Ruth St. Denis
About the Performer
Livia Drapkin Vanaver (Founder/Co-Artistic Director) Since 1971, Livia has been traveling throughout the US and abroad with her musician/composer husband Bill Vanaver and Company of dancers and musicians (The Vanaver Caravan), collecting and performing traditional dance and music from many cultures utilizing traditional sources in the creation of original works for diverse audiences. Her commitment to cultivating community through the vehicle of dance has lead her to work with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation in their Balkan Peace and Reconciliation Project in Eastern Europe and with families of the victims of 9/11.
Ms. Vanaver holds a BFA in Dance from NYU School of the Arts (Tisch). She was a member of Fred Berk’s Hebraica Dancers at the 92nd Street Y from 1966-72. For over thirty years, she has been on the cutting edge of arts-in-education programs. She is on the faculty of the Academy for the Love of Learning. Livia teaches dance at Columbia University in the Graduate Theater Program. She has worked closely with Jane Sherman, former Denishawn dancer, who recreated ten dances of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn for The Vanaver Caravan. Jane’s spirit and guidance continues to inspire their work.
About the Muse
(1879-1968), In 1893 a loosely contrived child in a cheesecloth dress made her stage debut in a production of The Old Homestead at Somerset Hall in Somerville, N. J. The child was Ruthie Dennis. She had recently dismissed herself from Dwight L. Moody’s Seminary after calling that reverend gentleman a narrow-minded old bigot.
This same young woman, at 16, was engaged by Worth’s Museum on 13th Street, New York, to give 11 dance performances a day at $20 a week. At 18 she won sixth prize in a six-day-bicycle race at Madison Square Garden. Her engagement by David Belasco for a dancing part in Zaza with Mrs. Leslie Carter (because she was “so sassy”) started her well on the theatrical highroad. It was in Buffalo, N. Y., while on tour with the Dubarry company, that she saw a poster of Egyptian Deities cigarettes in a drugstore. Her destiny as a dancer sprang alive in that moment.
Radha, an Oriental dance, was her first creative triumph. It brought her fame in England, France, Germany, and sent her back to America an artist of established reputation. In America there were further triumphs— and gruelling months on tour in vaudeville to pay the bills. Then came Ted Shawn, a strange marriage, and the Denishawn School of the Dance in Los Angeles. After a long tour of the Orient, Denishawn House was built in New York City to realize a dream, and dissolved under the impact of personal tragedy. A new life was begun.
Between 1919 and 1931, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and their dance company toured the entire United States, England, Cuba and the Far East. Within that period, they created some 300 pieces, using their original technique based on classic ballet discipline molded to pliant bodies and bare feet, with emphasis on various ethnic cultures.
Excerpted from Ruth St. Denis, An Unfinished Life