hanya holm ray harrison
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Finding a Place for Hanya HolmClaudia GitelmanStandardhistories of modern dance have tended to regardHanya Holm as an extraneousfigure,creditingher with having adaptedGermanmethods of dance trainingfor Americaneducationalconsumptionand for influencing an arrayof studentswho became famous. History texts, which group Holm with other artists who taught at the Bennington School of the Dance (1934-1942), marginalizeher for the fluid scenarioof her career after Bennington. Holm's complex career is intriguing for what it suggests about issues of nationalism,regionalism, elitism, and popular culture in moderndance historicalorthodoxy. careers.From Holm can be seen as havinghad fourchoreographic 1935 to 1944, while she maintaineda company, first under Mary Wigman's name and then her own, she presentedseasons in New York and undertookfive national tours, winning the New York Times Award for in best Group Choreography 1937 with Trendand the Dance Magazine Award for Best Group Choreographyin 1939 with Tragic Exodus. In Holm's second choreographiccareer, which began in 1941, she made worksfor advancedstudentsandguest artistswho attendedher forty-three summersof instructionand dance productionin Colorado;Glen Tetley, FredBerk, KatyaDelakova,Murray Alwin Nikolais, Ray Harrison, Louis, Joan Woodbury,David Wood, Don Redlich, Jeff Duncan,and JanetCollins are just a few of the well-known dancers who performedthere.
? 2000 by Claudia Gitelman Publishedby Marcel Dekker, Inc.
Roy Harris,Arch Lauterer,and Hanya Holm in 1942, conferring on theirtwo collaborations,WhatSo Proudly WeHail and Namesake. Photographby Loyde Knutson.By courtesy of the Hanya Holm family.
FINDINGA PLACEFOR HANYAHOLM
Holm's third,and overlapping,choreographic careerwas in commercial theatre.Beginning with Ballet Ballads, the play Insect Comedy, and Kiss Me, Kate in 1948, she choreographeda parade of Broadway musicals through the 1950s, peaking with My Fair Lady in 1956, and continuinginto the mid-1960s. During that time she also choreographed a film musical and television specials and directedopera.Finally, in 1975 Holm returnedto concert choreographyin a wider arena and made four works for the Don Redlich Company,one of which touredthe world with Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project. Immigrantsurvival strategies may have been responsible for the range of Holm's achievements. JohannaKuntze had entered the professional world of modem dance in Dresden in 1920, when, a twenty-seven-year-olddivorcee responsible for an infant son, she petitionedthe greatGermandancerMary Wigman, for instruction.She was alreadylicensed to teach the Dalcroze method of rhythmictrainingfor musicians and dancers,and a year after accepting her as a student, Wigman appointedher an assistant teacher. Takingthe stage name HanyaHolm, she dancedin the companyWigman formed in 1923, not only performing,but also managingtravel and bagon gage transport the group's many tours. In 1929 Wigman asked her to assume co-directorshipof her school. Independentprojects outside the Wigman School were of a dance/dramanature, staging Euripides' The Bacchae in Holland and Stravinsky'sL'Histoire du soldat in Dresden. When she came to New York in 1931 to direct the newest in the networkof Wigman schools, she probablyknew thatshe would not return to Germany.While teaching and performingwith Wigman she had lived of throughthe hyperinflation the early 1920s andexperiencedthe political and economic chaos ignitedby the crashof 1929. She had seen nationalistic displaysin the beer halls of Munichwhile rehearsing Wigman's Totenmal for the ThirdDancers Congressof 1930 and was foresightedenough to think that such rowdiness and hate could consume Germany. Professionally, Holm had worked so deeply in the shadow of Wigman that it was unlikely that she would be able to establish an independentcareerin Europe,as had some otherWigmanstudents:the electric GretPalucca,the intense HaraldKreutzberg, drivenMargarethe the Wallmann. But remainingwith Wigman had become painful. Holm's threehad year love affairwith an intelligent,worldly industrialist broughtsatisfaction, stability, and excitement, but when her lover became Wigman's
financial adviser, he and Wigman discovered an instant,mutualinfatuation. In his anguished letters to Holm (now in the Dance Collection of the New York Public Libraryfor the PerformingArts) we hear through them her desperationas he pulled away. While her move to Americaprovided a clean break with some problems,it ensnaredher in others. Holm may not have expected the strength of competition she would face from Americandancerswho had made the leap into modernism when Wigman was alreadyat the peak of her creative powers. The cachet of Wigman's name put Holm in the first rankof teachersand authoritieson the new dance, but she had not had as much experiencewith MarthaGraham, concert choreographyas her New World counterparts. Doris Humphrey,and Helen Tamirishad full concerts of solo and group worksbehindthem;they hadbegunto build audiences,andthey had partisans. AnothercalculationHolm and Wigman could not have made in 1931 was the barbarisminto which their homeland would sink, making a pariahof things German.First Jewish students,then liberals, and soon all politically alert artistsbegan to shun the New York Wigman School until, in 1936, Holm found it necessary to cut ties to her source. The companythatwas touringas the Groupof the New York WigmanSchool of the Dance became the Hanya Holm Company. Holm had made friends by that time. John Martin championed her workandhelpedherto sanitizeherbackground extolling herAmerby icanness.The foundersof the BenningtonSchool of the Dance recognized her gifts as a teacherand felt that associatingher with fascism was unfair; they invited her to be one of the "Big Four" aroundwhom the summer curriculumwas organized. A studentand friend, MarthaWilcox, paved the way for the debutof the HanyaHolm Company.A benefactressmade it possible for her to bringher son out of Germany.In 1936 Holm became a United States citizen. By the mid-1930s dancersandcritics were inventingan American genesis for moderndance and denying influencefrom exchange with Europe. Motives behind this nationalisticurge of the dominantAmerican dance communitywere many. First, no doubt, was an artisticconfidence that led to a vision of uniqueness.Second was the well-worn battle with ballet, in some eyes a decadent form of the Europeanaristocracy.The fascist ascendancyin Europe,which caused enrollmentin Holm's school to fall before and even after she broke her business ties with Wigman,
FINDING A PLACE FOR HANYA HOLM
did not figure overtly in maneuversto nationalizemoderndance, for the moderndance establishmentalso wished to distance itself from a group of radicaldancerswho were using theirplatformsand stages to fight social injustice and denounce fascism. The strengthof anti-Germanfeeling in dance in 1936 bubbled into the mainstreampress in a diatribeby Ted Shawn, who, ironically, denouncedhis own formerstudents-Martha Graham,Doris Humphrey, and CharlesWeidman-as well as Holm when he wrote that "although they have been thoroughlygroundedin the rich andinclusive styles which I taughtthem, [they] have remainedstrongly on the side of the German extremeleft wing-dynamism, distortion,'abstract'and 'absolute'dance being preachedby them, with a paralleldenial of all else in the dance as having value." With the phrase"extremeleft wing" Shawnwas not writing about politics; his lengthy article was critical of his former students' devotion to individualexpression. In rejectingthe Germandance for its aim to "evolve movements from an inner, dynamic, kinetic impulse," he rejected all that his own students were striving for, their own contemporary and national voice. He also confirmed that, in his view, Americandance had acceptedtoo much influencefrom the dance culture of Europe. Wigman's three United States tours from 1930 to 1933 had been preceded by visits of the German dancers Eugene von Grona, Harald Yvonne Georgi, and Hans Wiener(laterknown as JanVeen). Kreutzberg, Many others came later to performand teach. Americanstraveledto Europe to see dance andto study.One motive for the foundingof Bennington was admirationfor Europeandance congresses and the desire to provide domestic competitionwith Germanschools and summercourses;just before Holm set out for New York, Americanshad composed fully half of the summercourse at the Wigman CentralInstitutein Dresden. But many Americandance artistsrejectedthe suggestionof Euroinfluence. In an essay publishedin 1935 MarthaGrahamcriticized pean those who went abroad"to acquirean alien mannerand form," writing, "We cannot transplantthe foreign dance-forms,and we fight in a vain effort to breathelife into them." She arguedthat enthusiasmfor German 2 influence dance was "misdirection." Graham' need to disputeEuropean s is evidence that it was prevalent. How was Holm's craftingof an Americanidentity influencedby the hostility she confrontedin the 1930s and how did she respondas an
Hanya Holm (far right) and her company, probablyin Dance of Workand Play in 1938. Photography Ralph Samuels. By by courtesy of the Hanya Holm family.
artist? Her first strategy was to place the sunny side of her personality center stage. While Grahamand Humphrey,the two leading women fig-
uresin American modemdance,appeared and austere, calculating, aloof, Holmwas affable,guileless,andcharming. speechandthe earlyesHer in and nevercriticizsaysshewrotewerehumble patient tone.Suggesting, she presented herselfas a learner withthe responsibility under"to ing, EdnaOcko,the leadingdancejournalist of standas well as to instruct."3 theradical the Hanya pressduring 1930s,saidin 1996,