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Reply To: The River Erdman,” with Dr. Diane McGhee”


Hi Sunbug:

Thanks for your sweet note. I hear your exuberance for Erdman, Campbell, and for everything dance! I see you are also quite the follower of Irish talent and lore. You stirred my interest regarding the prevalence of Irish bonfires.

Interestingly, although I did not become a mechanical engineer, I am privileged to use all the same principles of physics; instead of using them for merely functional reasons, all dancers use them to create artistry with the body.

I see we have had some similar experiences. I agree that Ecstasy of Being was an important release for the Joseph Campbell Foundation. I am also glad you mentioned Lester Horton. He remains a legend that is known mainly through the Ailey tradition. I love the Horton technique and have used it extensively when teaching youngsters in Boston. The urban students craved the physical challenges and the discipline it commands. They also identified with the members of the Ailey company and the work of Alvin himself.

Jean was not one to borrow another’s tradition. From my own experience, sometimes one is given permission to participate or perform various rituals or traditions. For Jean, the differences in various world styles and their unique aspects were as spectacular colors selected from the entire spectrum of colors of the world’s peoples. Erdman diligently studied how the beliefs and values of a people informed the movements choices made visible in a particular dance or style. Erdman’s inspirations were derived from the primordial origins and stylization of the elements, which she often connected to images that arrive from the collective unconscious.

There are quite a few dancers, musicians, production and other theatrical people who had the opportunity to work with Jean Erdman in the latter decades of her career. Many people who knew Jean came together in New York to celebrate her 100th birthday with a presentation of her dances.

Thank you for the chat.