Friday, March 25, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 1: Bringing modern dance to the people - through the WPA

(Helen Tamiris, center, with fellow dancers Augusta Gassner, Dvo Seron, Ailes Gilmour, Marion Appell, and Lulu Morris, 1937. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

As a choreographer and dancer in the WPA's Federal Dance Project (part of the larger Federal Theatre Project) from 1936 to 1939, Helen Tamiris achieved her goal of bringing modern dance to more people. In 1948, she wrote: "In the early days, in the Twenties, there were many times when I doubted that modern dance would ever reach a large audience.  But the years of the Great Depression and the experience of working as a choreographer for the Federal Theatre Project settled that doubt.  When Charles Weidman's Candide and my How Long, Brethren? and Adelante were presented to cheering audiences that had never seen a dance recital, I knew that the modern dance was not an esoteric passing phase of dance to be enjoyed only by the cognoscenti, but one that could reach large audiences" (Christena L. Schlundt, Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career, 1927-1955, New York: New York Public Library, 1972, pp. 75-76)

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