The Dance Works of Laura Dean

By Sheri Candler

As we have noted, Robert Joffrey had an eye not just for dance artistry, but for choreographic artistry as well. He saw the creative spark that wasn’t necessarily apparent to everyone. One young choreographer Mr. Joffrey chose to work with was Laura Dean. Longtime Joffrey staff photographer Herbert Migdoll remembers when Joffrey first saw Dean in an interview transcript excerpt from the film.

“When he went to see Laura Dean, who was the epitome of the Judson period*, she had one other dancer, so there were two people in her company.  Her performances were too short because you can only spin for so long, and all she did was spin.  You would watch her spin until she fell down.  And I thought that lady is really something else.  I’ve got to go see this.”

“Lo and behold Bob says to me, ‘I’m going to see a concert with Laura Dean.  Do you want to come?’  And I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to go. I want to take pictures of her anyway.’  They used to let me go to the balcony of that particular church on 10th Street and 3rd Avenue. So I went to the balcony and Bob was downstairs, and we both saw the performance.  Laura had her company that night, not just herself, one other young woman.  She would spin and then the other woman would spin into her spinning.  They’d spin together, and then Laura would spin off.  And then the other woman would spin until it was time for Laura to come back and spin with her, and then the young woman would spin off.”

“Well, it was an evening of spinning for about an hour or so and it was kind of amazing.  I love watching people spin, like a dervish kind of thing.  As we were leaving the performance, I said, ‘She’s so interesting, isn’t she?  I mean, she just uses this one element.  It’s real minimal kind of perception of movement.’ He said, ‘It’s so fascinating. I think I’m going to ask her to do a ballet. She could spin on pointe.  She just has to learn how to go on pointe, that’s all.  I could teach her that.’  I said, ‘Oh Bob, leave her alone.’  But he wouldn’t.  He went to her and she was excited about it.”

Gerald Arpino with Laura Dean photo credit Herbert Migdoll

“She wound up doing her first ballet called Night, which was a brilliant work. Her work doesn’t translate well on film though.  If you see some of the things on film, you will think they’re not that special.  But in person they’re absolutely spectacular. She went on to make the most ballets for the company because both Robert Joffrey and Jerry Arpino adored her and her work and felt that she would do wonderful things.”

“Her last work for us was Creative Force, which was everyone in red, dancing to salsa music.  Before that was the Prince ballet for Billboards, Sometimes it Snows in April.  I just love her work.”

Dean's Sometimes It Snows in April

“The point here is that he [Joffrey] would take the opposite end of the ballet scale, the ultimate minimal dancer and see this person as a potential creator for his company.  I think that opened the door for anyone who choreographs to feel that maybe I could do a ballet for an important company if I feel strongly enough about what I’m doing, whatever it is.  It doesn’t have to be pointe work.  It can be anything.”


*Judson Dance Theater was an informal group of dancers who performed at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, New York City between 1962 and 1964. It grew out of a dance composition class taught by Robert Dunn, a musician who had studied with John Cage. The artists involved were avant garde experimentalists who rejected the confines of Modern dance practice and theory, inventing as they did the precepts of Postmodern dance. -source Wikipedia.

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