Laura Dean Biography
Laura Dean was born on December 3, 1945 on Staten Island, New York. She began her dance and music training at the Third Street Music School in New York City where she studied with Lucas Hoving who was her first dance teacher when she was seven years old. He had a major positive impact on her. She considers Lucas Hoving the main reason that she made dance the profession for her life. She then studied at the School of American Ballet with Muriel Stuart (1957 and 1958). She graduated from the High School of Performing Arts/Dance Division (1963), where her teachers were Gertrude Shurr, Norman Walker, David Wood, Nina Popova and May O’Donnell. She studied at the Joffrey Ballet School with Francoise Martinet (1965 and 1966) and studied jazz with Matt Mattox (1962). She was a dancer in the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1964 and 1965. She studied with Paul Sanasardo and was a dancer in the Paul Sanasardo Dance Company in 1966 and 1967. She studied ballet with Mia Slavenska in 1966 and 1967. She performed with Kenneth King in his duet Blow Out at the Judson Church in 1966. She performed with Meredith Monk in Monk's work Time Stop in 1966.
The Dean Dance and Music Foundation was founded in 1972. In 1972 Dean established her company, Laura Dean and Dance Company (1972 to 1975). The name was changed to Laura Dean Dance Company (Jan. 1976 to Sept. 1976), then changed to Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians (Oct. 1976 to Sept. 1991) to reflect the creation of the music as well as the dance by Laura Dean. In 1991 the company name was changed to Laura Dean Musicians and Dancers (Oct. 1991 to Jan. 2000). The last work Dean choreographed for the company was View Over Atlantis, performed in Jan. 2000. The Dean Dance and Music Foundation that was incorporated in 1972 was dissolved in 2007. The company disbanded in 2000, having performed throughout the US, Europe and Asia. Ms. Dean has created 54 modern dance works, 29 ballets and 26 works for students.
The company has received numerous commissions for new works including commissions from the American Dance Festival, the Kennedy Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Het Muziektheater, Walker Art Center, the Hansher Auditorium, the Hopkins Center and the Avignon Festival. In addition to the works that Dean has created for her own company, she has been commissioned to create works for other companies. In ballet, she has created two ballets for the Royal Danish Ballet, the New York City Ballet, the Frankfurt Ballet, five ballets for The Ohio Ballet and eight ballets for the Joffrey Ballet, including the much acclaimed section of Billboards, “Sometimes It Snows in April”. Her works for professional skating companies include two works for the John Curry Ice Skating Company, The Next Ice Age and two works for the Ice Theatre of New York. Her works for modern dance companies include the Bat-Dor Dance Company of Israel, the Concert Dance Company of Boston, and the Ririe/Woodbury Dance Company. Her folk dance works include the Aman Folk Ensemble. She has also worked with Peter Gabriel. Dean did the staging and movement for Gabriel's 1983 tour. Dean also worked with David Bowie. She created the movement for the Scary Monsters album video in 1981.
I spin because I remember spinning and whirling as a child. These childhood memories of whirling came back to me when I was working on movement, by myself in a studio in San Francisco, in 1968 and part of 1969. The following is from an interview that Laura Dean did with The Chicago Tribune Arts Critic, Sid Smith, on March 14, 1999. It is at this time that Laura Dean was creating her eighth ballet for The Joffrey Ballet, CREATIVE FORCE. Sid Smith says," Dean's piece, "Creative Force" is proof that modern dance, while abstract, can be decidedly about something, in this case something profound. Laura Dean says "I've always been interested in what's going on in astronomy and physics," Dean explains. "For many years, we thought the universe had a chaotic look, that it was random. But we've gotten stronger and better telescopes and technology, and in the last 10 to 15 years, astronomers have been concluding that there's a very intelligent pattern to the universe. It looks a little bit like lace. There's a universal intelligence" Dean concludes "and we're just a part of that". Beyond the obvious theological implications, Dean sees in these ideas a metaphor for dance as an enterprise blending individual dancer, ensemble and overall work. "I've always in my choreography had a love of grand design and pattern, but at the same time a love for the individual inside of that," she says. "That is precisely what we are. We've been placed in this grand design, and it's up to us to decide what to do with it." "Spinning is a central fact of the universe," she notes. "Not only are the planets spinning, but the galaxies are spinning, too, and the Milky Way, our galaxy, is in a spiral pattern. Even our DNA is a spiral. Whatever that universal force is, I feel a kinship."
Laura Dean's dance and music works have had many labels and interpretations put on them over the years. There has also been conjecture as to Ms. Dean's influences. The following article by Michael Pistor was created for the LAURA DEAN DANCERS AND MUSICIANS TOUR of India by The United States International Communication Agency, American Center, New Delhi, India in 1982. "Laura Dean's dances are reminiscent of spinning Sufi dancing of the Middle East, the stomping earthbound nature of African tribal dance, the gestural delicacy of styles of the Far East. The mood is mystic and trancelike. At a musical cue the dancers move into a different form of trance. They make hand gestures vaguely suggestive of Indian mudras, they stamp toe-to-heel with their boots. Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians was established as a repertory company of musicians and dancers in 1976. In 1976 Laura Dean received a fellowship from the Creative Artists Service Program. With the fellowship she created SONG - for six dancers, two pianos, and voice- which premiered in April 1976 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. SONG begins with a wordless song- very sweet and ringing. Later some of Dean's foot patterns appear. When the dancers begin to sing as they dance, the pitch seems to rise several notches, taking the audience with it. DANCE which was first shown in Graz, Austria, in 1976, takes off with cries from the dancers and moves into a heavy-stomping circular pattern, the dancers skipping along, their arms swinging. In SPIRAL, premiered in November 1977, the company dressed in boldly colored jumpsuits and spaced across the stage, start chanting and dancing. "It is very much like trance dancing or dervish turns," said one dance critic. He added that at one point all dancers spin in concentric circles, some clockwise, some counter-clockwise, and there are no collisions! SPIRAL, as Dean says, is spinning. In MUSIC, commissioned by the American Dance Festival and The Brooklyn Academy of Music and premiered in 1979, Dean has gone back to plain geometric patterns and dancers spinning in place. "She has," in the words of Anna Kisselgoff, "made dance look clear and direct. 'Music' is a dance to get respectably high on." Her dances are at least four-dimensional, a kaleidoscope of both time and space, plus something mystical, magical, impossible in the end to define. Mathematics has always fascinated Laura Dean and she could have been a geometry whiz. She could have been a mathematician or a philosopher, but she decided to made dances instead. There are parts of Laura Dean's vocabulary that link up with ancient dance traditions, the whirling power and quick footwork of folk dances. But these are the glosses that Laura Dean feels merely represent the discoveries of the opposite fork of her two-pronged search: a journey into the self. Says dance critic Allen Robertson, in watching Laura Dean Dancers one will discover, however, that the avant garde doesn't have to be barren, foreboding, arid. "She's left all that behind her. What she gives us instead is a shimmering, warm, easily approachable synthesis of intellectually acute ideas and living breathing art."
Laura Dean did not study African dance, Middle Eastern dance, Indian dance, Sufi dance, Native American dance or folk dance. Her training is in ballet and modern dance. The dance vocabulary that she created for her company of dancers and the modern dance companies came from studio work she began doing in San Francisco in 1968 and she continued to elaborate on when she returned to New York in 1969. This is the intricate stamping foot patterns which were heard as part of the music scores Laura Dean composed, the extended non-spotted spinning sections and elaborate upper body, arm and hand gestures that her company was known for. The dancers wore a shoe with a flat wooden heel so the stamping patterns could be heard. The dance vocabulary that she created for the ballet companies was not the same dance language and vocabulary that she created for her own company. The dance language and vocabulary that she created for the ballet companies was from her ballet training and was ballet derivative. All of the Laura Dean ballets have the women in pointe shoes. Laura Dean says " I wanted to honor the training not only of the dancers that I was working with but of the training that I had received as a child from Muriel Stuart at The School of American Ballet and my ballet teachers at The High School of Performing Arts. And as an adult, the classes of Francoise Martinet at The Joffrey Ballet School and the classes of Mia Slavenska. I felt very lucky that I got to wear two hats. For this I thank Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey of The Joffrey Ballet, Frank Andersen of The Royal Danish Ballet, Peter Martins of The New York City Ballet, William Forsythe of The Frankfurt Ballet, Tom Skelton and Heinz Poll of The Ohio Ballet."