Gorgeous! Ruth St. Denis headdress in Denishawn costume show 1

The headdress from Ruth St. Denis’s 1919 Chinese-inspired “Kuan Yin,” with buttons, feathers and artificial pearls. credit David Dashiell for the New York Times.

Dance writer Gia Kourlas writes in the New York Times about an exhibit of 30  costumes worn by Denishawn dancers under the aegis of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. The costumes, as well as other collateral, were long stored in trunks at Jacob’s Pillow. Several were at UCLA, ostensibly in the Collection of Ruth St. Denis which is archived there.

The modern dance tree has abundant roots, and two of its thickest and oldest belong to Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Their Denishawn company and school in Los Angeles, which lasted from 1914 to ’29, toured the world with a new spirit of dance — barefoot and weighted, exotic and spiritual. They were celebrities of their day. Their costumes were often extravagant and the opposite of Coco Chanel’s dictum: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” That was the cue, at least for St. Denis, to add another bauble.

Read more in the New York Times.

Fascinating to see this heavily beaded headdress. Jack Cole, who danced in the company’s final years, was handy with a needle as well. Our friend in Los Angeles, the Hollywood choreographer Miriam Nelson, remembered Cole in an interview. “Going by his dressing room, the door was open,” Miriam told me. “And he was always sewing more beads on his costume.”

“Dance We Must: Treasures From Jacob’s Pillow, 1906-1940” | Williams College Museum of Art | June 29 – Nov 11

One comment on “Gorgeous! Ruth St. Denis headdress in Denishawn costume show

  1. Patrick Scott Jun 26,2018 3:01 pm

    Many years ago when I was a set and costume designer very active in the dance world, my assistant Charlotte Adair was working at UCLA. Her job was to carefully clean and prepare the Ruth St. Denis costumes from the dancer choreographer’s trunks for a new archive. A picture of Ted Shawn in an audacious Egyptian get-up found in a book in my high school’s library inspired me to try to reproduce it. This “making it up with no experience or guidance” version of Ted Shawn’s headress was made from thin balsa wood on a cockamamie skullcap made with paper mâché and plaster!!! Very heavy. Some years later when I told Center Theater Group that I had experience as a milliner (they were desperate, as Charlton Heston’s “A Man for All Seasons” was soon to be mounted) it wasn’t a total lie! This NY Times piece is a wonderful story that rings so many bells.

    Apparently it did the same for Francisco Martinez, who wrote on my Facebook page when I posted the above:
    “About 15 years or more ago, I met in Ojai Anne Ducet. What started out as a conversation of dance teachers turned into that her sister, Germaine Ballou, was my first ballet teacher in Manhattan Beach. Anne and her sister danced with Denishawn. At the time we met she was 80 yrs. old and invited me to her home so I can see her collection of Denishawn memorabilia. I went to her house and was taken to the holy room. My mouth dropped to the floor when I saw very large original posters of the company on their tour to the East. She showed me programs, costumes, head pieces; one after the other leaving me in that state of “I am witnessing dance history” before my eyes state of mind. We communicated through the years via snail mail, (I still have 3 of the letters from her), paid her subsequent visits. I suggested that she should have all of the programs and poster treated so they wouldn’t decay. She said that she didn’t think anyone would be interested in her collection. I said I beg to differ. On one of those visits she asked me if I would be interested in taking all of her collection. I said I would, but that I would find a place that could house these important elements of the Denishawn Company. I didn’t hear from her from her for a while and on one of my visits to Ojai I stopped by her house only to find a “For Sale” sign in front of it. I asked around and was told that Anne had passed away. I asked about her collection and a close friend of hers told me that her son got rid of everything. This broke my heart because what I saw was authentic memorabilia of an important historical period. She is buried in a cemetery in the city of Ventura. Sorry for the length of this via this format, but I just wanted to share with you. Thank you for posting the article.”

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