forefront of the preservation of Ashton’s choreographic legacy. Why is this mission so important, especially in the twenty-first century?
One cannot grow without understanding and connecting with where one came from. For me, that’s true whether you’re talking about oneself or in this case an art form. Ballet must continue to evolve and grow; we wouldn’t be where we are today without artists and companies like the Ballets Russes taking risks and challenging the past. At the same time, to lose ballet’s beautifully rich history, not only risks the structural integrity of the art form, but also deprives audiences of extraordinary performances. This is true of so many of the great choreographers of the 20th century, from Massine through to Balanchine and Ashton.
For me, the mission to preserve Ashton’s legacy, came from two very different places. When I took over The Sarasota Ballet, Ashton’s choreography gave the company a unique identity and also helped form an artistic foundation to the Company and our dancers. It also came from a personal place, he gave me so much enjoyment both to watch and dance his works, and so I wanted to give the same opportunity to the dancers and audience members here in Sarasota (and also pay tribute to someone who meant so much to me).
I find it a lovely coincidence that The Sarasota Ballet and the National Museum of Dance were founded in the same year – 1987. You were appointed twenty years later, in 2007, as the third Director in the company’s history. Thirteen years on, what do you consider the major achievement or achievements in the tremendous evolution of The Sarasota Ballet?
Although the Company was founded in 1987 by Jean Weidner Goldstein, it was for those first few years just a presenting company, and so the first major achievement for The Sarasota Ballet would have been in 1990, the launching of the Company. However, if I look at our history during my time so far, it would probably be our first national performance, when we were invited by Suzanne Farrell to partner with her Company in celebration of its 10th Anniversary Season and perform Balanchine’s Diamonds. We performed with her up in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center. Of course, since then there have been many important and special moments, our performances at the Joyce Theater in New York, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Fall for Dance at New York’s City Center. However, it was Ashton’s Les Patineurs at Ballet Across America III, which first drew attention nationally and internationally to the Company. Following this, the 2014 Ashton Festival here in Sarasota, celebrating Ashton’s 25th Anniversary of his passing, was a memorable highlight for The Sarasota Ballet.
You are known for bringing a wide range of both established and emerging choreographers to work with the company. Who would you like to create works on/for the Sarasota Ballet in the coming years?
There are still so many choreographers I would like to bring into the repertoire of The Sarasota Ballet. There are the ballets of Massine, so phenomenal and so rarely seen; I’m working to expand our rep of MacMillan’s ballets; and we’re in the process of creating a five-year plan with Sir David Bintley to perform more of his ballets as well. I’m also really passionate about a major choreographic project that is starting this coming Season focusing on female choreographers. As you can imagine, for a Company with a reputation for historic works, I felt the best way to open this project would be a program featuring ballets by three women who played such vital roles in the growth of ballet in the 20th century. So, we’ll be performing Dame Ninette de Valois’ Checkmate again, and performing for the first time Agnes de Mille’s Fall River Legend and Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Biches. Looking to the future there are several choreographers of today that I’d love the Company to work with, but I don’t want to spoil any surprises and mention any names right now.
What’s your focus for the Sarasota Ballet during this unprecedented pause due to the COVID-19 crisis and what’s your vision for the company on the other side of this pandemic?
The focus right now is to keep both our audience members and our dancers positive and focused on the future. This is such a difficult time right now, and we were lucky in many ways because we had performed a great deal of our Season before the pandemic hit. We’ve also been incredibly fortunate that our community has really rallied behind the arts and shown us so much support, and because of this we were in a position to pay all our dancers their salaries and medical insurance all the way through to the end of their contracts even though we cancelled the season with almost two months to go.
When this is all finally over, we need to pick up where we left off, and focus on the growth and development of the dancers and to continue to bring extraordinary works of art to the stage.
To learn more about The Sarasota Ballet visit their website at www.sarasotaballet.org and social media platforms:
May 8, 2020 | The Washington Bath House Part II
Last week you learned the back story of the original Washington Bath House located at 99 South Broadway in Saratoga Springs. I hope the information has piqued your curiosity about its architectural structure. –Mary Anne Fantauzzi, Docent Coordinator
When one thinks about the historic buildings of the city, the older homes on North Broadway with their extravagant Victorian embellishments immediately come to mind. Built in the late nineteenth century, their extravagance was rejected by a new American Craftsman movement. This style was popularized at the turn-of-the-century when the Museum’s original structure was built and remained popular throughout the 1920s. Our national historic landmark building was renovated in 1918 to become the Washington Baths.
As you look at the front of the building, you will notice its low-pitched, overhanging roof, exposed rafters, and use of unadorned wood materials. It is fitting that this unpretentious style would house a building of therapeutic treatments and evoke a sensibility of calmness and simplicity. The Washington Bath House differed greatly from its neighboring Lincoln Bath House, originally built as an even simpler wooden structure in 1915 and destroyed by fire in 1927. The rebuilt bath house reopened in 1930 in the Federal style and was heralded as one of the world’s largest bath houses.
Complementing its architecture and inviting patrons from all over the world are the Museum’s expansive porches complete with original, lovingly restored wicker furniture. Wrapped in bathrobes, visitors would sit in simple wicker chairs and breathe in the crisp Adirondack air and glance at the expansive greenery of the Saratoga Spa State Park.
May 6, 2020 | Olympics and Dance
As we continue to prepare our upcoming Square Dance! exhibition, we plan to highlight certain aspects of the installation on the Blog. This square dance costume is from the Opening Ceremonies of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Veteran square dance caller Gloria Rios Roth created Kaleidoscope Square for the ceremonies, a piece performed by nearly one thousand Canadian modern western square dancers and called by Wilf Wiladel and Ron Refvik at McMahon Stadium. The squares featured four couples, each wearing matching costumes in orange, pink, yellow, and green. This example of the orange costume, generously loaned to the Museum and worn by Jane Kinzer, was made complete by silver leather boots and will be on view in Square Dance!. The history of dance in the Olympic Games is significant and subject matter we explored when preparing The Dancing Athlete exhibition in 2016. Ultimately, we weren’t able to include it in that exhibition. We are, however, very pleased to share it here and now.
The ancient Greek Olympics, held every four years between the 8th century BC and the 4th century AD, were a festival of achievement in both athletics and art, a celebration of the body and the mind. The first modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896 and twenty-five years later, the first Winter Olympics in Lausanne.
The Olympic Games served as a choreographic theme for modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn who charged his Men Dancers with the task of creating a group of dance works based on individual sports and their discrete movement. The result was the revolutionary Olympiad: A Suite of Sports Dances (1936) that included The Banner Bearer, The Cheer Leaders, Decathlon, Fencing, Boxing, and Basketball set to original music by Jess Meeker. Thirty years later, Gerald Arpino made his all-male Olympics for the Joffrey Ballet, clearly a nod to Shawn’s Olympiad and a tribute to the ancient games themselves noting as inspiration the “grace, beauty, rhythm, and style” by which the athletes were originally judged. Kenneth MacMillan created his Olympiad for the Deutsche Oper Ballet Berlin in 1968, the year of the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Set to Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Olympiad highlighted tennis and marathon running, with dancers costumed in classic track suits and tennis attire.
The rituals of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were established at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. The scope and spectacle of these events has since gained tremendous momentum and continues to garner great anticipation. Acclaimed choreographers have long been involved with the ceremonies, presenting dance as a defining element of each host country. Examples include Mary Wigman (1936 Berlin), Moses Pendleton (1980 Lake Placid and 2014 Sochi), Philippe Decoufflé (1992 Albertville), Shen Wei (2008 Beijing), Akram Kahn (2012 London), and Deborah Colker (2016 Rio).
In honor of the founding ideals of the ancient games, an Olympic Art Competition took place from 1912 to 1948, in which works of art inspired by sport were awarded medals in the fields of architecture, music, painting, sculpture, and literature. Hubert (Jay) Stowitts, an accomplished American dancer and artist, painted a series of some fifty portraits of nude athletes entitled American Champions for exhibition at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Notably, seven of the athletes depicted were Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, a potent implication of the athleticism and virility of male dancers. The principle of incorporating art in the Olympic Games was revived in the second half of the 20th century and is known today as the Cultural Olympiad. This international, noncompetitive program has presented works from celebrated dance companies such as Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch (1984 Los Angeles), Phoenix Dance Theatre (1996 Atlanta), and STREB Extreme Action Company (2012 London).
We hope to be able to share a new opening date for Square Dance! in the coming months. Please be sure to check our website and social media platforms for updates.
May 4, 2020 | Betti Franceschi
Ageless Dancers: Photographs by Betti Franceschi will be the next exhibition in the Museum’s Art in the Foyer series. Her highly compelling photographs document iconic senior dancers, exploring physicality, expressive energy, and line in these inspiring, ageless artists. Following is a recent interview we did with Betti Franceschi.
Dancers have been subject matter for you throughout your career and across various mediums. What first compelled you to focus on dance artists and what keeps you coming back to them?
I am and always was a wannabe dancer! My mother gave me ballet lessons at eight for my flat feet and stopped them when I fell in love with ballet. I managed to study more with the first university ballet teacher at Indiana University, and danced in some music school performances, and I managed to study more as an adult. When my daughter Antonia was born, she had such perfect feet and then a perfect body, I moved us to New York for the training she warranted. I learned and observed as she grew up and danced with New York City Ballet.
I have a very bad stutter. Dance and horseback riding were for years my only experiences of any kind of fluency in real time. So, of course, I love dance.
Each group of my work explains a different aspect of a dancer’s experience. The Still Point drawings show the dancer’s center and how it is used. The Signature movement drawings show the dancer’s inner line of expression. The Ageless Dancers photographs imply the inner line because by this time the technique is not at its peak, but the line and the spirit remain triumphant.
What was the genesis of Ageless Dancers?
In 1987, I went with my daughter to the New York City Ballet season in Paris. At the gala of the season, the audience was as exciting as the performance on stage. The Parisian women in their couture were stunning. But they could not hold a candle to the few retired ballet étoiles, in their signature jackets from their prime. At three in the morning exactly thirty years later I sat up in my bed with the realization that I had to photograph those étoiles. Turned out I did it not in Paris but here in my studio. It took four photographers to teach me to use a camera. In the session with the fourth photographer, Ken Pao, we came up with the black background that turns out to be perfect, and to free the dancers of mortal limitations!
Ageless Dancers is such a vital project and seems especially so at this particular moment in time. Why do you think that is and what has surprised you most about creating this profound body of work?
What has surprised me is how natural and easy it has been to make these photographs. I do nothing but finagle a dancer to come to my studio. We are each terrified. The dancer asks me, “What do you want me to do?” I have no idea! So the dancer gets on the black ground and I pick up my camera and we start moving around. Turns out each dancer knows exactly what to do. They know their strong points and they – not I – know their weaknesses, and off they go! I think great dancers negotiate their strengths and weaknesses through their whole careers, so it’s first nature to them. I just shoot until we both get tired or bored and that’s it. I’m always afraid I got nothing good until I start editing the images… and I am always amazed as I play with the color and the crop, which ducklings turn out to be swans!
What do you hope to reveal or convey in your photographs of ageless dancers?
I have no intention… it’s the dancer’s performance, not mine. What interests me in all my work with dancers is physical intelligence. It’s visible. All my work with dancers comes from my fascination with actually seeing someone think. It’s thrilling!
If you could photograph any ageless dancer you haven’t yet, who would it be?
Mikhail Baryshnikov, Judith Jamison, Suzanne Farrell, Allegra Kent, Ghislaine Thesmar, Irina Kolpakova, Natalia Makarova.
I find you and your work so incredibly inspiring. What’s your secret to a long, creative life?
I can’t believe I’m 85 because I just don’t feel what I imagine an 85-year-old is supposed to feel. I had this conversation with my friend Norman McGrath, the architectural photographer, who has a few years on me, and is still going strong. We said exactly the same thing: you have to be chasing something. I’m lucky that what has always interested me, still does.
Besides your upcoming exhibition at the National Museum of Dance, what are you working on now or what’s next?
I haven’t drawn or painted in several years because my eyes no longer see what interests me in those disciplines. I have been sculpting, which I love, and I find sculpture demands a different, and in many ways, more complex way of observing visual fact.
We hope to share more information soon regarding a reopening date for the National Museum of Dance and a new opening date for the Ageless Dancers exhibition. In the meantime, to see more of Betti Franceschi’s work please visit her website.
May 1, 2020 | The Washington Bath House
For the next six weeks, the Museum’s Docent Coordinator, Mary Anne Fantauzzi, will present a series exploring the history of our turn-of-the-century national historic landmark building. Follow along as she highlights what makes the home of the National Museum of Dance so unique.
Although our community-at-large is practicing social distancing, we are blessed to be so near the expansive, serene, and historic Saratoga Spa State Park. One may safely walk for miles amid the towering pines surrounded by inspirational words inscribed above stone archways with nary another human within close proximity.
Nestled off a path at the Route 9 end of the Avenue of the Pines, yet clearly visible from South Broadway, lies a gem in the rough with a rich history and a transformation that sets it apart from other institutions in the United States.
This building, with its understated yet elegant white exterior, inviting front porch, and gardens showing the first signs of Spring’s majestic blooms, houses the National Museum of Dance, the only museum in the country dedicated entirely to dance. If its walls could talk, they would boast of a long and sustained past as the Washington Bath House, which opened in 1918.
This bath house offered therapeutic services to patrons suffering from a wide variety of physical conditions. Its location could not have been more perfect for it was situated on a publicly funded reservation created to preserve the natural spring water of Saratoga Springs. In 1909, concerned that the commercial bottling and sale of the water would inevitably deplete the water levels, the city’s citizens petitioned the state to protect public access to the water.
In response, the State of New York created a state reservation around the springs, now known as the Saratoga Spa State Park, and promoted the development of several spa bath houses. These spas would prove to be the driving force of Saratoga Springs’ development, attracting people from all over the world to the healing waters of its springs.
–Mary Anne Fantauzzi, Docent Coordinator
April 29, 2020 | Mike Kaplan
To commemorate the first Oscar for Dance Direction awarded to Dave Gould for the spectacular “Straw Hat Number” in Folies Bergère (1935), the National Museum of Dance is presenting a newly created poster to join our exhibition Art of the Dance: Posters from Hollywood’s Golden Age from the Mike Kaplan Collection. The new Folies Bergère poster was conceived by art director Mike Kaplan, working with artist Brant Yang over a two-month period. It is the first of three posters designed to acknowledge major dance sequences that have never been adapted for key poster art. Kaplan feels painting and illustration elevate a film poster’s impact. This prevails in the Art of the Dance exhibition, derived from his world-renowned collection. The following post features reflections from Mike Kaplan on Folies Bergère and the creation of this new poster.
Inspired by and expanding on Busby Berkeley’s geometric formations, the dance extravaganza in the new Folies Bergère poster adapts star Maurice Chevalier’s trademark straw hat as the dominant image in a kaleidoscope of straw-hat imagery, topped by Chevalier and co-star Ann Sothern surrounded by hundreds of hat-ted chorines. Our new Folies Bergère poster captures the dynamic of the “Straw Hat” finale with a joyful Chevalier and Sothern dancing on a giant hat above a circular chorus of showgirls on the hat’s brim. Parisian landmarks provide a backdrop. A formal black, white, and grey color scheme reflects the film’s costumes, with a flamboyant pink-purple-lavender palette highlighting the logo and credits. In marking the importance of the choreography and the Academy Award, Dave Gould’s Dance Director credit now receives equal billing with Director Roy Del Ruth.
Folies Bergère was a major film, among the best of the 1930s, but one that for mysterious reasons has been overlooked when discussing the key musicals of the period. The movie’s A-list talent, literate screenplay, and fluid direction take the conventions of the double identity plot to sophisticated heights. The film’s exuberant choreography includes the opening “Rhythm of the Rain” production number, as Maurice Chevalier splashes and dances in water. It’s an obvious precursor and inspiration for Gene Kelly’s iconic “Singin’ in the Rain” street solo in the 1952 film. Dave Gould has thirty-nine film credits as choreographer and twenty-eight as a director of short films. He received Oscar nominations for Born to Dance, Broadway Melody of 1936, and A Day at the Races in each of the three years the Dance Direction category existed. He counts The Gay Divorcee, Flying Down to Rio, and Nothing Sacred among his other credits.
Maurice Chevalier was a top film star in the early 30s, working with Ernst Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian in a series of sophisticated romantic comedies, with music. Folies Bergère ended the first phase of his American film career on a high note. He returned to France where his debonair, mischievous personality drew thousands of fans to his one-man song and dance shows and to his European films. It was twenty-four years before he returned to major American filmmaking with Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon (1957) and Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi (1958). He received an Honorary Academy Award in 1959 for his contributions to the world of entertainment for half a century.
For Ann Sothern, Folies Bergère and the earlier Kid Millions with Eddie Cantor were the two A-list musicals she made in the 30s. Sothern danced in her first color film, the fictionalized biopic of Rodgers and Hart, Words and Music (1948), performing “Where’s That Rainbow” in a rainbow-colored production number choreographed by Robert Alton. She was equally talented in comedies, musicals and dramas, often called the “Queen of the B’s,” excelling in everything she did. She received her sole Oscar Nomination for The Whales of August (1987), which I produced, also starring Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, and Vincent Price.
The film also stars Merle Oberon, best remembered today for starring in Wuthering Heights (1939) opposite Laurence Olivier. In 1935 she made two films, Folies Bergère and The Dark Angel, for which she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. –Mike Kaplan
The new Folies Bergère poster will be unveiled once the Museum reopens. Limited edition copies of the poster, as well as postcards, will be available from the National Museum of Dance Shop.
April 27, 2020 | Joanne Savio
We’re so pleased our inaugural post is an interview I recently did with photographer Joanne Savio, whose mesmerizing images of dancers and choreographers currently fill our foyer walls in the exhibition On Being Still: Portraits by Joanne Savio. –Lisa Kolosek, Curatorial Associate
Who was the first dancer (or dance company) you photographed and what drew you back to photographing dance after that first experience?
This memory always makes me smile. The first dance project I was asked to do was to go to Merce Cunningham’s studio in Westbeth in 1989 and shoot a portrait of him for a new magazine called Dance Ink. Being a late bloomer, I had graduated from The Cooper Union just a few years before. A fellow student, friend, and mentor, Abbott Miller, was designing the magazine. I’ll always be grateful to him for this chance. There was very little budget for the project. My husband was my assistant and we rode the subway with my camera, tripod, and one light. Not having any background in dance other than tap class at 8 years old, I had a well-earned reputation of being clumsy. I had no idea about the dance world. I’ve always believed in researching my subjects and started to learn about Merce. We arrived at the studio, and there were dancers practicing in a corner. I was in awe. I couldn’t stop staring at these figures that seemed to move as if they were almost swimming through air. I remember thinking, what would that type of movement, dependent on my timing and instinct, look like in a still photograph?
A staff member told me Merce would be out in a moment. When he came out, he seemed to glide across the floor, with an aura of ephemeral modesty. He simply asked me “what would you like me to do?”
And that was it for me. I fell in love with Merce and with dance. That moment, nurtured by many more projects from Dance Ink, and The Brooklyn Academy of Music, changed my life, and expanded my career as a photographer beyond anything I could have imagined. I wanted to do more of this, I was hungry and curious for it, and I felt a real connection and desire to enter this portal. I wanted to see if I could anticipate, visualize, as the movement was happening, and pull something that would be symbolic and meaningful from what I was seeing. I saw such potential with lighting, and angles, and with breaking rules! The potential to experiment, to never really know what you captured till you saw the film after processing, was both dangerous and tempting. I wanted to meet the people who created this strange language, how do they imagine movement? What happens when they’re still and I get to study them? I wanted to do more, and that feeling never stopped.
Your photographs of dancers in stillness are tremendously powerful. What is it about dancers, masters of movement, that makes them equally as compelling in stillness?
That’s a great question Lisa, and I hope I can answer it. I think for me, the power to make an image that engages the viewer starts with my research. I come to those shoots with respect, excitement, and fear, and often too many ideas. I read and look at everything I can about my sitter beforehand. I let the research inspire me as to the lighting and other tools I might use for the portrait. There is a love affair that starts for me before I get to meet my subjects. Based on what I’ve learned about them, I come with respect and admiration. I feel I elicit trust back in return, because my subjects sense I care, and I do. Even when these artists are still, you can feel their power, confidence, fearlessness, and the fact they have a secret. I like to look for it or show clues that it exists. I like the tension between these masters who live in a world of movement, and now I have them “still.”
In the exhibition labels for On Being Still you shared fantastic behind-the-scenes stories about each of the photographs. Would you be willing to share a story from the making of a photograph we didn’t include in the exhibition?
I just love Mark Morris. I mean, come on. To me there is a blend of so many things in this being that I am quite enamored by the range. He was accessible and I loved the opportunity to work with him. Through my own research in prep for my Dance Ink assignment, and reading Joan Acocella’s writings about him, I knew how important his mom Maxine was to him. Something about Mark Morris and his mother intrigued me as a duo. I think it might be easy to imagine why. I contacted the studio, and they agreed to come by for a session. Mark and Maxine. Cute as the dickens. Sitting on her lap at times, dancing and gesturing around her, it was obvious to feel the love and humor between them. She was so real and understated, and I felt honored to be there with them, and what a reminder having that love and support must have meant to Mark growing up. She was precious.
If you could photograph any dancer or dance company you haven’t yet, who would it be?
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I’ve come close to working with the company in the past and have worked with some of their dancers for my book and other personal projects but would love to work with their company.
Do you prefer film or digital photography for shooting dance?
I’m an extreme romantic which is another reason I love shooting dance. I loved my medium format film cameras more than any other possession. Reality is, times have changed. Living in the countryside now, away from master labs in the city that still manage to process black and white, and color negative film, digital is what I have to work with. Digital comes with its own issues. So easy to capture, so many images out there, lighting apps, lens apps, effects apps, etc. All this led me to come to my own mantra, and to tell my students at NYU, “Stop the Capture and feel the Rapture!” Sometimes it’s good to just observe, I think it makes us better photographers, maybe even better human beings?
Do you have any advice for someone interested in a career in dance photography?
Stay curious and hungry. Take chances, do projects that help you learn to see regardless of any financial gain. Be passionate, people know when you are, and when you are faking it. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, go against the grain and do what is unpredictable. Cover your tracks and then do something totally unexpected. Come into every session with respect and humility. Have your eyes tell the truth.
What are you working on now?
My archives. It’s a bit daunting. Boxes of prints, negatives, contact sheets, and not being a natural organizer, I have plenty of work right now to keep me going.
I’ve been in discussion with two institutions that have interest in archiving much of my work. I feel it’s not only a legacy project, but a way to honor my sitters. It feels like you are “tucking the work in” safely and making it available to others for years to come. The other aspect of organizing your archives is you are also accepting you will not be here forever. The work will continue to live beyond me. I also feel the process allows my memory to come alive. I’ve shed tears and laughter looking through these archives, and always come away thinking, it’s been a very good life.
To see more of Joanne Savio’s work please visit her website