Ted Shawn (1891-1972) was an American dancer, choreographer, educator, and founder of Jacob's Pillow, an internationally renowned dance education center and performance space. With Ruth St. Denis, he created the Denishawn School of Dance, the first dance school to produce a professional company in the United States. The Ted Shawn papers, Additions date from 1833 to 1980 (bulk 1920-1970) and document Shawn's career through correspondence, writings, business records, musical scores, photographs, scrapbooks, programs, and other printed material. The collection also holds a small amount of St. Denis's business records, concerning her activities between 1930 and 1932.
Biographical/historical: Ted Shawn (1891-1972) was an American dancer, choreographer, educator, and founder of Jacob's Pillow, an internationally renowned dance education center and performance space. Together with his wife, dancer and choreographer Ruth St. Denis, he created the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, the first American dance school to produce a professional dance company.
Shawn's interest in dance began in college during his ministry studies in Denver, Colorado; when an attack of diphtheria left him temporarily paralyzed, and dancing became a regular part of his physical therapy. The hard labor of this reconstructive process would later embody the masculinity of his dance style and life's work. Upon his full recovery, Shawn began dancing full time, and within a year made his stage debut in Female of the Species (1911), his own two-act play with incidental solo dances. In 1912, Shawn moved to Los Angeles, California and quickly established a small dance company. Comprised of only three people, the company gave local performances and, in 1913, toured the country, ending in New York City.
It was in New York that he met dancer and choreographer Ruth St. Denis. The couple began dancing together and were married in 1914. The following year, they created the Denishawn School of Dance and Related Arts. St. Denis's experience with eastern philosophies, religion, and eurhythmics, coupled with Shawn's highly structured methods of kinetic movement, embodied the Denishawn style and laid the groundwork for the modern dance movement in the United States. Many of the company's dances drew on St. Denis's knowledge of Hindu mythology and other eastern folk tales, as well as unique musical visualizations. Modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Eleanor King, Lillian Powell, and Marion Rice were among those that studied and danced at the Denishawn School.
Denishawn dissolved after the separation of Shawn and St. Denis in 1929. During this time, Shawn danced and taught internationally, making appearances in Germany, France, Spain, and England. In 1932, Shawn established Ted Shawn and His Dancers (later renamed Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers), a company comprised entirely of male dancers. They rehearsed, choreographed, and trained at Shawn's farm in Becket, Massachusetts, what would later become Jacob's Pillow. The company toured and performed throughout the United States from 1933 to 1940, when the company dissolved because many of its members joined the Armed Forces. At the suggestion of friends and colleagues, Shawn opened rehearsals at the farm to the public for a small fee. Through this and additional funding, the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival was created. Each year, the Festival continues to highlight dancers and dance companies from the United States and internationally.
Shawn taught and lectured extensively throughout his career. He also authored nine books, including The American Ballet (1926), Fundamentals of a Dance Education (1935), How Beautiful Upon the Mountain: A History of Jacob's Pillow (1944), Thirty-Three Years of American Dance (1959), and an autobiography: One Thousand and One Night Stands (1960 with Gray Poole).
Shawn retired to Florida in the late 1960s, but continued to teach classes at Jacob's Pillow until the age of 80. He died in 1972.
Content: The Ted Shawn papers, Additions date from 1833 to 1980 (bulk 1920-1970) and document Shawn's career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator, from his establishment of the Denishawn School with Ruth St. Denis through his final years at Jacob's Pillow. The collection contains correspondence, writings, business records, photographs, scrapbooks, musical scores, posters, programs, and other printed material. A small amount of Jacob's Pillow material documents the organization's activities after Shawn's death in 1972. The business records of Ruth St. Denis document her activities immediately following the disbandment of the Denishawn Dancers.
Correspondence dates from 1929 to 1979 and consists of incoming and outgoing letters, which document the nature of Shawn's relationships with his students, colleagues, and friends. The letters provide a general survey of Shawn's professional and personal endeavors, with no particular correspondent dominating the communications, though his activities associated with Jacob's Pillow and his solo performances between 1940 and 1970 are the best-represented. Also included are copies of Shawn's annual newsletter that he sent to friends and colleagues, dating from 1945 to 1971. The correspondence is arranged chronologically with the exception of letters between Shawn and American artist and impresario Katherine Dreier, which comprise a separate chronological run.
Correspondence between Katherine Dreier and Shawn reveal their close personal and professional relationship. Letters discuss Shawn's activities from the time he separated from Ruth St. Denis in 1929, until 1933, after the advent of Jacob's Pillow. Correspondence discusses the planning and arrangement of Shawn's debut in Berlin; the introduction to his European representative, Frederic Beckman; as well as Dreier's book, Shawn the Dancer, which was published in 1933. Dreier's efforts to promote Shawn's work in Germany is evident in letters to her from German artists-such as Paul Klee, Hans Richter, Wassily Kandinsky, and Heinrich Campendonk-regarding their availability for Shawn's performances. Shawn's detailed accounts provide insight into his performances, tours, and financial difficulties during this time. The letters are sometimes accompanied by newspaper clippings and reviews of Shawn's performances in Germany. A small amount of material pertaining to Dreier's book is also held here, including photograph lists, text drafts in English and German, and chronologies and biographical sketches of Shawn. Other correspondence relating to Shawn's 1930 German tour is located in the chronological correspondence for 1929-1930. These letters are primarily between Shawn and Frederic Beckman.
Shawn's ideas on dance education and choreography are most evident in the writings. Choreographic writings are sparse, though a small amount of notes, lyrics, and movement sequences are present, including those for King Lear, The Bajour, The Song of Songs, Dance Arabe, and Mountain Whippoorwill. Essay titles include "Terminology of the Dance," "Pre-dance Training," "Fundamentals of a Dance Education," "Kinetic Approaches to Dance," and "Foundation for American Dance." Denishawn writings by Shawn with Ruth St. Denis include "The Denishawn Movement for the Furtherance of Creative Dance in America" and "The Theatre of the Dance: A Proposal by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn to Build a Theatre of Dance in New York City." A small amount of essays by Ruth St. Denis without Shawn include "Raising Hope," "Dancing in Church," and "The Dance and Civilization." The writings also hold Shawn's published articles for the Boston Herald and pedagogy lectures that he wrote at Jacob's Pillow for a 1951 Springfield College course.
Business records are comprised of files for Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, and Jacob's Pillow. The St. Denis files primarily document the business and performance engagements of St. Denis between 1930 and 1933, including the reorganization of the Denishawn School, the formation of the Ruth St. Denis Concert Group, and dance tours along the east coast. Materials are predominately handwritten expense reports, budgets, and programs. Jacob's Pillow files date from 1940 to 1980. Materials include board of directors meeting minutes; correspondence and printed material relating to advertising, sales, and finances; and project documentation created for grant funding. Programs and press releases for Jacob's Pillow and Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers are interspersed throughout the files. Business records for Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers are limited to miscellaneous tour schedules, notes, a small amount of correspondence, and advertising and printing requisitions.
Scores consist of published, printed, and manuscript scores of songs used by Shawn throughout his career for a variety of dances and class exercises. Scores for Denishawn; Jacob's Pillow; Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers; and Shawn's solo work are included, with the Denishawn scores comprising the bulk. These and some scores for Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers are heavily annotated and sometimes contain manuscript drafts of songs written by Jess Meeker, Vassily Zavadsky, Eastwood Lane, Paul Seelig, and Wolfgang Erben. Some of the Denishawn scores contain a photograph of a dancer and choreographic notes.
Photographs, many of which are housed in albums, provide rich documentation of Denishawn, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, and Jacob's Pillow. Denishawn photographs include performance stills, snapshots of rehearsals and classes, portraits of dancers, and photographs from the company's 1925-1926 tour of Asia. Images of Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers comprise a significant amount of the photographs. They consist of production stills, portraits, headshots, and casual snapshots of Shawn with the original company: Barton Mumaw, Frank Overlees, Wilbur McCormack, Dennis Landers, Fred Hearn, Foster Fitz-Simons, John Delmar, and Frank Delmar. There are several photographs documenting the performance of Shawn's O Libertad! and Kinetic Molpai. Snapshots show Shawn and his company painting and working around the house at Jacob's Pillow; building the theater and surrounding structures; tending to the farm land; and engaging in other day-to-day tasks. Additional photographs of Jacob's Pillow include production stills from various Jacob's Pillow Dance Festivals, primarily from the 1972 season. Portraits and performance stills of Shawn span the entirety of his career. The collection also holds portraits and performance stills of several other dancers, such as Ruth St. Denis, Hans Weidt, Ernestine Day, members of the Ballet Guild in Melbourne, Australia (1947), and Barton Mumaw.
Programs and printed materials span the length of Shawn's career and document his work with Denishawn, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, Jacob's Pillow, and to some degree, his solo dance performances. Clippings, programs, press releases, announcements, and invitations are present; as well as printed visual materials such as broadsides, bookplates, and printed quotations. Also held within the visual materials are ballet charts listing dance technique exercises. The collection also contains posters advertising Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.
Scrapbooks contain performance announcements and reviews; programs; clippings; and photographs. They document the performance and reception of productions staged by Denishawn, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, and Jacob's Pillow. One scrapbook documents the reception of Shawn's autobiography, One Thousand and One Night Stands (1960).