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humphrey choreography

Choreography By Doris Humphrey

Available For Performance

Solos -- Duets -- Trios -- Small Group -- Large Group


QUASI-WALTZ (1929) (Scriabin)
1 woman; 1 minute, 45 seconds

Set to a delicate ripple of melodies in three-quarter time, the dancer “runs and skips, sways and turns, giving the impression of abandon by carefully planned effects.” - Marcia Siegel

SARABANDE (1928) (Rameau-Godovsky)
1 woman; 3 minutes

A study in aristocratic deportment, Sarabande is based on the early Spanish-Moorish dance form zarabanda. The performer twists and swirls in her extensive long gown, manipulating the fabric as if displaying herself to an imaginary onlooker.

SCHERZO WALTZ, also known as HOOP DANCE (1924) (Ilgenfritz)
1 woman; 3 minutes

This delightful dance is a solo game with a large wooden hoop. The dancer extends the realm of her world as she rolls the hoop and skips playfully through its circumference then hoists it over her head like an Art Deco sculpture. During its time of creation, Hoop Dance was imitated throughout the world in both dance and sculpture.

THE BANSHEE (1928) (Cowell) 1 woman; 3 minutes
In Gaelic folklore the banshee foretells the oncoming of death. Extricated limbs slither out from behind a short screen which doubles as a tombstone. The wailing creature finally emerges from behind the screen, but it is too late.

THE CALL/BREATH OF FIRE (1929 – 30) (Rudhyar)
1 woman; 3.5 minutes

These dramatic solos, performed together, represent a statement about the early development of modern dance as well as about the growth of the individual. Miss Humphrey’s own notes are: “The dissonant power of Rudhyar’s music fitly expresses the call to a new vision, which is followed by a shriving of the old body and old ideas through the purification of fire.” The reference may be taken as an allusion to Miss Humphrey’s break with Denishawn in 1928 and to her creation of a new form of dance or, more abstractly, to a process by which a person matures.

1 woman; 6 minutes, 20 seconds

In this unusually pure example of modern dance, the choreographer deliberately avoids the balletic. The soloist uses her torso as the source of movement, adding arm or leg gestures as a consequence of the torso’s action or as counterbalances or as assertions. Gravity is shown as a pull you cannot escape and must live with. “Circular Descent is about the yielding of a strong woman who gives way reluctantly; her circling is voluptuous and circuitous – the planted feet and active thighs could spring her upright again if she wanted. As soon as she falls, she begins Pointed Ascent, jutting out an elbow, a knee, gathering her weight in order to press upward. To finish, she is triumphantly vertical, and the statement is: I understand passion, but I will not be ruled by it.” – Deborah Jowitt

VALSE CAPRICE, also known as SCARF DANCE (1920) (Chaminade)
1 woman; 4 minutes

This solo marks the beginning of Doris Humphrey’s professional career. Using a fifteen foot length of China silk, the dancer manipulates the scarf into a variety of shapes resembling liquid calligraphy. Many years later in her autobiography, Doris Humphrey referred to it as her “dance with a long scarf which was quite brilliant”.

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DUO-DRAMA (1935) (Harris)
1 woman, 1 man; 22 minutes

Duo –Drama represents the struggle for supremacy between a man and a woman. The three sections (Unison and Divergence-Phantasm-Integration) clearly reflect Humphrey’s early views on the equality of the sexes. The steps are bold and angular and wonderfully capture the spirit of the modern dance movement of the 1930s. In seeing a revival, Deborah Jowitt of the Village Voice proclaimed it as "one of the best new dances I’ve seen in a while”. (1988)

ETUDE PATETICO (1928) (Scriabin)
1 woman, 1 man; 3 minutes

Beautifully created and sculpted, this highly-charged dramatic duet displays Humphrey’s early penchant for design. It begins with a romantic embrace. Then the man, strong and independent moves about as the woman tries to fit into his pattern. But her own demands, which are ignored, yield to an altercation. The romance is broken as he exits, and she is left alone.

RUDEPOEMA (1934) (Villa Lobos)
1 woman, 1 man; 20 minutes

Rudepoema charts the romantic relationship between a man and a woman. The first section, “Love Dance”, suggest the intense, intimate relationship between the two. The second movement, “Play Dance”, finds the pair poking fun at each other while spoofing the attitude of an operatic diva and an ever-demanding man, which leads into a tug-of-war battle. The final section, “Dance to the Gods”, finds the pair in a reverential mode honoring their experiences together. Throughout the dance, a long piece of fabric weaves about them making inventive use of the prop as a shawl, leash and a blanket.

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DAY ON EARTH (1947) (Copland)
2 women, 1 man, 1 child; 20 minutes

The age-old cycle of work, love, birth, loss, companionship, death, and continuation, Day On Earth is the best example of the combined humanistic and kinesthetic possibilities of modern dance. In a completely non-literal, poetic way, but with a rich emotional tone, it compresses a world of experience into a small, spare form.

INVENTION (1949) (Lloyd)
2 women, 1 man; 12 minutes

Frequently used as a program opener for the Limon Company, Invention is a pure dance piece, rich in ideas that are charmingly developed, consisting of a solo, two duets, and a trio. “One can look at Invention as the depictions of changes in a man’s personality wrought by two women – or the work can be viewed for its structure alone – long, sweeping lines of undistorted dance, interestingly broken rhythmically.” – Doris Hering.

1 woman, 1 man, 1 actress; 24 minutes

Inspired by the poem of the same title by Federico Garcia Lorca, movement and spoken text are woven together as the characters relive the events of the fateful day in the life of the bullfighter. The drama is portrayed by the Figure of a Woman (a witness and mourner), the Figure of Destiny (majesty of the fearful events) and Ignacio (the contender in the bullring). Powerfully moving, the drama is intended to signify the struggle of all men of courage and the fate to which they must go alone.

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Small Group (fewer than ten dancers)

AIR FOR THE G STRING (1928) (Bach)
5 women; 5 minutes

This work, set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s serenely soaring Air on the G String from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, can be viewed as early evidence of Doris Humphrey’s innate belief in the nobility of which the human spirit is capable. “There is not one broken, erratic gesture; the entire dance expresses an Apollonian dream image in which a philosophical calmness moves the mind. There is a cathedral-like quality in the reverential gestures of the hands and in the facial expressions, which suggest an inner exaltation in keeping with the music’s sustained spiritual mood.” – Ernestine Stodelle

(first and third movements by Doris Humphrey, 1952; second movement by Ray Cook, 1995)
4 women, 2 men; 12 -13 minutes.

A pure dance that derives its contrapuntal and fugal themes from the music.

NIGHT SPELL (1951) (Rainier)
2 women, 2 men; 20 minutes

Night Spell presents a sleeper who is tormented by dreams and dream figures who emerge from his night consciousness. The nightmarish terror is dispelled and replaced by an image of love when the sleeper ultimately clasps one of the dream figures to himself.

PARTITA (1942) (Bach)
6 women, 1 man; 8 minutes

This work, created as a respite from more serious compositions, is a playful suite of dances based on the court dances of the 17th Century Europe and choreographed to Bach’s Partita in G Major. Doris Humphrey said that “BachÉthought it was fun to do a set of these partitas on odd Sunday afternoons, and three centuries later people, even dancers, are entitled to have fun too. It was built on the rhythms and shapes of folk dances.”

RITMO JONDO (1953) (Surinach)
4 women, 5 men; 12 minutes (short version)
or 4 women, 4 men; 20 minutes (long version)

To tantalizing Spanish rhythms, a band of assertive males present themselves to a group of feminine admirers. They court them with sweeping abandon – and then leave them to attend to more urgent matters. With its swirling, cascading motions for the women and vibrating, thrusting steps and gestures for the men, this work sets up a counterpoint of masculinity and femininity.

RUINS AND VISIONS (1952) (Britten)
4 women. 4 men, 43 minutes.

This is a dramatic piece inspired by a poem by Steven Spender and in a setting that suggests the period 1914-1918." A protective mother isolates her son from the harshness of reality; at the theatre they watch unmoved as an actor-lover murders his mistress; in the street they ignore the newsboy whose papers announce war. Finally, when the son is brought back dead from battle, the various characters, united by grief, relinquish their artificial self-involvement to face reality together." - Selma Jeanne Cohen

SOARING (1920) (Schumann)
5 women; 3 minutes, 30 seconds

An alternately calm and stormy fantasy that interprets Schumann’s Aufshwung and Doris Humphrey’s own vision of “the lyrical idea of wind, wave and cloud in fleeting form of a great veil.” One of the most beloved dances of the Denishawn repertoire, Soaring was created with the assistance of Ruth St. Denis as music visualization.

SONATA PATHETIQUE (1920) (Beethoven)
7 women; 11 minutes

Strong, emphatic chords of the piano set the tone for this early music visualization. A cluster of women, far upstage left, charge the open space as if venturing heroically into the future. The soloist commandeers the group into an array of formations until finally they resist and all sink to the ground, leaving the soloist standing upright as if declaring victory.

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Large Group (ten or more dancers)

8 women, 3 men; 8 minutes

Ruth Currier, who completed this final work when Doris Humphrey was unable to continue, says that it is “a gentle and happy celebration of the place you find yourself inÉa meadow or clearing in the woods.” In the beginning, a solo figure greets four others who celebrate with her. Two more are invited in. A trio enters, as if in a dream. The piece is restrained in the sense that it is not an emotional outpouring, but there is always feeling in the root. Each of the three movements contains a particular mood: 1) pleasant, gracious, with a kind of elegance; 2) a lament; 3) bright, alive, and vibrant.

DANCE OVERTURE (1957) (Creston)
5 women, 6 men; 11 minutes

This work beautifully captures the exuberance and power of ensemble work. Excerpted phrases from the Humphrey-Limon repertory are woven together, much like those of a musical overture, and offer a sampling of various phrases and styles of movement. The large orchestral score serves as the proper accompaniment for this grand scale work.

15 or 17 women; 12 minutes

With its Art Deco set, consisting of steps and a platform in front of a gold screen, the dance evokes early modernism. The music is romantic, but dance is revolutionary. Using strong movements, the lead dancer shapes the ensemble in her image and steers them away from weak, ineffectual movements to a powerful conclusion, underscored by the group’s emphatic heel beats.

LIFE OF THE BEE (1929) (Hindemith)
8 women, 3 men; 13 minutes

Inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s book by the same name, Life of the Bee is a dramatic dance based on the struggle of a young queen to rise to her destined position in the hive, replace its aging ruler, and to retain that position in the face of new challenges. The dance is pervaded with a continuous, fluctuating current of energy, the ceaseless activity of the hive.

NEW DANCE, complete version (1935) (Riegger)
6 women, 4 men; 35 minutes

In symphonic form, New Dance is a dance of affirmation, proceeding from disorganization to organization , in which the group is led by the principal male and female dancers in a series of themes to become a unified whole. Once unified, the "Variations and Conclusion" demonstrates the place of the individual within the group.

6 women, 4 men; 8 minutes

The Variations and Conclusion from New Dance represents a democratic world where each person has a clear and harmonious relationship to his fellow beings. Each dancer steps forward from the group to perform an individualistic variation, then rejoins the other dancers. Its mood is one of animation, energy, and joyousness of spirit, ending with all of the dancers turning, reversing and turning again in a rousing conclusion.

13 women, 3 men; 14 minutes

A vision of an ideal world where the inhabitants live in peaceful accord with one another, this dance expresses the choreographer’s conviction that man is potentially capable of creating such a utopia. Choreographically, its concept matches the grandeur of Bach’s music. Doris Humphrey explained that she had treated the piece “as an abstraction with dramatic overtones. The minor melody, according to the traditional Passacaglia form, insistently repeated from beginning to end, seems to say, ÔHow can a man be saved and be content in a world of infinite despair?’ And in the magnificent fugue which concludes the dance, the answer seems to mean ÔBe saved by love and courage.’ The dance was inspired by the need for love, tolerance, and nobility in a world given more and more to the denial of these things.”

SONG OF THE WEST: DESERT (1940) (Roy Harris)
12 women, 4 men; 11 minutes

This piece, celebrating the American West, originally was performed in three sections: Rivers, The Green Land, and Desert. The only surviving one, Desert, is a tense group ceremonial of primitive worship of sun and space.

10 women, 1 man; 22 minutes

Based on the Ancient Greek play of the same title by Aeschylus, this powerful dance rendition is told in bold choric patterns, with shuddering details. The chorus races through the space in a frenzy, throwing their bodies back and forth, and wildly twisting from side to side in their lament for the murdered King Agamemnon. There is much use of "xeronomia" (ancient Greek for "hand gestures"), which deploy the emotions they feel. Clawing at their cheeks and gnawing the dirt beneath their feet, they all sink to exhaustion and wait for Orestes to appear to avenge the murder of his father. The chorus rejoices in his appearance with spiraling movements and wild, abandoned leaps.

THE SHAKERS (1931) (traditional)
6 women, 5 men; 9 minutes

This dance, based on Shaker ritual, is about religious purification achieved through ecstasy. The design is wrought of small quaverings and tremblings that increase to violent shakings and twistings of the whole body, of running half-falls and single wild jumps into the air.

WATER STUDY (1928) (silence)
10 women; 11 minutes

Water Study conjures up a variety of sea moods ranging from calm to tidal and wind-driven turbulence. Performed in silence, the dance demonstrates Humphrey’s signature uses of fall and recovery and breath rhythm. It calls for ensemble work of the most subtle and complex order: completely synchronized rhythmic timing among the dancers.

WITH MY RED FIRES (1936) (Riegger)
large cast; 30 minutes

With My Red Fires takes its theme from the lines in William Blake’s poem Jerusalem: “For the Divine Appearance is Brotherhood, but I am Love Elevate into the Region of Brotherhood with my red fires.” It deals with the power of love – maternal, romantic, and fraternal – and its capacity for passionate and destructive excesses. It concludes with a vision of human brotherhood that prevails over prejudice and violence.

The dramatic plot revolves around two lovers whose relationship is strongly disapproved by the girl’s mother (the Matriarch). With dictatorial flurry, she rouses a submissive group into a frenzy of violent persecution against the lovers – but in the process becomes so overwrought that she destroys herself. In the end, the lovers are transfigured in an embrace that suggest the equal respect of one human being for another.

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