How were the struggles for acceptance in modern dance concert similar for Edna Guy and Pearl Primus? How were they different? Refer specifically to the critics’ reviews referenced above. Does race or cultural heritage of a dancer/choreographer in twenty first century performance venues affect the critic’s interpretation of the dance works evaluated? What stereotypes are operating in dances performed today? Can you find specific examples? Edna Guy danced with the New Negro Theatre Dance Group and Pearl Primus danced with the New Dance Group. Edna was not allowed to perform with Ruth. St. Denis’s company and was treated as inferior compared to the rest of the students in Denishawn. The dance critic, John Martin, explained that black dancers (including Edna Guy) were best suited doing spirituals and simplistic movement (pg. 44, Perpener). “Their forthrightness and simplicity have full play”, stated John Martin in his Dance Recital Given by Negro Artists article. In this article, he expresses how Ruth St. Denis danced her dances, “Figure from Angkor-Vat” and “Temple Offering”, “delightfully”, he says. But when the same movement is performed by Guy, he uses negative words to describe her performance. Negations such as “none the less acquitted herself” which suggests that he found her movement to be inadequate especially after he feels that she “marked” the piece. The choice of wording to describe Ruth St. Denis (a white woman) and Edna Guy (a black woman) are nearly opposites. Even though dancers were innovating new movement, blacks were constantly being submitted into one type of group and one type of movement. E.A.G. said that Primus’s dance could be a “beautiful savagery” but it is not due to repetitious and uninspired movement, he explains. It seems as if he is saying that her dance is savagery, but not beautiful due to the reputation he sees. He explained how her movements were not as successful as some of the similar movements Katherine Dunham does. If Dunham’s movements were more successful, and Primus’s movements were more explosive, it makes me wonder if E.A.G. felt that chaos and franticness were in correlation to how savages act. It makes me wonder if he found savagery and people of color interchangeable. E.A.G. describes Primus’s dances as “primitives”. It’s quite degrading to not only her art work, but to her. I’ve never read in an article that an all-white casted ballet piece was described as “primitive”. He even goes on to say that she promises much and gives little, referring to her work as “unfulfilled”. Yet others such as Edwin Denby, saw a lot more in her after viewing multiple shows. In his first article, Edwin Denby referred to Primus’s movement as having a “native Negro Quality” (Concert Dancers in Nightclubs). In this article he goes into detail about Charles Weidman’s movement and not once mentions his skin color. He discusses how magnificent the Spanish gypsy team was and how charming the contortionist was but he briefly mentions Horton dancers making an appearance (3 couples which were comprised of some black dancers) and doesn’t even express why he found them to be a “disappointment”. If Primus were white, he’d most likely describe her movement a little more thoroughly than just having a negro-like quality. Being of color allowed the critic to focus more on the fact that they are doing something a white person could do just as well, if not better and then feeling inclined to mention and remind the reader that they are primitive so it’s okay. It’s as if critics are saying “if they can move the way they do, it’s due to their heritage.” In Denby’s third article, Pearl Primus, he tells the readers that Primus has a “natural dance impulse”. There is a huge stigma of black people having a natural dance impulse. It was one of the reasons Edna Guy was told that she didn’t need training as a young girl because it would ruin her natural movement...
Cited: Reviews by Edwin Denby from the New York Herald Tribute, (Dance Writings) “Concert Dancers in Night Clubs” August 29, 1943
Reviews by Edwin Denby from the New York Herald Tribute, (Dance Writings) “Pearl Primus and Valerie Bettis” January 24, 1944
Reviews by Edwin Denby from the New York Herald Tribute, (Dance Writings) “Pearl Primus” April 24, 1944
Reviews by Edwin Denby from the New York Herald Tribute, (Dance Writings) “Pearl Primus on Broadway” October 5, 1944
Goldhill, Olivia, and Sarah Marsh. "Where Are the Black Ballet Dancers?" The Guardian. N.p., 4 Sept. 2012. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
Perron, Wendy. "Curtain Up." Dance Magazine July 2010: 14. Print.
Stuart, Elaine. "In Our Words." Comp. Khara Hanlon, Wendy Perron, and Kina Poon. Dance Magazine July 2010: 37. Print.
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