The blog is dedicated to the work of Joseph David Toloff (1888-1957). From his studio in Evanston, Illinois he was one of the premier photographers of the North Shore from 1913 until his retirement in 1955. From time to time I will feature a different photograph or set of photographs by Toloff or other information about him I may uncover.
Monday, June 10, 2013
RUTH ST. DENIS IN "THE PEACOCK" by J.D. Toloff
This week's selection is a little different from the Toloff works I have posted so far. In addition to photographing weddings and portraits of the citizens of the North Shore, Toloff also photographed the famous. Here are two photos of noted danseuse Ruth St. Denis from "The Peacock":
The Peacock Dance is based on an Indian legend of a woman who is turned into a peacock because of her extreme vanity. Here is a brief biography of Ruth St. Denis from the Jacob's Pillow website (http://www.jacobspillow.org/):
A cigarette poster changed Ruth St. Denis' (1879-1968) life in 1906, an unlikely event which eventually altered the course of modern dance in America. She was then an eccentric showgirl named Ruth Dennis, touring through Buffalo in David Belasco's theater company. When she spotted an advertisement for Egyptian Deities in a Buffalo drugstore, the image of the goddess Iris conjured up the idea of a new kind of dance-theater which might tell the entire story of a civilization through movement.
Within a few months, she had emerged as Ruth St. Denis in a solo concert on Broadway, inaugurating a decade of triumphs in various exotic dances fashioned from the folklore of Japan, China, and India. Although these dances sprang from a deep spirituality, St. Denis later confessed, "I knew that all the time I was dancing about God and Faith and the Spirit, most of the audience was only looking at my bare feet and my revealing costume." She was sketched by Rodin, courted by Stanford White, admired by Martha Graham (who would become her student) and pursued by Ted Shawn (who became both her partner and her husband).
Any performance by "Miss Ruth" was distinguished by her remarkable stage presence. Her solos are difficult to reproduce, as they demand charisma, deft manipulation of costumes and props, and a profound belief in the mystical power of the dances. Through Denishawn (1914-1929), the company and school she founded with Ted Shawn, St. Denis made her greatest impact on audiences and on a generation of disciples including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. The visions stimulated by that cigarette poster were allowed to take shape in the elaborate spectacles staged by Denishawn.
The dissolution of Denishawn led St. Denis deeper into her spiritual nature and into long periods of artistic oblivion, resulting in such desperate measures as working the graveyard shift in an aircraft factory. Her long life accommodated a number of declines and resurgences, with most of the latter supplied by Shawn through regular stints at Jacob's Pillow, beginning with a revival of Radha in 1941. She continued to dance well into her eighties, characterizing her later performances with an unusually modest self-assessment: "I move with remembered beauty." St. Denis died in 1968, and her portrait still hangs beside the proscenium in the Ted Shawn Theatre.