In Memoriam:

Joan Woodbury, 1927–2023

Much-loved Nikolais-Louis family follower and Utah dance icon, Joan Woodbury, died on November 1. She was 96. Her artistic partner Shirley Ririe co-founded the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1964. In recent years the Ririe-Woodbury company has performed Nikolais works under the direction of Alberto (Tito) del Saz. Her long and loyal friendship with the Nikolais-Louis family will not be forgotten. A complete obituary has been printed in the Salt Lake Tribune: Joan Woodbury, legendary pioneer of modern dance in Utah, dies at 96.

Joan actively joined the Nikolais Legacy Events

The Alwin Nikolais Legacy Forum in 2003 at Hunter College
(Click images to expand to full size. Photos by Chip Tilden)

Joan and Gerald Otte introduce the program.

Dorothy Vislocky, Jana Feinman, and Joan

Murray, Joan, Dorothy, and Claudia Gitelman

Of the 2003 Legacy Forum Joan wrote:

During and since the Alwin Nikolais Legacy Forum at Hunter College, I have been struck by the in­credible gift that was given to all of us who had the great fortune to have been touched by the genius of Alwin Nikolais. His ability to take us with him on his journeys into the labyrinth and complexity of his thoughts about the creative process, “the unique gesture,” decentralization, immediacy, totality, Total Dance Theater, and of course, “time, shape, space and motion” were inspiring to the point of being almost incomprehensible. And through the wondrous beauty of the works he created, the motion, sounds, lighting and costumes he designed, we all became awe-inspired. Change minds and lives he did. He challenged us to give of the best in us. All of us are richer and somehow bound together because of the greatness and generosity of one single human being, Alwin Nikolais.

Joan Woodbury (left) with Legacy participants
(Click image to expand.)
The Nikolais/Louis Legacy Workshop in 2006 in Salt Lake City

The Nikolais/Louis Legacy Workshop was hosted by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in collaboration with the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance on July 24–28, 2006, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Participants, including Nikolais alumni, teachers and dance enthusiasts, came from Australia, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, and from 30 states in the USA. Of the event Ruth Grauert wrote:

What an affirmation of dance as art and art as human experience this week has been! This mixed bag of dancers of all ages and sizes, improvising and making dance gave me the best spectator dance experience I have had in a long time. Not just once, but day after day for five glorious days.

The Nikolais Centennial Celebration in Paris in 2011

Following the 2010 Nikolais Centenial, French followers Mark Lawton and Dominique Ribaud secured a grant from the French Ministry of Culture, and with the support of the Centre National de la Danse, to produce a Nikolais Centenial in Paris. They subsequently invited Joan, Murray Louis and Alberto (Tito) del Salz to join them in Paris for several days of teaching. During that time Joan and Tito visited Carolyn Carlson at her home, and they walked to the nearby Père Lachaise cemetery to see Nik’s burial plaque. Joan wrote a summary of the week..

(Click images to expand to full size.)

Joan and Carolyn at Carolyn’s home in Paris

Joan, Carolyn, Dominique, and Tito

Carolyn and Joan at the cemetery

Joan’s Experience with Mary Wigman

In 1955, Joan Woodbury received a Fulbright scholarship, which allowed her to go to Berlin to study with Mary Wigman, the renowned German pioneer in expressionist dance. From this experience came a number of articles she contri­buted to Bearnstow Journal: