Approximately 1,000 items. 20 boxes, 42 binders and two oversize items.
Ruth St. Denis (born Ruth Dennis) was born in 1879 in New Jersey. She began dancing as a child. Her early training included Delsarte technique, ballet lessons with the Italian ballerina Maria Bonfante, social dance forms and skirt dancing. She began her professional career in New York City in 1892, where she worked as a skirt dancer in a dime museum and in vaudeville houses. In 1898, Ruth was noticed by David Belasco, a well-known and highly successful Broadway producer and director. He hired her to perform with his large company as a featured dancer, and was also responsible for giving her the stage name "St. Denis." Under Belasco's influence, Ruthie Dennis became Ruth St. Denis, toured with his production of "Zaza" around the United States and in Europe, and was exposed to the work of several important European artists, including the Japanese dancer Sado Yacco and the great English actress, Sarah Bernhardt. St. Denis began studying Hindu art and philosophy, and offered a public performance in New York City of her first dance work, Radha, together with such shorter pieces as The Cobra and The Incense. A three-year European tour followed. She was particularly successful in Vienna, Austria, where she added The Nautch and The Yogi to her program. Her later productions, many of which had religious themes, included the long-planned Egypta (1910) and O-mika (1913), a dance drama in a Japanese style. In 1914 St. Denis married Ted Shawn, her dance partner, and the next year they founded the Denishawn school and company in Los Angeles. During that time, St. Denis's choreographic style broadened to include group numbers occasionally derived from Occidental as well as Oriental sources. Among her choreographic innovations were "music visualization" - a concept that called for movement equivalents to the timbres, dynamics, and structural shapes of music in addition to its rhythmic base - and a related choreographic form that she called "synchoric orchestra." Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn were also instrumental in creating the legendary dance festival, Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts. In 1925, St. Denis, Ted Shawn, and the Denishawn Dancers took a year-long dancing tour in the Orient. St. Denis and Shawn separated, both professionally and personally, in 1931, though they never divorced. St. Denis, who retired briefly from public performance, founded the Society of Spiritual Arts and devoted much of the rest of her life to promoting the use of dance in religion. In 1940, with La Meri, she founded the School of Natya to continue the teaching of South Asian dance. She resumed performing in 1941 with an appearance at Jacob's Pillow Festival, where she continued to appear annually until 1955. Often called the "first lady of American dance" she remained active into the 1960s. Ruth wrote an autobiography entitled Ruth St. Denis, an unfinished life in 1939. She died in Los Angeles in 1968 and was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C. V. Whitney Hall of Fame in 1987 along with her former husband Ted Shawn. Shawn died in 1972.
Scope and Content
Subjects of the entire collection include: Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, American dance and dancers, dance instruction and notes, exercises and warm-up routines, various dance types (international as well as American), famous dancers from around the globe, Denishawn dancers, the Ruth St. Denis Center, the Ruth St. Denis Foundation, the Ruth St. Denis Theatre Intime, Jacob's Pillow dance festival, American Dance Film Association, Society of Spiritual Arts Church, the various teachers and pupils at St. Denis' dance studio and school, the Orient trip the Denishawn dancers took in 1926, as well as dance productions and events St. Denis put on throughout her career. There is also much material about St. Denis' effort to have her studio and school become a non-profit entity and her desire to create an artist colony in Hemet, California. More specifically, several dancers show up in the notebooks and photographs, including: Harold Kreutzberg, Peter di Falco, La Meri, Karoun Tootikian, Miriam Schiller, Jean Léon, Gladys Bowen, Antonio Gades, Devi Dja, Doris Humphrey, Mary Wigman, and Martha Graham. The series "Binder" includes 42 volumes of material related to Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, the Denishawn dancers, etc. They are like scrapbooks and contain several different formats of materials including photographs, clippings, programs, dance notes, correspondence and financial documents. The material in the binders were left in their original order (as they came to the Huntington Library). It seems that the majority of the material was gathered and put together by Dorothy Lee Trifal, Ruth St. Denis' assistant and the manager of St. Denis' dance studio. The first 19 volumes are organized (and were titled) with dates and date spans. The next 23 volumes are organized alphabetically by their titles (ex. "American Dance Film Association"). Some of the titles are cataloger supplied. The Photographs, Negatives, and Slides series contains 409 photographs, negatives and slides. Although the majority of the photographs are of Ruth St. Denis in dancing poses, there are several other categories of photographs including: Ted Shawn, dance performances, special events and celebrations, other dancers, the dance studio and students, the film "He is Risen" and Jacob's Pillow. Photographs can also be found in the Miscellaneous series in the material regarding "The Dancing Prophet" as well as the Oversize series.
The Ephemera and Miscellaneous series contains a variety of formats including: programs, publications (magazines as well as printed books), miscellaneous material such as one letter by Forrest Coggan to Dorothy Lee Trifal, and a postcard from Forrest Thornburg to Dorothy Lee Trifal. It also contains several printed manuscripts written by St. Denis including "Dialogue for a Temple for Prayer For Artists" "Poems" "The Divine Dance" "Current Biography" and a notebook belonging to St. Denis. There is also a copy of the published book Lotus Light written by Ruth St. Denis in 1932. Also included is a scrapbook with clippings and photographs of dancers. There is one box dedicated to material related to the film "The Dancing Prophet" about Ruth St. Denis (the film reel is in the A-V series). The audio-visual material consists of cassette tapes, reel-to-reel/magnetic tapes, albums (records), and one VHS tape. This material consists of interviews with Ruth St. Denis, speeches by St. Denis, her reading from her journals, music, some composed by Clifford Vaughan, and dance performances. There is also a reel of the film "The Dancing Prophet." A lot of what is on the reel-to-reel/magnetic tapes and some of the albums can also be found on the cassette tapes. The majority of the A-V material is undated. It is organized by type/format and then alphabetical by title (if it had one). The Oversize series contains: Sheet music (some with dance instructions and photographs, which are arranged alphabetically by title), some of which is written by Clifford Vaughan, images of Ruth St. Denis, and two photograph albums with photographs of various dancers and celebrities (most of which are not identified), one of these is also a scrapbook with programs from her various performances. The series also contains oversize photographs of Ruth St. Denis. The Individually Housed Items include a glass plate negative of Ruth St. Denis ("Devi Ja" 1951), a copy of the two-volume Ruth St. Denis: pioneer & prophet: being a history of her cycle of oriental dances by Ted Shawn, a poster of Ruth St. Denis, and a banner of Ruth St. Denis.