"I went to Hunter College to see this company from California to do some reconstructions of pieces by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn," said Joyce Trisler, whose own Danscompany presented the Washington premiere of "The Spirit of Denishawn" at Lisner Auditorium last night. "After watching St. Denis' 'Brahms Waltzes,' I nearly had a heart attack. That's it, I said to myself - that's real. You hear and read so much about Denishawn, but you know instantly when it's authentic."
St. Denis and Shawn, who slid their names together for the troupe they founded in 1915, were the great American Progenitors of modern dance, which they introduced to the country and the world on tours that lasted to 1931.
From the Denishawn shool and company were to emerge the grand pioneers of the next generation - Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Jack Cole and still others. But only in recent years have the actual dances of Denishawn, with their multiple ethnic and exotic influences, been restored for contemporary audiences, and in this effort, Trisler has played a key role. The Danscompany's "Spirit of Denishawn" program, permiered in 1976, was a great success in New York and at such othr sites as the festivals of Holland, Berlin and Cologne.
"After the Hunter program," Trisler explains, "I immediately sought out the person responsible for the reconstructions. It turned out to be the little old lady - near 80 I think - from San Francisco, Klarna Pinska. I called her and asked how she'd like ot do a whole Denishawn program with us. She said, 'I've been waiting my entire life for this telephone call.'"
The slightly abbreviated version of "The Spirit of Denishawn" being shown in Washington (the program repeats tonight at Lisner) includes St. Denis' scarf dances, Shawn's "Gnossienne" to the music of Satie, "Liebestraum," and St. Denis' celebrated "Soaring," with its swirling veils.
"When we started work on 'Spirit,'" says Trisler, "all kinds of Denishawn old-timers came out of the closets wanting to put their two cents in. But I felt it needed to have the integrity of one peroon's vision, so Klarna did it all. Klarna never actually danced with Denishawn - she was Miss Ruth's maid and rehearsal mistress. But she watched everything and has a fantastic knowledge of the works."
Though Danscompany has not been here before, Trisler, whose own "Four Temperaments" and "Little Red Riding Hood (An Urban Fable)" are also on the current program, is no stranger to Washington. In 1971, she helped launch the Kennedy Center Opera House by choreographing Ginastera's-Beatrix Cenci" for the Opera Society of Washington.
Another Trisler work, "Dance for Six" has been in the repertory of the Capitol Ballet for many years.
Trisler herself studied with Lester Horton in her native Los Angeles, came East to work with Doris Humphrey and the Juilliard Dance Theater, and then became a leading dancer in Alvin Ailey's company. She has also choreographed several Broadway musicals. In 1974, she formed Danscompany, with a repertoire embracing her own work and such others as Ailey, Horton, Humphrey, McKayle and Waring.
"The critics nearly killed me for 'Four Temperaments,'" she says. "How dare you use music - the Hindemith score - that Balanchine commissioned for one of his masterworks, they said, that's sacrilege. I almost dropped it, except that the public loved it. Besides, mine is totally different from the Balanchine - it's modern dance, of course, not ballet, and instead of sticking to the 'temperaments' idea, it deals with four couples involved in contrasting relationships, so there's really no comparing the two, you see."