Temple of Modern Dance: The 92nd Street Y Celebrates 75 Glowing Years

By Macel, Emily | Dance Magazine, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Temple of Modern Dance: The 92nd Street Y Celebrates 75 Glowing Years


Macel, Emily, Dance Magazine


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A 75-year history whispers through the photo-lined walls and worn wooden floors of the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center. Alvin Ailey premiered Revelations here; Anna Sokolow's Rooms and Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane debuted here as well. Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan, a precursor to New York City Ballet, had its first performances at the Y; Katherine Dunham and Carmelita Maracci made their New York debuts here. And La Argentinita, Carmen Amaya, La Meri, and Jean-Leon Destine all brought their international dance to the Y.

This month, the dance center's anniversary kicks off with a gala on November 5 that exemplifies the breadth and depth of its history. Among the works to be performed are Frontier (1935), by the Martha Graham Dance Company; Doris Humphrey's Two Ecstatic Themes (1931), by Lauren Naslund; excerpts from Revelations (1960), by Ailey II; David Parsons' Caught (1982); plus a piece by Doug Varone and Dancers. The Y's own Harkness Repertory Ensemble will perform Jerome Robbins' NY Export: Opus Jazz. And a plethora of events throughout the year will highlight the Y's mark on dance history.

It all began in 1934, when William Kolodney, the newly appointed educational director of the Y, had a vision: He wanted dance to be part of his humanistic center for education. Perhaps it was fateful that his first choice for adviser, renowned ballet choreographer Michel Fokine, said he wasn't interested. When Kolodney next went to John Martin, chief dance critic of The New York Times, he was pointed in a more modern direction. Martin suggested Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman--who had worked together that summer to form the Bennington School of the Dance--be at the core of the Y's dance center as teachers and performers. The rest, as they say, is history.

In addition to the gala event, the Y's Sundays at Three and Fridays at Noon series will honor the Y's history as well. These two series were started more than 20 years ago by dancer-turned-Alexander-practitioner Jane Kosminsky and Ilona Copen (who also founded the New York International Ballet Competition). "They recognized the need for artists to have a space where they could try out their ideas and stay in dialogue with their peers," says Renata Celichowska, director of the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center. During the anniversary year, Sundays at Three presents re-creations and reconstructions, including performances of the de Mille legacy by the New York Theatre Ballet, the Erick Hawkins Centennial Celebration, an Anna Sokolow Birthday Tribute, and performances of Jean Erdman's work. The Fridays at Noon programs will represent more contemporary artists like David Parker, Doug Elkins, and Keely Garfield.

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This spring's Harkness Dance Festival will span five weekends and will take place at the Y for the first time in its 15-year history. The festival was the brainchild of then-director Joan Finkelstein, with the support of the Harkness Foundation. (In 1994, the dance center was renamed in honor of the Foundation, and it is now known as the Harkness Dance Center.) In the beginning, the festival was meant to be an intimate event, so the Y's 900-seat Kaufmann Concert Hall wasn't the right venue. Finkelstein searched for off-site venues and found the 91st Street Playhouse. The festival later moved to the Duke Theater, and recently to the Alley Citigroup Theater. In this anniversary year, the organization is bringing the festival home to their upstairs studio theater, Buttenwieser Hall.

As part of this year's festival, From the Horse's Mouth, an exuberant traveling show designed by Jamie Cunningham and Tina Croll, will bring more than 30 dance artists onstage to improvise and tell stories. The Limon Dance Company, Doug Varone, Yoshiko Chuma, and Molissa Fenley will perform during the festival as well. (See sidebar for a partial list of dates and events during the anniversary year. …

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