A distinguished and beloved educator in the dance arts, Bessie Schönberg (1906-1997) speaks to a class of interns at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in the summer of 1989. She discusses the art and technique of how one can watch dance as an audience member. Schönberg offers insight into how one can prepare oneself to view new dance, find an entry point or “handle-bar” into the content, and how to build an appetite for the multitude of dance forms.
Excerpt from PillowTalk: Bessie Schönberg – Looking at Dance, recorded August 21, 1986.
feature world-renowned choreographers, dancers, authors, filmmakers,
historians, and critics in live hour-long moderated discussions of the
cultural forces shaping the field of dance. Curated by Jacob's Pillow
Director of Preservation Norton Owen and moderated by Jacob's Pillow
Scholars-in-Residence, PillowTalks use dance as a prism to explore the
world at large.
Bessie Schönberg (December 27, 1906 - May 14, 1997) was a
pioneering dance educator whose greatest influence was through the generations
of choreographers for whom she served as mentor. Her students included Lucinda Childs, Elizabeth
Keen, Meredith Monk, Carolyn Adams, and many other important artists such as
novelist Allan Gurganus.The only
classes in dance composition that Jerome Robbins ever took were taught by
Born and raised in Germany, Schönberg immigrated to the U.S.
in 1925 and began to study dance with Martha Hill. She performed with the Martha
Graham Company, dancing in the original casts of such important works as Heretic and Primitive Rhythms until 1931 when a knee injury forced a premature
retirement from the stage.She was
integrally involved in the early years of the Bennington School of the Dance,
and received a degree from Bennington College in 1935.She began teaching at Sarah Lawrence College
the following year, soon taking over the chairmanship of the dance department
and maintaining that position until her retirement in 1975.
Schönberg's retirement years were busy ones, as she
continued to teach composition workshops at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, The
Juilliard School, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Dance Theatre Workshop.She led annual workshops at The Yard, where
she also served as artistic advisor.She
began teaching at Jacob's Pillow in 1980, and she remained an important part of
the Pillow faculty until her death.
In addition to three theaters that bear her name, the New
York Dance and Performance Awards were named in her honor, and she received a
special Bessie Award for lifetime achievement in 1988. She was awarded the New York State Governor's
Arts Award in 1989, Dance/USA's Ernie Award in 1994, and was the first
recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts' special Master Teacher/Mentor
Fellowship in 1993. She was the subject of an insightful film
documentary by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, and her papers are collected
in two extensive archives at Sarah Lawrence College and at the New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts.
Theatrical dance that developed in the U.S. and Europe in the 20th century as a reaction to traditional ballet. Precursors included Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan. Formal teaching of modern dance began with the establishment of the Denishawn schools by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn in 1915. Many of their students, principally Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham, further contributed to modern dance's definition as a technique based on principles of fall and recovery (Humphrey) and of contraction and release (Graham). Movement often stressed the expression of emotional intensity and contemporary subjects rather than focusing on the formal, classical, and often narrative aspects of ballet. Later developments included a revolt in the 1950s against Graham's expressionism, led by Merce Cunningham, whose choreography included ballet technique and the element of chance. See alsoAgnes de Mille; Hanya Holm; José Limón; Alwin Nikolais; Anna Sokolow; Paul Taylor; Twyla Tharp.