Lynchtown East and West

“A portrait of a community consumed by violent passions.”– Jack Anderson, NYTimes, 1985.

On April 28, 2014, Minerva Tapia Dance Group from Tijuana presented a concert as part of Jean Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theater‘s Live Arts Festival at the White Box Theater. The dance group performed Charles Weidman’s Lynchtown, staged and directed by Weidman alumnus, George Willis. Mr. Willis was eighteen when he started dancing with Charles Weidman in California, first in Hermosa Beach and then Hollywood. He came into modern dance as a body builder and after his first class, he was “hooked.” Mr. Willis trained with Weidman for three years on scholarship until Weidman returned to the east coast. During that time, he performed Weidman’s Lynchtown, Fables for our Time, Flickers, and The War Between Men and Women.

Photo by MANUEL ROTENBERG.

Minerva Tapia Dance Group performing “Lynchtown” Photo by MANUEL ROTENBERG

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Minerva Tapia Dance Group performing “Lynchtown” Photo by MANUEL ROTENBERG

 

Just ten days before the Live Arts Festival performance in California, Lynchtown was performed here on the east coast in New York City. The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation hosted Preservation of the Charles Weidman Moving Image Archive, a fundraiser for their project with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. New Jersey based contemporary dance company, Nimbus Dance Works, performed Lynchtown at the event, staged by Margaret O’Sullivan and Samuel Pott.

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Nimbus Dance Works in tech rehearsal for “Lynchtown” at Gibney Dance Center before the fundraiser. Photo by LARRY HALL.

 

The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation is thrilled that Weidman’s Lynchtown is being learned and performed across America and around the world! Lynchtown, the third dance in the Atavisms suitewas first performed in 1936 and depicts a lynching that Weidman witnessed as a child. It deals with problems of racism, mob mentality, and injustice that are still widely relevant today. We at the Foundation hope that Lynchtown will continue to be studied and performed in universities, schools, and by professional companies around the world for years to come.

Lynchtown in Taiwan!

“Lynchtown” being performed in Taiwan in 1993.

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A program of a “Lynchtown” performance from 1986 in San Diego, CA.

 

photo by Mike Peters. Montclair State University, 2011

Montclair State University students performing “Lynchtown”  in 2011. Photo by MIKE PETERS.

 

Post by Julia Jurgilewicz.

 

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Dr. Jeff Friedman’s lecture on Weidman’s “Lynchtown”

“…in Lynchtown (from his Atavisms suite) grim horror was the keynote. In this work, the audience witnessed not only the injustice with which a minority group of our population has been treated but also the primitive blood lust, the sadism which supposedly civilized persons reveal when a scapegoat for their savagery is found. Lynch Town strikes home, it strikes the very being of the American, for the trembling evil of the lynchers themselves and the evil of the lookers-on who share vicariously in the horrible thrill seem to vibrate across the footlights and attack the complacency of those who sit in the safety of the theater. The dancers move with racing frenzy, halting to look at death with lust and, perhaps, with fear. A figure stretches forward to get a better view of murder, and horror stretches along the invisible waves of art communications to remind the beholder that the battle for ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ is not yet won.” -From Walter Terry, The Dance in America, Harper & Row, 1956

Weidman's "Lynchtown"

Weidman’s “Lynchtown”

 

 

On May 7, in historic downtown Jersey City, Tachair Bookshoppe hosted a fascinating, multimedia lecture by Dr. Jeff Friedman. “Weidman’s Lynchtown: American Dialectics, Moral Questions and the Art of Persuasion” considered Weidman’s work from a dazzling array of perspectives including Laban Movement Analysis, Piaget’s ideas on the development of morality in children, and Cicero’s importance of gesture in Oratory.

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Nimbus Dancer Yuko Monden

Nimbus Dance Works dancer, Yuko Monden, demonstrated movement from Lynchtown as Dr. Friedman related them to Laban’s concepts of free flow, bound flow, weight, spoking and arcing. The entrance walk of the lynch mob is an example of “bound flow”, while Monden’s final exit as she leaps off the stage is “free flow.”  Using archival footage, Friedman also showed how the lynch mob’s entrance creates a “wall of movement” that physically and emotionally separates the audience from the victim.

Dr. Friedman went on to discuss Weidman’s early interest in comedy and satire.  Archival photos of The Happy Hypocrite (1931) and The School for Husbands (1933) (choreographed with Doris Humphrey) were used as examples. Dr. Friedman’s comments on the social significance of satire were especially interesting.

Charles Weidman in The Happy Hypocrite (1930's)

Charles Weidman in The Happy Hypocrite (1930’s)

The lecture was followed by a lively discussion on a wide range of topics including the psychological challenges faced by performers in portraying such evil, the choice of the smallest dancer to portray “the Incitor” character of the mob, how the dances in Atavisms (Stock Exchange, Bargain Counter, and Lynchtown) relate to current events, mob behavior, and how best  to teach about fascism.

Bargain Counter

Bargain Counter

If you missed Dr. Friedman’s lecture, you still have one more opportunity to attend on May 23 at 7pm at the Highland Park Public Library, 31 North Highland Park, Highland Park, NJ.  For live performances of  Lynchtown, don’t miss Nimbus Dance Works’ Jersey City spring season, “UNPLUGGED” May 30,31, and June 1 at the Barrow Mansion, 83 Wayne Street, Jersey City.

Highland Park Public Library

Highland Park Public Library

 

Words by Nadira Hall

Lynchtown Revisited

“The twisted minds of bigots symbolized by twisted bodies. Dancers doubled up with rage and when the lynch mob finally dragged in its victim, they gathered about his body as if they were vultures.”- The New York Times

This past autumn, our Vice-President, Margaret O’Sullivan, traveled to New Jersey to start working with contemporary company Nimbus Dance Works. Under the direction of Samuel Pott, the company will be performing Weidman’s iconic work, Lynchtown, this winter in their NYC season February 15-17th  at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater.

Nimbus dancers in rehearsal for Lynchtown

Nimbus dancers in rehearsal for Lynchtown. Photo by PeiJu Chien-Pott.

Lynchtown was first performed in 1936 as the final section of Weidman’s trio suite Atavisms along side Bargain Counter and Stock Exchange. Lynchtown depits the excitement and horror of a lynching that Charles witnessed as a child. Unlike his previous and widely enjoyed comedic works, Lynchtown drew on a darker tone and “because Weidman was generally comic, his grave works had an anger and force that strengthened the sardonic, sometimes macabre dancing”. (American Modern Dancers: The Pioneers)

Because of it’s alarmingly honest essence, universal reach, and timeless topic, performances of Lynchtown have surfaced throughout the years. Most recently, Montclair State University dancers performed Weidman’s Lynchtown accompanied by live percussionists and clarinetist in a bill paired with Weidman’s Brahms Waltzes at the 92nd St Y in April 2011. Lynchtown was also shown in 1994 at the Humphrey-Weidman Gala: Dances from Their Years Together and in 1993 at SUNY Purchase and in Taiwan, China.

photo by Mike Peters. Montclair State University, 2011

photo by Mike Peters. Montclair State University, 2011

When asked about re-staging Lynchtown, Margaret O’Sullivan commented that “the hardest part for dancers is allowing themselves to really indulge and enjoy the grotesque and focus on the event.  The dancers never face or look at the audience and it is very into the ground in very deep, deep plies.” She compares the movement to that of animals and recalls that in her first Lynchtown rehearsal as a dancer, Charles told them to be more “lascivious” with their movement.

Photo of Lynchtown with Margaret O'Sullivan (furthest left)

Photo of Lynchtown with Margaret O’Sullivan (furthest left)

One of the benefits and treats of learning Weidman dances from Margaret is the refreshingly “old” method  of learning everything from  memory. Nowadays, dancers  develop and hone their skills in reversing movement learnt from a computer screen. Nimbus dancer Elena Valls expressed how in this Weidman Foundation/Nimbus collaboration, the dancers “did not learn anything from a video; it was all [Margaret’s] memory and from watching her do the movement. That made it way more enjoyable. She noticed the smallest details, like the Humphrey foot (which we call the Barbie foot), the tension in the hands and neck, and how your eyes really tell the story.”.

Nimbus Dance Works Dancers in rehearsal

Nimbus Dance Works dancers in rehearsal. Photo by PeiJu Chien-Pott.

The company will be performing Lynchtown in their NYC season on February 15-17th  at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater. Director Sam Pott has plans to create a new work based off  similar ideas and themes addressed in Weidman’s Lynchtown. Nimbus’s future plans involve  traveling to New Jersey schools to show Weidman’s iconic work and have the children create their own versions of Weidman’s dance based on ideas of intolerance and hate.

For more information on the Nimbus Dance Works NYC performance, visit their website here.

Sources: Olga Maynard. American Modern Dancers The Pioneers. Copyright 1965.

Lynchtown quote taken from myloc.gov.

Post by Julia Jurgilewicz