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East Indian Nautch Dance 1944

Choreographer(s) : Saint Denis, Ruth (United States)

Present in collection(s):

en fr

East Indian Nautch Dance 1944

Choreographer(s) : Saint Denis, Ruth (United States)

Present in collection(s):

en fr

East Indian Nautch Dance

Ruth Saint Denis, a pioneer of modern dance, created choreography that was often inspired by traditional indigenous dances from Asia. One famous example of these works is her "East Indian Nautch Dance," shown here. Music for the dance was composed by Charles Wakefield Cadman.

This film represents a brief performance of Saint Denis's "street nautch" (as opposed to the "white nautch"), filmed in August 1944.

The film opens with a medium shot of St. Denis seated, with arms posed and eyes closed. She wears a great deal of jewelry, makeup, and an 'exotic' costume of many fabrics.

Source: Chicago Film Archive

More information:

After first appearing on the western stage in 1838, Indian dance once  again surfaced prominently in the early 20th century. As with the  bayaderes in 1838, the performers of the troupe in 1906 were of Indian  origin. This time, however, their lead dancer and choreographer was not  an Indian, but a young American named Ruth Saint Denis.  

Saint Denis' Indian dance pieces were attempts to convey Hindu  philosophical ideas to Western audiences in a manner that would be  intelligible to them. These were not authentic Indian dances, as were  those of the bayaderes, but were inspired by Indian themes and included  the sinuous and rippling arm motions and graceful body movements and  postures of classical Indian dances. St. Denis abundantly used Indian  dress materials and jewelry and designed and wore long flowing costumes. To create an Eastern ambience, she used Indian brassware, ornate  columns, flowers, incense and other creative stage props. 

Saint Denis was a gifted dancer whose artistic creations demonstrated how  to relink dance with spiritualism at a time when Western dancers had  generally cut themselves off from its religious and spiritual origins.  She had studied and was deeply inspired by non-Western and especially  Indian civilization at a time when a tendency--much later dubbed as  "Orientalism" by Edward Said--prompted her contemporaries to look upon  non-Western people as inferior, backward and static or even weird and  animalistic. Ruth Saint Denis's relative open-mindedness was thus a fresh  departure that helped free Western dance from its shackles, elevated it  onto a higher plane and placed important and even profound facets of  Indian culture before Western audiences.

Source: Dr. Kusum Pant Joshi, London

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Saint Denis, Ruth

Ruth Saint Denis, original named Ruth Dennis, (born January 20, 1879, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.—died July 21, 1968, Los Angeles, California), was an American contemporary dance innovator who influenced almost every phase of American dance.

From an early age Ruth Dennis displayed a marked interest in the theatre and especially in dance. She began dancing and acting in vaudeville and musical comedy shows when she was a teenager. While touring in the last play she was reputedly inspired by a cigarette poster featuring an Egyptian scene of the goddess Isis to begin investigating Asian art and dance.

Dennis took the stage name Ruth Saint Denis, and in 1906, after studying Hindu art and philosophy, she offered a public performance in New York City of her first dance work, Radha (based on the milkmaid Radha who was an early consort of the Hindu god Krishna), together with such shorter pieces as The Cobra and The Incense. A three-year European tour followed. She was particularly successful in Vienna, 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 Saint Denis married Ted Shawn, her dance partner, and the next year they founded the Denishawn school and company in Los Angeles. During that time, Saint Denis’s choreographic style broadened to include group numbers occasionally derived from European as well as Asian 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”—a technique, comparable to the eurythmics of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, that assigned one dancer to interpret the rhythms of each instrument of the orchestra.

Saint Denis and Shawn separated, both professionally and maritally, in 1931, though they never divorced. Saint 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 (Russell M. Hughes), she founded the School of Natya to continue the teaching of South Asian dance. She resumed performing in 1941 with an appearance at Shawn’s Jacob’s Pillow Festival in Massachusetts, where she continued to appear annually until 1955. Often called the “first lady of American dance,” she remained active into the 1960s, when many of her better-known solos were recorded on film.

Saint Denis had a profound influence on the course of modern dance in America, particularly through Denishawn, which was the first major organized centre of dance experiment and instruction in the country and whose students included Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. Prompted by a belief that dance should be spiritual instead of simply entertaining or technically skillful, Saint Denis brought to American dance a new emphasis on meaning and the communication of ideas by using themes previously considered too philosophical for theatrical dance. Although she was never concerned with technique for its own sake, her extensive use of Asian dance forms and abstract “music visualizations” encouraged her students to develop other nonballetic movements that became known as modern dance.

Her autobiography, Ruth St. Denis: An Unfinished Life, was published in 1939.

Source : Encyclopaedia Britannica

Denishawn School

Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, dance school and company founded in 1915 by Ruth Saint Denis and her husband, Ted Shawn. Considered a fountainhead of American modern dance, the Denishawn organization systematically promoted nonballetic dance movement and fostered such leading modern dancers as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman.  Because Saint Denis and Shawn believed that all dance techniques were  valid and instructive, the school offered classes in Oriental, Spanish,  and primitive dance; the fundamentals of ballet; their own innovative techniques; and, later, the modern-dance techniques that had been  developed in Europe by Rudolf Laban and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. Branches of the school were established in New York City and other American cities. The company’s repertoire,  choreographed by Saint Denis and Shawn, ranged from unadorned solos to  opulent productions with Japanese, Hindu, Middle Eastern, or American Indian themes. The Denishawn dancers frequently toured the United States and performed in the Orient (1925–26). The organization disbanded in 1931 after Saint Denis and Shawn separated.

Source : Britannica Encyclopaedia

Chicago Film Archives

Chicago Film Archives is a regional film archive dedicated to identifying, collecting, preserving and providing access to films that represent the Midwest. Our purpose is to serve institutions and filmmakers of this region and elsewhere by establishing a repository for institutional and private film collections; serve a variety of cultural, academic and artistic communities by making the films available locally, nationally, and internationally for exhibition, research, and production; and serve our culture by restoring and preserving films that are rare or not in existence elsewhere. For more information regarding the collections, please go to:

East Indian Nautch Dance

Choreography : Ruth Saint Denis

Interpretation : Ruth Saint Denis

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