FROM AUTOMATISM TO MODERN DANCE:
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by Allana Lindgren

Not only was Franziska Boas’s penchant for improvisation attractive to the newly arrived girl from Montreal, who had acquired her passion for creative spontaneity from Paul-Émile Borduas, but the brand of humanitarianism and the mandate of tolerance at the Boas School of Dance were in tune with the tenor of discussion within the Automatist circle. In dance and society, Boas wanted to challenge her students’ preconceived ideas and biases so that they would develop a wider range of movement and social experiences.
 

At the November 14, 1945 Executive Committee Meeting, the group discussed whether Sullivan and another dancer, Renée London, should be allowed to join the group. Four days later, only Sullivan was formally accepted into the company. Sullivan was now part of the New York dance scene. She was a member of the Boas Dance Group and taking classes at the Boas School of Dance in addition to occasional classes with other teachers. She was also now truly a New York resident: her part-time work and nocturnal rodent visits had initiated her to life in the big city. As a member of her first dance company, Sullivan’s immediate concerns beyond dancing were her chairing of the company’s Social Committee for which her duties were primarily to organize and to oversee the group’s public lecture demonstrations and outreach activities. She was also expected to work within the goals, ideals and rules of the Boas Dance Group at all times.
 

"Group dance is the future of the concert dance. It is the natural product of the development of the world co-operative conscience. This group dance must, however, be the free interaction and organization of emotional and intellectual reactions of people representing all types. In this way the dance may speak to the masses of people in a language which they can themselves understand. It will find its style and formal development from the reality of persons in relation to each other and will be able to speak with authenticity of the problems of the people of to-day."
 

In keeping with Boas’s democratic ideals and the group’s co-operative ethic, membership in the company was open to anyone, regardless of race and/or religion. Despite this honourable intention, the organization and rules of the company were so bureaucratic that, in retrospect, they appear to court parody. For instance, initially membership applicants had a one-month probationary period, after which the existing company members would vote either to accept or reject the person. Once a person became a full member, he/she was expected to attend all group meetings and rehearsals. Failure to do so would result in a twenty-five-cent fine. Lateness came with a ten-cent penalty. It was left to the discretion of Boas to determine if a company member’s truancy or tardiness was justified. Three absences without excusable reasons in a six-month period meant that the group would vote whether or not a person could remain in the company. If a person was dismissed from the group, he/she could reapply for membership after one month. The group would then re-vote. Upon reinstatement, the person had to repay the yearly membership fee of one dollar.

 


 

The original costume for Dédale, like the dance itself, was minimal - a light pink leotard and a skirt that fell to Sullivan’s mid-calf. Dédale was initially intended to be performed with a headpiece vaguely reminiscent of a bird cage that was designed and created by Automatist member Jean-Paul Mousseau. At the end of the piece, the dancer raises her hands on either side of her head and extends them forward, outstretched to the audience. Sullivan had intended to lift the headpiece off at the end of the dance and hold it in offering to the audience. The headpiece ultimately was abandoned because it was too cumbersome and restricted Sullivan’s ability to move. The gesture, however, remained.

 

SPECIAL FEATURE OF THIS BOOK ... Françoise Sullivan's Dédale danced frame by frame

 


 

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