DIVINE DANCER: A Biography of Ruth St. Denis by Suznnne Shelton

DIVINE DANCER: A Biography of Ruth St. Denis

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Unlike Walter Terry's Miss Ruth (1969), this more comprehensive and objective ""critical biography"" doesn't project the charismatic St. Denis personality especially well--but it does a clear, convincing job of assessing her achievement, her influences (philosophical, mystical, musical, educational), and her problems. Daughter of unconventional New Jersey farmers (with Theosophist boarders), Ruthie learned Delsarte exercises from her pushy mother, was inspired by Delsarte dancer Genevieve Stebbins, and began her own teenage career as a vaudeville ""skirt dancer,"" with four years' stage-wise experience as a David Belasco player: ""she remained a genius of lowbrow whose dance was born in dime museums""--colored by the Orient and Art Nouveau. But her first personal patrons were highbrow: society folk (led by Stanford White) who came to a matinee of Ruthie's own Radha (prototypical St. Denis: a virginal deity wrestling with evil). And success soon followed: European tours, admiration from Reinhardt and Hofmannsthal, but still with a conflict between ""variety"" instincts and high-art aspirations. Enter, then: young, adoring dancer Ted Shawn, ""her match in ambition, narcissism, and idealism, if not in creative genius. . ."" His business savvy and comic dances made ""Denishawn"" a commercial entity--with schools, a magazine, sold-out tours. But Ted and his taste for institutions suppressed Ruth's individual art; their marriage became a nightmare of rivalry and infidelity--culminating in an ugly triangle (both Ruth and Ted in love with the same man). . .while Denishawn fell into 1930s financial ruin. And only in the Forties (after Ruth's sexual awakening with a Chinese poet and a flirtation with Moral Re-Armament) did the legendary ""Miss Ruth"" take shape, with a revived career that lasted into her 80s. Rather dense and sometimes repetitious, Shelton's study isn't for those seeking a breezy personality profile. But, with close-ups of six key St. Denis dances and some neatly phrased evocations (""Duncan seemed to dance in capital letters; St. Denis moved in script""), it's the most thorough St. Denis reference around, a good complement to Elizabeth Kendall's more impressionistic Where She Danced (1979).

Pub Date: May 15th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday