Dance Students Perform at the 92nd Street Y in NYC

Students dance at venue once graced by greats such as Charles Weidman and Anna Sokolow

On April 15, Montclair State University dance students performed at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Accompanying them were Elizabeth McPherson, Dance Education coordinator, Prof. Linda Roberts and guest artist Lynn Frielinghaus.

McPherson said the dancers performed Charles Weidman’s Lynchtown (1936), excerpts from Sophie Maslow’s Folksay (1942), and Hortense Lieberthal Zera’s Never Sign a Letter Mrs. (1942), drawn from the department’s Americana repertory for the 2010-2011 school year.

Also included in the concert were dancers from New York University performing Weidman’s Brahm’s Waltzes, as well as the director of New York’s 360° Dance Company, Martin Løfsnes, performing Jane Dudley’s Time is Money (1934).

“The five dances presented showed a broad spectrum of dance from modern dance pioneers including use of text, political statements, and pure dance,” McPherson said.

In the audience that day, McPherson said, was the 94-year-old choreographer Zera.

“She was thrilled to see her dance Never Sign a Letter Mrs., which has only been performed a handful of times since she choreographed it in 1939,” McPherson explained.

Also in the audience were several people who had danced with one or more of the choreographers of the dances presented McPherson noted.

“At the talkback following the performance, several of these people offered their comments and recollections of what it was like to work with Charles Weidman and Sophie Maslow,” she said.

Among these was Margaret O’Sullivan, of the Charles Weidman Foundation, who McPherson said  told a humorous story of calling to tell Weidman she was sick and could not be in a performance. Weidman responded by asking, “Can you walk?” O’Sullivan, thinking that he was asking if she could make it to the kitchen to get tea and toast, responded, “Yes.” Weidman then said, “If you can dance, you can walk!” and hung up the phone.

“It was a reminder of the tenacity and sheer willpower that the early modern dancers had to have to establish this new art form and nurture its growth against overwhelming obstacles such as lack of funding,” McPherson explained.

McPherson said it was a memorable trip for students from the outset.

“The dancers rode to and from Manhattan on a tour bus we had chartered for them, like a true dance company, riding in style,” she said. “From the moment they arrived,  the students were inspired by looking at the photos of pioneers of modern dance who performed at the Y in the 1930s and 1940s. They eagerly identified each of the prominent dancers on the wall – Weidman, Anna Sokolow, and Doris Humphrey among others.”

It was an equally momentous experience for McPherson herself.

“One highlight of the performance for me was seeing Mr. Weidman’s Brahm’s Waltzes performed back to back with his Lynchtown,” she said. “The two dances could not be more different – one light and airy and the other intense, dark, and dramatic.

“The other highlight was seeing our dancers perform from their hearts, with attention to every dramatic and technical nuance. I hope it is the first of many performances for each of them in that dance capital of the world, New York City.”