Roger Pryor Dodge

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Roger Pryor Dodge
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Born (1898-01-21) January 21, 1898 (age 125)
DiedJune 2, 1974(1974-06-02) (aged 76)
CitizenshipUnited States Of America
  • Dancer
  • Choreographer

Roger Pryor Dodge (21 January 1898 — 2 June 1974) was an American ballet, vaudeville, jazz dancer and choreographer, and pioneer jazz critic. He formed the first extensive collection of photographic portraits of Vaslav Nijinsky.

Dodge devoted his life to the performing arts. Self-taught, his original thinking contributed to the understanding of the relationship of jazz to classical music and to dance. He endeavored to break down barriers between jazz and other 'serious' art forms and build the respect it deserved. His jazz writings represent a fascinating historical record of the ideas and controversies that accompanied the growth of jazz. They were contentious in their time, and have remained the subject of debate and analysis.

Dodge’s taste in jazz was formed in 1924, initially from listening to recordings of Fletcher Henderson and others, then refined when Miguel Covarrubias, newly arrived from Mexico and already ensconced in the Harlem Renaissance, introduced Dodge to recordings of Bessie Smith.

Jazz inspired Dodge to crystalize a unique style of white American dance, whereupon he choreographed dances to Duke Ellington's recordings with James "Bubber" Miley among others. For years, he performed these pieces in multiple locations in New York, brought a dance trio to perform in Paris, and filmed several of these numbers years later, in 1937. His performance career ended in 1942 due to a back injury.

Early life

Dodge was born in Paris during one of the family’s extended sojourns. His father, American muralist William de Leftwich Dodge, a first place laureate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, would visit to paint and exhibit at the Salon (Paris)|Salon, often residing in Giverny. Upon their return, Dodge spent his childhood in Setauket-East Setauket, New York|Setauket, near Stony Brook Long Island. He attended the Phillips Brooks School in Philadelphia, followed by The Pennington School in New Jersey, but quit before graduating. Later the family moved to Greenwich Village.



In 1916, Dodge’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel (New York City)|Ritz-Carlton ballroom social dance partner introduced him to ballet—Les Ballets Russes starring Vaslav Nijinsky. This pivotal experience inspired Dodge to study classical ballet, attend performances of and study with Michel Fokine|Fokine and Fokina in 1919-1920, experience the Isadora Duncan Dancers (“Isadorables”), and shortly thereafter, to leave for Paris to continue his ballet studies with Nikolai Legat, one of Nijinsky's teachers, Lyubov Yegorova (ballerina)|Lyubov Yegorova, who had partnered with Nijinsky, and Léo Staats, the Ballet master|maître de ballet at the Paris Opera.

Upon his return to New York in 1921, Dodge continued studying with Michel Fokine. His desire to explore dance expression beyond ballet inspired him to study Dalcroze eurhythmics|eurhythmics at the Émile Jaques-Dalcroze|Dalcroze School, Isadora Duncan technique with Elise Dufour, and modern dance with Michio Itō.

Nijinsky photographs

Nijinsky’s career ended in 1917. As he had never been filmed, Dodge realized that the only available means to experience Nijinsky’s greatness would be through photography. With the foresight to preserve a photographic record, he proceeded to order prints from the photographers who had taken studio portraits of Nijinsky in his various roles. At times skipping meals to afford them, Dodge assembled the most comprehensive collection of photographic images of Vaslav Nijinsky. By 1937, memory of Nijinsky had faded, prompting Dodge to help revive interest by donating his collection to the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library.

Practically every book on Nijinsky has borrowed from the Dodge collection, beginning in 1934 with Nijinsky by his wife Romola de Pulszky|Romola.[1]After Dodge's numerous failed attempts to publish a book of his entire collection, in 1975 Lincoln Kirstein produced Nijinsky Dancing, drawing from half of Dodge’s collection.

Under Acknowledgements, Lincoln Kirstein wrote:

The first American dancer I knew well was Roger Pryor Dodge[…he] taught me more about alternative forms of movement than I would ever gain from book or picture[…his] close observation of Fokine’s early ballets and Nijinsky’s performance and choreography kindled my own attempts to study theatrical movement.[2]

Kirstein commented on viewing Dodge's performance to Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy":

Mr. Dodge knows jazz dancing the way some Russians know ballet. He has codified it from years of research. He explodes into its action with violent and sustained excitement.[3]

Dance partners (selection)

Dodge created his earliest choreography in 1922 and 1923 for all-male ensembles.

In 1930, Dodge formed a male trio with Jack Niles, and Arthur Mahoney who he had met during their engagements at the Metropolitan Opera House.

The same year, Dodge met Mura Dehn, a recent Russian émigré, when they each presented their jazz dance numbers in the Billy Rose Show “Sweet and Low (musical)|Sweet and Low.” As Dehn states, their pieces were “A daring jump into the Modern-Grotesque for the producer: a first such experiment in a commercial musical.”[4]

They formed a professional dance relationship and appeared in each other’s choreography. Dodge filmed their dances in 1937. They frequented the Harlem and Savoy Ballrooms, “and always had tumultuous discussions about art, dance, theatre, comedy. He rarely accepted other people’s understanding of his theories, even if they repeated them ‘verbatim’. He suspected it to be a superficial echo, rather than an inner experience.”[5] Dodge was instrumental in Dehn’s appreciation of the importance of film for dance.

Dance performances (selection)

1921 Dodge entered the Metropolitan Opera corps de ballet. In parallel, his interest in corporal expression outside of ballet led to performances in vaudeville and burlesque venues
1922 Metropolitan Opera corps de ballet
Earl Carroll Theatre: Michio Itō's “Pin Wheel Revue” included Dodge’s burlesque skit, “Lilies of the Field,” for six male dancers[6]
1923 Metropolitan Opera corps de ballet
Century Roof Theatre: The Illustrator’s Show, “Fly Swatter’s Ballet” for eight male dancers[7]
1924 Allentown Lyric Theatre: Dodge performed with the Marx Brothers in “I'll Say She Is.”
1925 Le Coq D’Or”
Casino de Buenos Aires: “Los Excentricos,” solo vaudeville act
1926 Metropolitan Opera corps de ballet
Metropolitan Opera: Dodge created the role of “White Wings” in John Alden Carpenter’s "Skyscrapers," the first jazz ballet[8][9][10][11]
1927 Metropolitan Opera corps de ballet
Adolph Bolm Ballet Co.
Jolson Theatre: “The Tragedy of the Cello”
“Lilies of the Field” on tour
1928 “Lilies of the Field” tour
1929 Paramount Theater (Gaumont-Opéra cinema), Paris: “Lilies of the Field” presented as “Roger Dodge et Ses Cinq Vagabonds” [12]
1930 Shubert Theatre: Billy Rose’s “Corned Beef and Roses” and “Sweet and Low” in a trio with Arthur Mahoney and Jack Nile; Dodge’s admiration of Duke Ellington and the Jungle sound infused by James “Bubber” Miley, Ellington’s lead trumpet, moves Dodge to choreograph a jazz dance trio to “East St. Louis Toodle-oo”
1931 Miley accompanies Dodge for four months in “Sweet and Low”
1932 Roxy Theater: Jazz Duo “Call of the Freaks”
Waldorf Astoria: American Creators Fashion Show: Jazz Duo with Irene McBride in “‘Zulu King’ Dance” (“King of the Zulus”Armstrong)
1933 Radio City Music Hall: “Artists’ Life” – Jazz Duo with Irene McBride in “King of the Zulus”
Cruise Tour: Jazz Duo with Irene McBride on The National Tours Cruise’s “The Berlin Follies” to Havana, in “Black and White Blues” and “King of the Zulus”
1934 Handy), and “That Naughty Man”
1935 The New School for Social Research: “First Modern Dance Recital,” solo in “Black and Tan Fantasy”[13][14]
The New School for Social Research: “Second Modern Dance Recital,” solo in “Black and Tan Fantasy”
Park Theater (Columbus Circle): “Men In The Dance,” a program against war, fascism, and censorship, “St. Louis Blues” and “Decadence,” music by Baldassare Galuppi[15][16][17]
Waldorf Astoria: American Creators Fashion Show: Jazz Duo with Irene McBride in “‘Zulu King’ Dance” (“King of the Zulus”Armstrong)
1936 Ritz Theatre: Federal Theatre Project (Works Progress Administration|W.P.A.): “The Eternal Prodigal,” choreography by Gluck Sandor[20][21][22]
1937 Federal Theatre Project: “Dance Program for Young Folk” – “The Little Mermaid,” based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, choreography by Dodge, music excerpts from Felix Mendelssohn’s “Scotch” and “Italian” Symphonies
The Brooklyn Museum Dance Center: “The Young Choreographers’ Dance Laboratory,”a Federal Theatre Project – 4 performances with Mura Dehn, January – May
1938 92nd Street Y: “Dance Recital of Concert Jazz” with Mura Dehn – solo in “Dance Composition No. 2,” “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Jazz Toccata”; with Dehn in “Man in the White Costume,” “St. Louis Blues,” with Susanne Remos in “Black and WhiteBlues”; “The Lion Act” for six dancers, choreographed by Dodge
1940 Master Institute Theatre: “The Young Dancer” – with Susanne Remos “Black and White” and “Boogie Woogie Strut”

Films (selection)

Dodge filmed a number of his dances with Mura Dehn and other partners. Video transfers are available in the Dance Division of the New York Public Library.[23] (see also External links)

A Day in the Life of a Ballerina, about Lisa Parnova by Dodge, 1937[24]

Bunk Johnson, Mrs. Johnson, and William Russell in Washington Square Park, New York, 1946

In a Jazz Way: Portrait of Mura Dehn, by Louise Ghertler and Pamela Katz, 1987, includes Dodge's color film with Dehn dancing to Ellington's "The Mooche" (1937)


Modern dance

  • Chester Hale School, New York 1935
  • De Revuelta Dance Studio, New York 1941

Tap dance

Private studio on East 8th Street, New York



Enthusiastic reception of "Rhapsody in Blue" in 1924 prompted Dodge to attend its second New York performance at Carnegie Hall. In his first article, “Negro Jazz,” a response to reviews at the time, Dodge argued that "the word 'jazz' is being used too loosely and too indiscriminately by persons who have little perception of the true nature of the embryonic form now developing amongst us," and that “Gershwin selected that stalest of decadent forms the rhapsody; an episodic form that allows the furthest possible departure from the logical carrying to completion to a single musical idea, and hence, probably the form more remote from the genuine jazz ideal than any other.”

In response to the great importance accorded written jazz, either composed or arranged, in 1934 Dodge offered an appreciation of the improvised solo in "Harpsichords and Jazz Trumpets". He maintained that “improvisation is absolutely imperative to the development of an art form such as music and dancing,” and referred to contemporary evidence from 1639 for support, quoting André Maugars’ experience in Rome:

André Maugars:

But above all the great Girolamo Frescobaldi

— Frescobaldi exhibited thousands of inventions on his harpsichord[…]for although his published compositions are witnesses to his genius, yet to judge of his profound learning, you must hear him improvise.[25]

To illustrate the potential for the future of jazz, Dodge asserted that “jazz has reached the highest development of any folk music since the early Christian hymns and dances grew into the most developed contrapuntal music known to history.” Considering current taste, he added, “When I hear an early record of Bessie Smith and then listen to a Cab Calloway and see how much more the Negro now enjoys the latter, I realize that the blues have been superseded and white decadence has once more ironed out and sweetened a vital art.”[26]

Classical music

In response to the vital swing Dodge felt was missing in interpretations of Baroque music during its early-to-mid 20th century revival, and in an effort to identify a reliable common style element applicable to various period genres, in 1955 he published “The Importance of Dance Style in the Presentation of Early Western Instrumental Music.” (view article at External links)

Articles on jazz (selection)

1929 Negro Jazz. London:The Dancing Times, October

1934 Harpsichords and Jazz Trumpets. Harvard:Hound & Horn, July-September

1936 Negro Jazz as Folk Material for Our Modern Dance. New York:National Dance Congress (proceedings: Cambridge University Press)

1939 Consider the Critics (chapter). Jazzmen, ed. Frederic Ramsey, Jr., Charles Edward Smith, New York:Harcourt Brace and Co.

1942 Jazz in the Twenties. New York:JAZZ, July

  • Lu Watters Correspondence. New York:JAZZ, August

1943 Duke Ellington. New York:JAZZ, January

  • Louis Armstrong. New York:JAZZ, December

1944 Jazz Critic Looks at Anthropologist (Ernest Borneman). New York:The Record Changer, October

1945 The Dance-Basis of Jazz. New York:The Record Changer, March & April

  • Categorical Terms in Jazz: Improvisation versus Arranged Jazz. New York:The Record Changer, June

1946 The Psychology of the Hot Solo. London:Jazz Forum, May or June

  • Attitude Towards Early and Late Jazz. New York:The Record Changer, February (An earlier and shorter version of this; article appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, July, 1944)
  • The Deceptive Nature of Sensuousness in Ensemble Playing – London:The PL Yearbook of Jazz, edited by Albert McCarthy

1949 France's Answer to Bebop. New Orleans:Playback, June

1955 Jazz: Its Rise and Decline. New York:The Record Changer, March

  • A Listener's Hierarchy in Jazz: Historical Precedents for the Future. New York:The Record Changer, September

1958 Bubber Miley. New York:Jazz Monthly, May (a shorter version of this article first appeared in New York: H.R.S. Society Rag, October 1941)

Articles on dance, classical music, Cuban Sexteto, theater (selection)

1930 Serge Lifar: A Study. London:The Dancing Times, May

1938 On Nijinsky Photographs. New York:The American Dancer, March

  • Dance in the Cinema. New York:Dance Herald, April

1943 Wanda Landowska. New York:JAZZ, March

1944 Dancing on Skates: Correspondence (Edwin Denby on Sonje Henie). New York Herald Tribune, February

1946 A Non-Aesthetic Basis for the Dance. London:Jazz Forum (and Berkeley:Circle)

1947 The Place of Space and Time in the Dance. London:Jazz Forum, January

  • Alicia Markova and Alicia Alonso. The Ballet, March

1950 Nijinsky: An Appreciation. New York:Dance Magazine, August

1954 Landmark: Landowska Completes the "48" (Preludes & Fugues). Great Barrington:High Fidelity

1955 The Importance of Dance Style in the Presentation of Early Western Instrumental Music. Cambridge:The Music Review, November

1958 The Cuban Sexteto. New York:The Jazz Review, December

1959 & 1960 Jazz Dance, Mambo Dance. New York:The Jazz Review month

1964 Tradition in Ballet: Les Sylphides. London:The Dancing Times, January

1966 The Image and the Actor. English Miscellany: A Symposium of Literature, History and the Arts, Edited by Mario Praz, Vol. 17. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura (for the British Council). 175-209

1973 William Shakespeare|Shakespeare in Proper Dress. English Miscellany: A Symposium of Literature, History and the Arts, Edited by Mario Praz, Vol. 23. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura (for the British Council). 75-112

Unpublished articles (selection)

  • Illuminations by Martha Graham: The Poverty of the Contemporary Dance and the Inadequacy of Choreography
  • The Concert Dance: A Fugitive to be Captured
  • The Non-Esthetic Basis of Art
  • The Possibility of Comparison Within and Between the Arts
  • Towards a Science of Art
  • Utility Basis of Architecture
  • Architecture Criticism

Unpublished criticism (selection)

  • Art as Experience, John Dewey
  • Aesthetic Judgement, David Prall|D. W. Prall
  • Critique of Aesthetic Judgement, Immanuel Kant, 1911
  • A History of Aesthetic, Bernard Bosanquet, 1892

Sound recordings

1931. Private recording of “Bubber” Miley playing variations on “King of the Zulus” and “Black and Tan Fantasy,” accompanied on piano by Ann Dodge (Dodge’s first wife).

1954. Georgia Peach (born Clara Hudman), gospel singer. Dodge maintained that Georgia Peach’s singing was a truer expression of gospel than that of Mahalia Jackson. To promote her art, he produced the 12 inch LP: The Famous Georgia Peach: Gospel in the Great Tradition, Classic Editions, 16 tracks; Guitar/banjo: Danny Barker, piano: James Francis and John Ephraim.

Attempts at revival

In 1960, Dodge’s son transcribed his father's favorite trumpet, clarinet and trombone solos for an ensemble that included clarinetist Joe Muranyi and trombonist Roswell Rudd. After rehearsals recorded on his Wollensak, Dodge would return disappointed, for the musicians tended to improvise in a contemporary rather than period style. Fundamental aspects of playing style were a concern Dodge also applied to early classical music performance.

Last years

At the age of 75, thirty years after his last performance, Dodge intended to film himself in five baroque solo dances. His costume was based on an 18th century print of Faune in Le Triomphe de Dionysus|Bacchus, together with a home-made white papier mâché mask. Three dances were to be accompanied by excerpts from Christoph Willibald Gluck|Gluck's Orpheus, Johann Sebastian Bach|Bach's Wedding Cantata and a George Frideric Handel|Handel Organ Sonata. The other two were a sarabande by Jean-Philippe Rameau|Rameau and a dance by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach|C. P. E. Bach. He did not live to see the project completed.

He did perform these dances at home for Mura Dehn, and in addition, a new version of an early jazz dance composition. Dehn wrote that these pieces were a summation of his knowledge of and reflections on dance, performed with the style of an average middle-aged gentleman with artistry and taste. She could envision that George Washington would have danced in that manner. However his jazz piece was wild with abandon.

External links

Vaslav Nijinsky—Creating a New Artistic Era

Dodge and Dehn dancing to East St. Louis Toodle-Oo, 1937

The Importance of Dance Style in the Presentation of Early Western Instrumental Music, Music Review, 1955

Further reading

In an effort to republish Dodge’s jazz articles, Albert Murray (writer) introduced Oxford University Press to Dodge’s oeuvre, resulting in Hot Jazz and Jazz Dance: Collected Writings, 1929-1964. The book includes Dodge's writing on dance and jazz record reviews.

In the Introduction, Dan Morgenstern writes:

[It is] impossible to omit Dodge from any serious discussion of jazz criticism, a field to which he brought a unique perspective—that of a professional dancer and choreographer who had worked with jazz music and jazz musicians, who had a profound knowledge of and real love for baroque and pre-baroque Western Classical music, and who did not

follow fashion in any of his artistic or intellectual pursuits.[27]

This article "Roger Pryor Dodge" is from Wikipedia. The list of its authors can be seen in its historical. Articles taken from Draft Namespace on Wikipedia could be accessed on Wikipedia's Draft Namespace.

  1. Nijinsky, Romola. Nijinsky. New York:Simon and Schuster.1934
  2. Kirstein, Lincoln. Nijinsky Dancing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.1975.
  3. Kirstein, Lincoln (27 February 1935) The Dance—Some American Dancers. The Nation.
  4. Dehn, Mura. Roger Dodge—A Jazz Dancer. 1974 (original typescript, Roger Pryor Dodge Archive)
  5. ibid.
  6. Itow’s Dancers in “The Pin Wheel.” The New York Times (11 June 1922):82
  7. Illustrators Act in Amusing Skits. The New York Times (12 May 1923):15
  8. AMERICAN BALLET 'SKYSCRAPERS' FEB.19. The New York Times (8 February 1926): 25
  9. Society Awaits Jazz Ballet at Metropolitan. New York Herald Tribune (14 February 1926). 1
  10. Olin Downes|Downes, Olin, ‘Skyscrapers’ Here with ‘Jazz’ Score. New York World (20 February 1926)
  11. Caricature of “Skyscrapers” by Miguel Covarrubias, The New Yorker (3 April 1926): 27
  12. Au Paramount. Paris:Comœdia (13 January 1929):6
  13. John Martin (dance critic)|Martin, John. Large Audience at Dance Recital. The New York Times (13 February 1935).
  14. Kirstein, Lincoln. The Dance—Some American Dancers. The Nation (27 February 1935).
  15. Martin, John. Men Dancers Win Ovation in Recital. The New York Sun (4 May 1935).
  16. Verrill, Dorothy. ‘Men in Dance’ Prance. The Morning Telegraph (4 May 1935).
  17. Men in Dance. The Dance Observer (4 May 1935).
  18. Kaye, Joseph Arnold. Joseph and His Brethren. The American Dancer (May 1936).
  19. Ocko, Edna. The Dance Congress. New Theatre (July 1936).
  20. Tamiris. The Dancer Organizes. New Theatre (February 1936).
  21. W.P.A. Dance (editorial). The Dance Observer (February 1936).
  22. Vitak, Albertina. “The Eternal Prodigal” Federal Dance Theatre Production. The American Dancer (January 1937).
  23. Roger Pryor Dodge and Mura Dehn (Motion Picture). New York Public Library Performing Arts Research Collections – Dance. Call No. *MGZHB 6-1496 Hand viewer
  24. Chujoy, Anatole. Lisa Parnova. Dance (January 1938)
  25. Dolmetsch, Arnold. The Interpretations of the Music of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries. London: Novello and Co., 1915.
  26. Harpsichords and Jazz Trumpets. Harvard University|Harvard:Hound & Horn, July-September 1934.
  27. Dodge, Roger Pryor. Hot Jazz and Jazz Dance: Collected Writings, 1929-1964. New York:Oxford University Press, 1995.v