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To help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, Nancy Allison, CMA, dancer, choreographer, and the editor of The Ecstasy of Being: Mythology and Dance (a volume of Campbell’s published and unpublished observations on dance, released in 2017 as part of The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), has graciously consented to join us in JCF’s Conversations of a Higher Order to share her memories of Jean Erdman. Nancy worked closely with Jean for sixteen years, and is the founder and artistic director of Jean Erdman Dance.
I’m happy to start this discussion, but it will be your questions, thoughts, and comments that expand this beyond just another interview into a true “conversation of a higher order.” Please feel free to jump in and engage Nancy directly with your own questions and comments about Jean.
(Do keep in mind that conversation here does not move at the speed of social media, but unfolds leisurely, which is why Nancy has agreed to check in regularly from October 1 – October 6; do check the box that says “Notify me of follow-up replies via email” when you post, or click on “Favorite” at the top of this thread, so you’ll know when Nancy responds. Also, do not be surprised if your contribution inspires related comments and observations from other participants – that’s what makes it a conversation – no telling what magic may happen!)
Nancy – thank you so much for joining us.
I have so many questions. But I believe I will start with the fundamentals:
In A Joseph Campbell Companion, Joe makes the following observation:
Whatever choice you make, there is a period of learning and analyzing, when you are not in action, the body is not in performance. Anyone who has taught somebody a skill has seen this stage, where the student is analyzing and trying to do it, but really not in it. Then, finally, the person is able to give expression to what he or she is intending to express.
My first and strongest experience of this was once when Jean came to Esalen with me and was going to give classes in dance. She got this bunch of people who were not interested in technique, but wanted to dance. What they called creative work was going out, opening their arms, and breathing at the ocean. It was not worth being with them even to see what was going on.”
I’m one of those people myself, not worried about discipline or technique but a free spirit, just wanting to enjoy the music moving me. There is certainly a place for that, but it’s a far cry from there to Dance as an art form.
When I watch a dancer perform in the flesh, I am in awe of how effortless her or his movements are – but clearly there is effort involved. Could you give us an idea of Jean’s preparation and training – how she recognized dancing was her bliss, who her mentors were, and what training and discipline entailed?
And then Jean didn’t just dance roles other people originated, but created her own roles, choreographed her own productions. Could you perhaps share a glimpse of Jean’s process: what went into selecting, creating, and choreographing a specific role – breathing life into a dance and a character that had never existed before?
I know those are awfully big questions right out the gate. I have more, but let’s start there.
tie-dyed teller of tales
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