Laura Dean


Laura Dean

Laura Dean is a postmodern dancer, choreographer and composer who is known for her minimalist style of dance. She often incorporates repetitive phrases, geometric patterns, spinning, unison movements, and canon phrases into her choreography [ Amanda Smith, “Dean, Laura,” in "International Encyclopedia of Dance", vol. 2, ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 358.] . Dean’s signature movement is creating circles within circles which can be seen in her famous works, "Spiral" and "Dance" [ Karen Raugust, "Dean, Laura" in "International Dictionary of Modern Dance", ed. Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf (Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1993), 178.] .

Biography and Background History

Laura Dean, internationally acclaimed as both a choreographer and composer, has been recognized by The New York Times as “unquestionably one of the masters of American modern dance,” whose choreography has”…the complexity of a genius.”

Laura Dean, born on December 3rd, 1945 in Staten Island New York, began her dance and music training at the Third Street Music School in New York City where she studied with Lucas Hoving (dance) and Marion Mills (music). She then studied at The School of American Ballet with Muriel Stuart. She graduated from the High School of Performing Arts, where her teachers were Gertrude Shurr, Norman Walker, David Wood, Nina Popova and May O’Donnell. She studied at The Joffrey Ballet School with Francoise Martinet and studied jazz with Matt Mattox. Soon after graduation, she became a member of The Paul Taylor Dance Company.

The Dean Dance and Music Foundation was founded in 1971. In 1972 Dean established her own company, Laura Dean and Dance Company, changed in 1976 to Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians to reflect the creation of the music as well as the dance by Laura Dean. In 1991 the company name was changed to Laura Dean Musicians and Dancers. The company performed throughout the US, Europe and Asia. Ms. Dean has created 54 modern dance works, 29 ballets and 26 works for students. Dean composed the music for all but 5 of the 40 works she created for her own company of dancers and musicians.

The company has received numerous commissions for new works including commissions from The American Dance Festival, The Kennedy Center, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Het Muziektheater, Walker Art Center, Hansher Auditorium, The Hopkins Center and The Avignon Festival. In addition to the 40 works that Ms. Dean has created for her own company, she has been commissioned to create works for the following companies: ballet: two works for The Royal Danish Ballet, The New York City Ballet, The Frankfurt Ballet, The Ohio Ballet and 8 works for The Joffrey Ballet including the much acclaimed section of Billboards, “Sometimes It Snows in April”. Her works for professional skating companies include 3 works for The John Curry Skaters, The Next Ice Age and three works for The Ice Theater of New York. Her works for modern companies include The Bat-Dor Dance Company of Israel, the Concert Dance Company of Boston, Repertory Dance Theatre and the Rire-Woodbury Dance Company. Her folk dance works include The Aman World Music and Dance Ensemble. She has also worked with Peter Gabriel and David Bowie.

Ms. Dean has received several awards, including The Brandeis Creative Arts Award for Extraordinary Artistic Achievement in Dance, a “Bessie” New York Dance Award for her work with composer Steve Reich, two John Simon Guggenheim Fellowships for Choreography, The Dance Magazine Award, The Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College, Harvard University’s Certificate of Appreciation, the Smithsonian Institution Certificate of Appreciation, New York City Commission of the Status of Women Special Recognition Award, The Staten Island Arts Council Award for Outstanding Achievement, the President’s Award from Staten Island Community College, the ABSOLUT Award for Artistic Achievement, the Lester Horton Award for Music for Dance, Honorary Doctorate from the City University of New York and the 2008 Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance.

Ms. Dean has served as a member of the Inter-Arts Dance/Video and Challenge/Advancement Review and Dance panels for The National Endowment for the Arts. She has also served on the panels of the National Choreography Project, the National Dance Residency Program and the Business in the Arts Awards panel. She was a member of the Independent Committee for the Arts. Ms Dean’s drawings and paintings have been seen on exhibit at The Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art, Walker Art Center, Pratt Institute, Het Muziektheater, The National Museum of Dance and the Venice Biennale. An excerpt of Ms. Dean’s work Creative Force, commissioned by the Joffrey Ballet, can be seen in the Robert Altman film The Company.

Dean in the 1970’s

After a two-year hiatus in San Francisco Laura Dean returned to New York City and formed The Dean Dance and Music Foundation in 1971. In 1972 Dean established her own company, Laura Dean and Dance Company. The name of the company was changed in 1976 to Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians to reflect the creation of the music as well as the dance by Laura Dean. Dean created a multitude of pieces which premiered between 1971 and 1975 that were accompanied by the music of Steve Reich [ Amanda Smith, “Dean, Laura,” in "International Encyclopedia of Dance", vol. 2, ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 358.] .

Christopher Reardon, a writer from the New York Times, stated Dean had, “made her mark in the 1970's by stripping dance to a set of elemental gestures and patterns, [she] regards movement as an end in itself.” [ Christopher Reardon,“DANCE; When Collaborators Find Themselves Out of Step,” "New York Times",August 30, 1998, [http://www.lexisnexis.comLexis-NexisAcademic] , ] . It was not uncommon during the 1970’s for a postmodern minimalist choreographer to strip the stage of costumes, lighting, music or scenery in an attempt to make the movement seem more important [ Sally Banes, "Terpsichore in Sneakers, High Heels, Jazz Shoes, and on Pointe: Postmodern Dance Revisited," (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1979), 307] . Dean’s works embodied the ideals of minimalism which dominated this era and influenced the post modern choreographers of the 1970’s. By the late 1970’s, Dean had become renowned for her spinning and rhythmic stamping patterns which would become her legacy.

Choreography and Movement Interests

Most of Dean’s movement involves geometric patterns, spinning and cannon phrases -- the same phrase of movement performed successively one dancer after another -- and often is viewed as abstract and energetic [ Amanda Smith, “Dean, Laura,” in "International Encyclopedia of Dance", vol. 2, ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 359.] . Dean’s dances have a strong connection in their movement to folkloric dance. In fact, published in an article for Dance Magazine in 1994, Marilyn Hunt stated, “the usual folklike quality of Dean's work is still present in the simple repeated steps, geometric floor patterns, and sense of community.” [ Marilyn Hunt, "Laura Dean Musicians and Dancers – Joyce Theater, New York, New York -Dance Reviews," "Dance Magazine", September, 1994 [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1083/is_n9_v68/ai_15825434/pg_1] ] ." Ecstasy" and "Infinity", the two pieces Hunt writes about in her article, are good examples of how Dean incorporated her classic motifs into more modern works with styles that differ from here earlier pieces. This might have something to do with the versatility of her motifs, which are easily adapted to different styles of dance [ Karen Raugust, "Dean, Laura" in "International Dictionary of Modern Dance", ed. Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf (Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1993), 179.] . Although she has created many different works of individualistic choreography, it is easy to see some of her most famous motifs, such as spinning and cannons, continuously within her works. This connection remains, no matter which style of dance the movement was set for.

Awards and Featured Works

Laura Dean is the recipient of the 2008 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in recognition of her accomplishments as a choreographer and composer. She has also received two John Simon Guggenheim Fellowships for Choreography, the Brandeis Creative Arts Award for Extraordinary Artistic Achievement in Dance, The 1982 Dance Magazine Award, the Lester Horton Award for Music and Dance, a "Bessie" New York Dance Award Award for her work with composer Steve Reich, the New York City Commission of the Status of Women Special Recognition Award, The Staten Island Arts Council Award for Outstanding Achievement, the President’s Award from Staten Island Community College, the ABSOLUT Award for Artistic Achievement, The Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College, Harvard University’s Certificate of Appreciation, the Smithsonian Institution Certificate of Appreciation, and an Honorary Doctorate from the City University of New York.

Dean created a piece entitled "Night" for the Joffery Ballet Company in 1980. She was also featured on a PBS special program "Dance in America", “Beyond the Mainstream” [ Amanda Smith, “Dean, Laura,” in "International Encyclopedia of Dance", vol. 2, ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 359.] . In 1993, Dean was one of four choreographers to work on "Billboards", a full length ballet created for the Joffery Ballet Company [ Karen Raugust, "Dean, Laura" in "International Dictionary of Modern Dance", ed. Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf (Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1993), 179.] . An excerpt of Ms. Dean’s work Creative Force, commissioned by the Joffrey Ballet in 1999, can be seen in the Robert Altman film The Company (2003).

She has published articles in [http://www.mitpressjournals.org/loi/dram?cookieSet=1/ "Drama Review"] , "Dance Scope", and "Contemporary Dance" [ Karen Raugust, "Dean, Laura" in "International Dictionary of Modern Dance", ed. Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf (Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1993), 178.] .

Dean’s Recent Activities

Laura Dean left New York in 1995 and relocated to North Carolina where she continued to create works for Laura Dean Musicians and Dancers until 2000. She taught at the [http://www.americandancefestival.org/ American Dance Festival] (ADF) in 1996 and 1997. Dean's dance and music work "Sky Light"(1982) was part of the Past/Forward program at the 2007 American Dance Festival. "Sky Light" was reconstructed and staged by long time Dean company member, Rodger Belman. Belman, the official reconstructor of Dean's works, returned to the ADF to reconstruct and stage Dean's signature work, "Tympani"(1980), for the 2008 Past/Forward program. The music for both "Sky Light" and "Tympani" was reconstructed by former Dean musician, Jason Cirker. New York Times dance critic Jennifer Dunning wrote "The program’s revival of Laura Dean’s 1982 “Sky Light,” in an exciting reconstruction by Rodger Belman, was another triumph." And about the 2008 ADF performance of "Tympani", New York Times critic Claudia La Rocco wrote, "... the experience was exhilarating. Although Ms. Dean created the music and movement for “Tympani” in 1980, this fine reconstruction by Rodger Belman, a former member of Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians, more than holds up, feeling both of and beyond its time...“Tympani” hinges on the balance between ecstasy and rigor." Laura Dean received the 2008 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for her accomplishments as a choreographer and composer in a special ceremony Sunday, June 29, 2008 at the ADF in Page Auditorium, Duke University, Durham, NC.

Best Known Works

* 1975 "Drumming", Laura Dean and Dance Company – Music by Steve Reich played by Steve Reich and Musicians
* 1976 "Song", Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians - Music by Laura Dean
* 1976 "Dance", Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians - Music by Laura Dean
* 1977 "Spiral", Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians - Music by Laura Dean
* 1980 "Night", Joffery Ballet – Music by Laura Dean
*1980 "Tympani", Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians - Music by Laura Dean
*1982 "Sky Light", Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians - Music by Laura Dean
*1983 "Fire", Joffrey Ballet - Music by Laura Dean
* 1985 "Impact", Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians - Music by Steve Reich
*1985 "Patterns of Change", The Ohio Ballet - Music by Philip Glass
*1986 "Magnetic", Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians - Music by Laura Dean
*1986 "Force Field", Joffrey Ballet - Music by Steve Reich
* 1988 "Space", New York City Ballet - Music by Steve Reich
* 1989 "Arrow of Time", Albany Berkshire Ballet- music by Totem
* 1990 "Infinity", Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians - Music by Laura Dean
*1990 "Delta", The Royal Danish Ballet - Music by Gary Brooker
*1993 "Light", The Aman World Music and Dance - Music by Laura Dean and John Zeretzke
* 1993 "Sometimes it Snows in April" (Section 1, Billboards), Joffery Ballet – Music by Prince
* 1993 "Ecstasy", Laura Dean Musicians and Dancers - Music by Laura Dean
*1999 "Creative Force", Joffrey Ballet - Music by John Zeretzke

References


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