Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Helen Tamiris: An Unsung Hero of the New Deal?

 (Helen Tamiris in 1948, image courtesy of Wikipedia and the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Helen Tamiris (1902-1966) was an American dance choreographer & instructor. According to Dr. Elizabeth McPherson of Montclair State University, Tamiris "lobbied successfully for the inclusion of a Federal Dance Project" in the WPA. McPherson writes that Tamiris "felt a kinship with oppressed people and wished to bring themes of oppression and overcoming oppression to the stage" (see Dr. McPherson's full essay: "Helen Tamiris, 1902-1966").

(The "Trojan Incident" was a WPA theatre production about the "cruelty and futility of war" (see script here). Helen Tamiris was one of the authors of the play. The WPA poster above was created by artist Leslie Bryan Burroughs. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Dr. McPherson argues that Helen Tamiris "is one of the great pioneers of American modern dance. A dynamic dancer and choreographer, she explored themes that were central to the American experience viewed in a broad, multicultural manner...Descriptions of Tamiris invariably include the word 'powerful,' describing both her dancing and the force of her personality."

Dr. McPherson concludes her essay on Helen Tamiris by pointing out that "there is not yet a comprehensive study of Tamiris' life and career."

Well, hopefully there will be one day, because her influence on modern dance, her concern for the downtrodden, and her contribution to the New Deal, with respect to the arts, seems substantial.

("Salut Au Monde" was a WPA theatre production choreographed and directed by Helen Tamiris. Note, in the the poster above, both Tamiris' name and the fact that the production is based on a Walt Whitman poem. WPA poster created by Richard Halls, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(An interesting video of Helen Tamiris teaching at the 1959 American Dance Festival. Original YouTube video, on the American Dance Festival's YouTube channel, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AY3dohXbl8g.)

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