Divine Dancer: A Biography of Ruth St. Denis

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9780385141598: Divine Dancer: A Biography of Ruth St. Denis

The turbulent career of Ruth St. Denis - performer, mystic, and seminal figure in modern dance-embraced the whole creative flux of artistic and spiritual movements in the early years of this century. Herself a fascinating mixture of earthiness and spirituality, chasteness and eroticism, St. Denis embodied the contradictory impulses of her time and gave form to them in dances that electrified her audiences.

From the outset, she was endowed with an elusive star quality, a spellbinding stage presence that imbued her sinuous gestures with a kind of mythic grace. A variety dancer at fifteen, Ruthie Dennis (her real name) served her apprenticeship with David Belasco's stage company. At 27, her hair already completely gray, she made her solo debut with Radha, a landmark oriental dance that brought her fame. During a triumphant European tour, she danced for King Edward VII, was feted by prewar Germany's artists and writers and sketched by Rodin. She returned to America a star, and married dancer Ted Shawn, with whom she founded Denishawn, the company which became the training ground for such celebrated modern dancers as Martha Graham.

But this was only the beginning. In her fifties, separated from Shawn and enduring a period of professional eclipse, St. Denis experienced searing physical love for the first time with a Chinese poet/philosopher. Moving to California in her sixties, she became an aircraft-factory worker and ardent feminist. And in her seventies, she returned to the stage, still effortlessly graceful.

Drawing on St. Denis' own diaries and letters, as well as on interviews with students and colleagues, DIVINE DANCER illuminates both the origins of modern dance and the tumultuous life of one of its most charismatic first ladies. It is a book "Miss Ruth" herself would have loved-as big as the life she lived and the legacy she left behind.

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Shelton, Suzanne
Published by Doubleday (1981)
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