First Generation Artists

Ernestine Stodelle (1913 – 2008)

No one individual has done more to further the development of Humphrey’s dance technique than Ernestine Stodelle. A key part of the Foundation’s mission is to continue Stodelle’s work and to ensure that the teaching of the dance technique remains true to and firmly rooted in the philosophical and movement principles of ‘Fall and Recovery’. Stodelle was regarded as the foremost authority on Doris Humphrey’s movement philosophy and choreographic repertoire. She was a member and soloist in The Doris Humphrey Concert Group and the Humphrey-Weidman Company between 1929 – 1935 and is responsible for the recreation of a number of Humphrey’s dances from this period including Water Study, Air for the G String, The Call/Breath of Fire, Quasi Waltz, Two Ecstatic Themes, and The Shakers. She has staged these works for numerous companies including the José Limón Dance Company and Silo Concert Dancers in the USA, Danskern in Amsterdam and for Marianne Forester in Basle, Switzerland.

For many years, Stodelle was director and teacher of the Silo Studios of Dance in Cheshire, Connecticut. In this remarkable place she taught dancers from her company, Silo Concert Dancers, children’s classes for every age and classes for adults who just loved to dance. One of the most rewarding classes I have ever attended was her ‘Women’s Class’, held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9.30am sharp. This group of women ranged in age from 40 – 75 and they danced every exercise and study that we did in the professional class, perhaps not with the same technical precision but the spirit was most definitely there. In addition to perpetuating Humphrey’s dance technique, Stodelle created a children’s technique based on the Humphrey principles that leads into the main technique. It is quite something to see 10 year olds dancing hinges, successions at the barre and diagonals with accomplishment. Stodelle’s closest associate, Gail Corbin, continues to develop this valuable aspect of the Humphrey tradition.

Alongside her dancing career, Stodelle was a prolific writer. She was dance critic for the New Haven Register, and Adjunct Professor in dance criticism at New York University. She published The Dance Technique of Doris Humphrey and its creative potential in 1978, with a second edition in 1995, Deep Song – The Dance Story of Martha Graham in 1986, a volume that received high praise from Graham herself, and numerous articles. With Charles H. Woodford, Humphrey’s son, she produced and directed the video recording Doris Humphrey Technique: The Creative Potential. This was followed by a series of coaching videos for staging Humphrey dances, made possible by the Doris Humphrey Society in Chicago. Stodelle’s commentary on these recordings is an invaluable resource and insight into the dances she was largely responsible for recreating from fragments of evidence. (LM)

‘The Call/Breath of Fire’ (1929/30) recreated by Ernestine Stodelle in 1986.

The following extract ” Prologue – A Personal Reminisence” is taken from Ernestine Stodelle’s book ‘The Dance Technique of Doris Humphrey and its creative potential’ (1978/1995) and is reprinted here with the generous permission of Charles H. Woodford.

Prologue – A Personal Reminisense

‘Water Study’ recreated by Ernestine Stodelle in 1972.

OBITUARY – Ernestine Stodelle Komisarjevsky Chamberlain

Ernestine worked with the Doris Humphrey Society and MOMENTA from 1990 until her last visit in 2003. Her work teaching over a decade of our Technique Workshops has inspired and educated generations of dancers who can carry on her knowledge of the technique of Doris Humphrey. Without Ernestine’s tireless dedication to our video projects documenting Humphrey’s great early works, we would never have been able to complete the six videos capturing Ernestine’s understanding of both the quality of the movement and Humphrey’s choreographic intention.

Stephanie Clemens 1/2008
(Director – The Doris Humphrey Society/Artistic Director – MOMENTA)

ERNESTINE STODELLE KOMISARJEVSKY CHAMBERLAIN
Ernestine Stodelle Komisarjevsky Chamberlain – celebrated modern dancer, author, teacher and one of the foremost chroniclers of modern dance in America – died on January 5, 2008, at the age of 95 in California.

Born May 6, 1912 in Oakland, California, Stodelle studied ballet as a child at the Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet in New York. She began her professional dance career as a member of the pioneer modern dance company of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, becoming a soloist with the Humphrey-Weidman Dance Company at the age of 17. She later became a partner, dancer and choreographer of original works with José Limón.

During that same period – 1929 to 1935 – Stodelle also performed as a dancer with many symphony orchestras, operas, concert programs and in Broadway shows in Philadelphia and New York. From 1935 to 1939, she was in Europe, introducing American modern dance to enthusiastic audiences by presenting solo recitals and lecture-demonstrations in Paris, Salzburg and Geneva.

It was in Europe where she married her first husband, the internationally-known theater director and stage designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky (1882-1954). They returned to the United States at the outbreak of World War II, opening a studio of dance and acting in New York. She soon afterwards formed the Ernestine Stodelle Studios of Modern Dance and, for the next fifty years, focused her energies on the training and development of the careers of many talented dancers, many of whom went on to professional careers in modern dance.

During those years, Stodelle also focused on reconstructing the dances of her mentor Doris Humphrey and teaching the Humphrey technique. She reconstructed the early works of Doris Humphrey, beginning with Air for the G-String and Two Ecstatic Themes for the José Limón Dance Company. In addition, in 1990 she premiered the reconstruction of two dances originally performed by Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman in 1929. At the request of others, she staged Humphrey works in Canada, England, Switzerland and throughout the United States. Stodelle also gave lectures on modern dance history and technique with an emphasis on the Humphrey-Weidman and Martha Graham techniques.

Following her first husband’s death, Stodelle married John R. Chamberlain (1903-1995), nationally-known author, columnist and syndicated writer, and moved to Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1956. She moved her dance studio to Cheshire, continuing to teach modern dance to both children and adults, while becoming a noted author, university professor and critic of the dance.

Stodelle published two books: The Dance Technique of Doris Humphrey and Its Creative Potential (Princeton Book) and Deep Song, The Dance Story of Martha Graham (MacMillan). In addition, she was a free-lance writer for The New Haven Register, Dance Magazine, Art Times and Ballet Review. She co-edited two books on dance research with Patricia Rowe of New York University: Dance Research Monograph One and Dance Research Collage.

Stodelle was also an Adjunct Professor at New York University, conducting courses in Dance Criticism and Aesthetics in Dance, starting in 1970 through 1991.

Ernestine Stodelle is survived by 13 great-grandchildren, 20 grandchildren and six children: Elizabeth Chamberlain Huss; Margaret Chamberlain Davis; John R. Chamberlain, Jr.; Tanya Komisarjevsky Metaksa; Benedict Komisarjevsky; and Christopher Komisarjevsky.

Further writings by and on Ernestine Stodelle are located in the Archive.

Charles Weidman (1901 – 1975)

Weidman studied and performed with Denishawn before leaving to form the Humphrey-Weidman school and company with Doris Humphrey and Pauline Lawrence. Like his partner Humphrey, Weidman worked from principles of fall and recovery and also experimented with a form of linking unrelated movements that he called “kinetic pantomime.” During the 1930s, Weidman taught at the Bennington School of the Dance in Vermont and presented choreography including his popular Candide (1937) through the Federal Dance Theatre of the WPA.

Many of Weidman’s choreographic works, such as Flickers (1941) and Fables for Our Time (1947), were known for their wit, but he also created dances with socially relevant content such as the suite Atavisms (1936). Other dances chronicled his family history (On My Mother’s Side (1940), And Daddy Was a Fireman, (1943)). The Humphrey-Weidman company disbanded in the early 1940s, and Weidman continued to teach and choreograph on his own. Later works included Portofino (1958), Christmas Oratorio (1961) and Brahms Waltzes (1967), which paid tribute to his old partner.

Further writings on Charles Weidman are located in the Archive.

José Limón (1908 – 1972)

Limón was born in Culiacán, Sinaloa on January 12, 1908, Mexico, the eldest of 12 children. He moved to New York City in 1928 where he studied with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. Ten years after he began dancing, Limon premiered his first major choreographic work, Danzas Mexicanas. He was drafted in April 1943. Between 1943 and when he was discharged in 1945, he choreographed several works for the US Army Special Services. While on leave during this time, he returned to NYC to pursue serious choreography with Doris Humphrey.

When the war ended, Limón founded the José Limón Dance Company in 1946 with Doris Humphrey as the first artistic director. The first members were Dorothy Bird, Beatrice Seckler, and Limón himself. In the company, he developed his repertory with Doris Humphrey and established the principles of the style that was to become the Limón technique. The Limón Company was also the first company to survive its founder’s death. It survives to this day with the expressed purpose of maintaining the Limón technique and repertory. Limón was married to longstanding associate of Doris Humphrey, Pauline Lawrence.

Further writings on José Limón are located in the Archive.

Eleanor King (1906 – 1991)

King was born February 8, 1906 in Middletown, Pennsylvania. She attended Clare Tree Major School of the Theatre in 1925, and Theatre Guild School in 1926, studying dance with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. King was then invited to be a part of the new dance company formed in 1928.. She made her debut that year in Humphrey’s Color Harmony, considered the first American abstract ballet. In 1930, she appeared in Leonide Massine’s Sacre du Printemps at the Metropolitan Opera House. She stayed with the company until 1935, when she began a solo performing career and choreographing her own work. In 1937 she was a co-founder of the Theater Dance Company, and her first major work, Icaro, was produced in 1938. She became known for choreography based on works of literature, from Petrarch to James Joyce.

In 1942, she formed the Eleanor King Dance Repertory Company in Seattle, followed by the Eleanor King Dance Studio in 1945. In 1955, she studied mime with Etienne Decroux. In the late 1950s, she began studying Japanese Noh dances. Her first performance of these was in Tokyo in 1958. She created the Theatre of the Imagination program at the University of Arkansas, where she taught for much of her career, from 1952 to 1971. She was an assistant professor from 1952-1967, associate professor from 1967-1971, and was awarded professor emerita status in 1971. In her retirement, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and at age 70 began studying classic Korean dance.

In the 1980s, revivals of her work were staged to acclaim by Annabelle Gamson in New York. The solos were praised in The New York Times for their “eloquence and for Miss King’s careful shaping of ideas and feelings”.

In 2000, King’s archived collection of work was recognized by President Clinton’s White House Millennium Council, under the Save America’s Treasures project. The materials, including 60 years of manuscript material, correspondence, personal papers, drawings, photographs, slides, costumes, books, articles, and reviews are being preserved by Cross-Cultural Dance Resources, a non-profit dance research organization in Flagstaff, Arizona. In 2008, it was announced that the collection was going to be moved to the Herberger College of the Arts at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, for permanent curation.

A significant part of King’s legacy was her contribution to the recreation of Doris Humphrey’s ‘Water Study’ and ‘The Shakers’ with Ernestine Stodelle. Like Stodelle, King wrote widely of her experiences in modern dance including her famous memoir:

Transformations: The Humphrey-Weidman Era, Dance Horizons (Brooklyn, NY), 1978