In Memoriam: Mary Anthony

November 11, 1916–May 31, 2014

In 1985, Jennifer Dunning called her “one of the
city's most highly respected modern dance teachers.”
New York City’s great dance legend, Mary Anthony,
passed away at 97 on Saturday, May 31.

Mary Anthony was my senior by two and a half years and I have known her since 1947. The lady and her work are truly historic. Born in Kentucky 97 years ago, Mary Anthony began her career in the early 1940s with a scholarship from Hanya Holm, subsequently joining the Holm Company. She concertized with Joseph Gifford, appeared in Broadway shows, enjoyed a long association as a choreographer for the Italian musical theatre, served as a choreographer for religious shows in the early days of TV, and much more. Ms. Anthony is recognized as one of the leaders in the modern dance movement—as dancer, choreographer, and teacher. She was presented with The Martha Hill Award of 2006. In receiving the award Mary spoke gently with humorous brevity. It really was a luminous affair. Phyllis Lamhut, Claudia Gitelman, Steven Vendola, and Rübsam Henning joined me in honoring Mary who had been so much a part of our Nikolais heritage.

This YouTube video, by one of Mary’s students, Olya Mikhaliova, was created as a film class project in 2008. It captures Mary well.

Her company, the Mary Anthony Dance Theatre, was founded in 1956 and had a repertory that includes works by Anna Sokolow, Lester Horton, Charles Weidman, Ross Parkes, Daniel Maloney, and Bertram Ross. Mary's own works have been added to the repertories of the Pennsylvania Ballet, Bat-Dor Dance Company of Israel, the Dublin City Ballet, and the National Institute for the Arts in Taiwan. She was a longtime teacher of movement at the Herbert Berghof Studio, and she directed her own school for many years at 736 Broadway.

Her Ceremony of the Carols (see my 2008 review) was performed over many years at Christmas time, produced by Mary and danced by many of the same people year after year. One year I was attending a rehearsal. Mary and I were watching together. and she remarked, “Baby Jesus [one of the original cast still performing] is turning gray. What shall we do?” (It was Mary’s sense of humor.) Well, sometime later Baby Jesus passed away, and the following year Baby Jesus was the two-year old granddaughter of one of the dancers. Mary remarked, “Baby Jesus is a girl. What shall we do? Well, who knows and who cares? It is all glory!”

—Ruth Grauert, June 2, 2014

Readings of Confession, a Drama by Frederick Timm, dedicated to the memory of Mary Anthony

     Mary died peacefully, Saturday, May 31, 2014, in the studio where she lived, danced, taught, created and inspired. But as this performance testifies, she continues to be a beacon of inspiration to artists and to so many. We thank you, Mary. You have not only been a dynamic artist, but also a friend and guide. In this studio, you created not only a base for creativity, but a home for dancers. In a world that is often hostile and rejecting of the original, you welcomed it and gave creativity and individuality a safe haven. It was here that we could learn, create and best of all, dance with passion, anguish and joy. You made a home for many who ran away from home, knowing the need since you ran away when you were young. You made a home where it was safe to be who life intended us to be: creative, original—ourselves. We will miss you, Mary. Today sadness fills our hearts, but our sorrow will turn to joy as we carry forward the lessons you taught in the works we create, the dances we dance and in the authentic lives we live—just like you.

—Fred Timm, June 3, 2014

Two performances by Fred Timm, dedicated to Mary Anthony, were presented at the Mary Anthony Dance Studio on June 7, 2014. Fred Timm danced with the Nikolais Dance Theater from 1971 to 1975. He is a modern dancer, playwright, psychotherapist and visionary living in New York City.