|Born||29 November 1904|
|Died||29 May 1991 86) (aged|
|Known for||Dance and choreography|
|Spouse(s)||Douglas Hart (m. 1936–c. 1950)|
Margaret Barr (29 November 1904 – 29 May 1991) was a choreographer and teacher of dance-drama who worked in the United States, England, New Zealand and Australia. During a career of more than sixty years, she created over eighty works.
Choreography is the art or practice of designing sequences of movements of physical bodies in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself. A choreographer is one who creates choreographies by practicing the art of choreography, a process known as choreographing. Choreography is used in a variety of fields, including musical theater, cheerleading, cinematography, gymnastics, fashion shows, ice skating, marching band, show choir, theatre, synchronized swimming, cardistry, video game production and animated art. In the performing arts, choreography applies to human movement and form. In dance, choreography is also known as dance choreography or dance composition.
Born in India, she spent parts of her adulthood in England and the United States. As an adult, she studied dance with Martha Graham in New York, and then moved to England. There, she formed dance groups in London, taught dance-mime at Dartington Hall School in Devon, and choreographed and produced dance-dramas on contemporary topics. In 1939, after marrying a conscientious objector, she moved with him to New Zealand, where she taught dance, movement and improvisation and developed further works. Around 1950, she left New Zealand for Australia, where she spent the rest of her life. For about forty years, she taught dance-drama classes developed from the ideas of Martha Graham and Konstantin Stanislavski. She led the Margaret Barr Dance Drama Group, mounting major productions every year. She also taught movement and improvisation at the National Institute of Dramatic Art for seventeen years. Her works explored many social issues, including the environment, relationships between peoples, strong women, pacificism, and ideas from works of art and literature.
Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer. Her style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.
Devon, also known as Devonshire, is a county of England, reaching from the Bristol Channel in the north to the English Channel in the south. It is part of South West England, bounded by Cornwall to the west, Somerset to the north east, and Dorset to the east. The city of Exeter is the county town. The county includes the districts of East Devon, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge, and West Devon. Plymouth and Torbay are each geographically part of Devon, but are administered as unitary authorities. Combined as a ceremonial county, Devon's area is 6,707 km2 and its population is about 1.1 million.
Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski was a seminal Russian theatre practitioner. He was widely recognised as an outstanding character actor and the many productions that he directed garnered him a reputation as one of the leading theatre directors of his generation. His principal fame and influence, however, rests on his 'system' of actor training, preparation, and rehearsal technique.
Barr was born in Bombay, India, in 1904to Mungo Barr, an American-born dentist, and his English wife Margaret (née Aukett), a nurse. She had one younger sister, Betty. After time spent with other family members in the United States and England, Margaret and her sister settled with their parents in Santa Barbara, California, where Barr graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 1922. They studied drama with Little Theatre Movement founders Maurice Browne and Ellen Van Volkenburg, and dance in the Denishawn style with Martha Graham's sister Geordie, then briefly ran their own dance school. In 1927, they moved to New York, where Margaret Barr studied dance with Martha Graham. Barr's first works, Earth Mother and Hebridean Suite, were choreographed while she was there; she continued to produce Hebridean Suite until the 1970s, and it was one of the works performed at a festival to celebrate the centenary of Barr's birth in 2004.
Mumbai is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. As of 2011 it is the most populous city in India with an estimated city proper population of 12.4 million. Mumbai lies on the Konkan coast on the west coast of India and has a deep natural harbour. In 2008, Mumbai was named an alpha world city. It is also the wealthiest city in India, and has the highest number of millionaires and billionaires among all cities in India. Mumbai is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Elephanta Caves, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, and the city's distinctive ensemble of Victorian and Art Deco buildings.
Santa Barbara is a coastal city in, and the county seat of, Santa Barbara County in the U.S. state of California. Situated on a south-facing section of coastline, the longest such section on the West Coast of the United States, the city lies between the steeply rising Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Santa Barbara's climate is often described as Mediterranean, and the city has been promoted as the "American Riviera". As of 2014, the city had an estimated population of 91,196, up from 88,410 in 2010, making it the second most populous city in the county after Santa Maria. The contiguous urban area, which includes the cities of Goleta and Carpinteria, along with the unincorporated regions of Isla Vista, Montecito, Mission Canyon, Hope Ranch, Summerland, and others, has an approximate population of 220,000. The population of the entire county in 2010 was 423,895.
Santa Barbara Senior High School, "Home of the Dons," is situated on a 40-acre (160,000 m2) campus in Santa Barbara, California and is part of the Santa Barbara Unified School District. One of the oldest high schools in California, it was established in 1875, and moved to its current site in 1924. Until the creation of two other local high schools in 1959 and 1966, it was the sole public high school serving the city of Santa Barbara. In November 2005, its 18th-century Spanish influenced design was named an official California and City historic landmark. Today, Santa Barbara High School has an enrollment of roughly 2,200 pupils and certified staff numbering 108. It is known to be number 4 on the top 10 best high schools in America.
In 1929, Barr left New York for London,where she formed a group called The Workshop of Modern Dance. After Dorothy Elmhirst attended the group's debut performance in 1930, Barr was invited to teach at Dartington Hall School in Devon. Also in 1930, Barr choreographed the dance movements in the West End production of Othello in which Paul Robeson and Peggy Ashcroft starred.
Dorothy Payne Whitney Elmhirst was an American-born social activist, philanthropist, publisher and a member of the prominent Whitney family.
West End theatre is mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres in and near the West End of London. Along with New York City's Broadway theatre, West End theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world. Seeing a West End show is a common tourist activity in London.
Othello is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603. It is based on the story Un Capitano Moro by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565. The story revolves around its two central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army and his treacherous ensign, Iago. Given its varied and enduring themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance, Othello is still often performed in professional and community theatre alike, and has been the source for numerous operatic, film, and literary adaptations.
At Dartington Hall, Barr taught dance-mime. Dance historian Garry Lester has explained, "The work was called 'dance-mime' for very clear reasons: the choreography clearly had movement as its basis, valuing and using the attributes of modern dance (in terms of the form it took, the structuring of component parts and the movement style), and relied equally on finding and sustaining through improvisation the character of the protagonists within each of her works."Barr formed a core group of professional dancers, and taught both students at the school and, through the Workers' Educational Association, groups of people from the surrounding communities. Her classes involved "Graham exercises: stretching, bending, leaping, rolling over, muscle by muscle, on the floor" and "exploring the movement impulse, its stylisation and the range of dynamics (from lyrical to staccato) available to a dancer". Theatre producer Maurice Browne, reviewing productions at Dartington Hall, commented on the highly developed technique shown by performers who had never danced nor appeared on stage previously, demonstrating Barr's talent for developing individual skills to the highest level possible.
The Workers' Educational Association (WEA), founded in 1903, is the UK's largest voluntary sector provider of adult education and one of Britain's biggest charities. The WEA is a democratic and voluntary adult education movement. It delivers learning throughout England and Scotland. There was a related but independent WEA Cymru covering Wales, though it is now known as Adult Learning Wales since a merger in 2015 with YMCA Community College.
Maurice Browne, born in Reading, England, was best known as a theater producer in the United States and the UK. The Cambridge-educated Browne was also a poet, actor, and theater director. He has been credited, along with his then-wife Ellen Van Volkenburg, with being the founder of the Little Theatre Movement in America through his work with the Chicago Little Theatre. Browne and Van Volkenburg went on to found the department of drama at the Cornish School in Seattle in 1918, now Cornish College of the Arts. Browne's greatest triumph came in 1929 when he produced Journey's End, by R. C. Sherriff in London.
Barr choreographed works for large groups: Browne described seeing a performance by about forty or fifty people whose occupations included schoolchildren and teachers, clerical workers and farmers, housemaids and stonemasons.Several reviewers were struck by the way some pieces "welded the group of thirty adults into a unity that was so purposeful that no one in the audience was left unmoved"; in particular, dance critic John Martin wrote: "The unity of spirit with which they worked together provided a model of ensemble playing." Lester observes that "Margaret practised the politics of inclusion, with a simple pre-requisite: participants must show commitment to the work itself and the idea of a 'group'."
John Martin became America's first major dance critic in 1927. Focusing his efforts on propelling the modern dance movement, he greatly influenced the careers of dancers such as Martha Graham. Within his life he wrote several books on the modern dance and received numerous awards for his work.
Among the works Barr created while at Dartington were: from 1931, Funeral and Wedding, to music by Cyril Scott;The Factory, representing the rhythmical movements of machines and workers, including an accident; Plain Song; The Child; Medieval Dance (later Medieval Suite), with music by Edmund Rubbra; and Sea Sketches, which included "vocal sounds"; from 1932: The People, to music by Donald Pond; Sibelius, set to Sibelius' Symphony No. 1 in E Minor; Song of Young Women; from 1934: The Family, with music by Rubbra; The Three Marys; The Three Sisters, in which three women (a prostitute, a spinster and a young girl) show their reactions to war; Epithalamium (inspired by an affair Barr had with Dorothy Elmhirst's 16-year-old son Michael Straight) and Colliery (for which Barr visited a coal mining community in Northumberland).
In 1934, German exile Kurt Jooss and his dance group arrived at Dartington, and Barr resigned rather than work under Jooss' direction.She became director of a permanent corps de ballet attached to the new Experimental Theatre in London. Its first production was Pacific, incorporating Polynesian dances. It was at this time that Barr began using the term "dance-drama". Her works from this period carried pacifist and communist-derived political messages, and were set to music by contemporary composers such as Edmund Rubbra and Michael Tippett. She contributed to the 1938 Festival of Co-operation at Wembley Stadium, directed by André van Gyseghem, by training "a ballet of mourning women and a ballet of exultant men of the future".
Critics had strong, and strongly contrasting, responses to Barr's work in England. W. A. Darlington, reviewing a performance at the Arts Theatre, London, described it as "nothing better than posturing and pattern-weaving ... [despite] "moments of sheer beauty — especially in The Three Sisters and in a little Hebridean scene, The Storm ... immense pains and skill were being wasted".
Dance critic Fernau Hall described many of Barr's works from the Dartington and London periods in his 1950 book Modern English Ballet: An Interpretation.Although Hall thought that some individual pieces were failures (describing Means Test (1937) as a "propaganda work" in which "the movements [were] so vague that the result had little meaning"), overall, he considered that "Margaret Barr has considerable importance in the history of English ballet. She was the only English choreographer to concentrate on contemporary subjects, and the first English artistic director to give consistent encouragement to experimental work and contemporary composers. Her artistic standards were so high that designers like Goffin, and composers like Rubbra, Rawsthorne and Tippett were proud to work with her."
Barr married Douglas Bruce Hart, a carpenter and communist, in London in 1936.As Hart was a pacifist and conscientious objector, the couple moved to New Zealand in 1939 to avoid conscription during WWII.
In New Zealand, Barr taught movement and improvisation at the Workers' Educational Association in Auckland.She developed two works in collaboration with poet R. A. K. Mason, China (1943) and Refugee (1945). Processions (1943) is another work created during Barr's time in New Zealand; its final section, 'May Day', was performed at a May Day celebration in Auckland in 1944. Other works performed in New Zealand included Hebridean, Three Women, Funeral and Wedding, Breadline, and Factory.
In 1949or 1952, Barr sailed to Sydney, Australia, with her partner in a yacht they had built. She started a dance studio and established the Sydney Dance-Drama Group (called the Margaret Barr Dance-Drama Group from 1968). In the early years, she worked as a cleaner, and trained and rehearsed the dance-drama group on two evenings a week. From 1955 until 1990, productions of her dance-dramas were presented annually, usually introducing a new work each year, as well as reprising and sometimes revising earlier works. She was also a member of the Maritime Industries Theatre amateur dramatic group.
Barr became the first movement tutor at the newly established National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 1959,a position she held for seventeen years. She also taught improvisation to first year students, and ran workshops at universities in regional New South Wales, in Melbourne, and in Brisbane.
A participant in the 1961 NIDA Summer School of Drama described Barr as "a dynamic woman in a black leotard, her gestures like those of the Winged Victory, her commands like those of a Sar'-Major. As you sit on the polished floor in your playsuit, you wiggle and wiggle, throw your arms away, loll your head about and strive to obey while Miss Barr goes around exhorting, commanding, her tread like a panther's, her vitality leading you from one exercise to another in ceaseless activity for a full hour. Having changed, and dismissed the notion that after an hour with Margaret Barr work should be finished for the day, you set out for your next class".
In addition to her work at NIDA and with the dance-drama group, Barr was called on to develop choreography for other productions, including The Royal Hunt of the Sun for the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1966.She collaborated with playwright Mona Brand in several works, and choreographed Austrian-Australian composer Eric Gross's Sinfonietta in 1965.
Barr died in Sydney at the Royal North Shore Hospital,the year after producing her last work, The Countess (1990).
The Margaret Barr Dance-Drama Group (until 1968, called the Sydney Dance-Drama Group) was an amateur group, in that members earned their living in other ways, and trained during free time.Its members were students in Barr's dance-drama evening classes. During the 1950s, the group had thirteen members; by 1959, it had grown to thirty dancers; and by 1967 to forty.
The group did not have principal dancers or stars.The names of the performers were listed on programs, but without any indication of the parts they had danced. Members of the Margaret Barr Dance-Drama Group did "not have to have good legs; nor do they have to be people of a certain ideal age or shape," so Barr "achieved in her group a small cross-section of the world illuminating human experience." As a 1959 article explained, "technique is made to serve expression and not vice versa, as with classical ballet."
Barr taught her students techniques of relaxation and contraction,as the impulses from which movement arises, as well as physical training in strength, suppleness, stretching, balancing and coordinating movements, mime, and awareness of their internal and external experiences.
She attributed to Martha Graham the new "vocabulary" of her dance, "a carefully worked out series of staccato postures and relaxed gestures designed to express the whole range of human feeling."She said,
Martha worked out the vocabulary while I have added the idea of drama — particularly along the Stanislavski lines. The gestures are words, so to speak. We put the words into sentences, tell a story with them, add music and produce a work.
Dance historian Lester has pointed out, however, that "at the time in which she studied with Graham (1927–1928) there was no 'technique'; Graham had only just embarked upon her own creative journey."
Barr drew on various dance traditions in her choreography, including some classical ballet poses and movements of the legs ... is always about something", and her choreography was "free in movement, yet giving every movement meaning".and folk dances. She also incorporated everyday movements and gymnastics. Depending on the concepts being conveyed, dancers sometimes moved all or part of their bodies in one place, held positions, or travelled across the stage, walking, running, jumping, shuffling or crawling. Gestures of the head, arms and upper torso signified communication or emotions. Lifts, balances and use of props to achieve height might signify conflict, dominance, or celebration. As reviewers noted, to Barr, "Modern dance
While some works were or included duets,most of Barr's choreography involved groups. Sometimes two or more groups were performing different activities in different parts of the set. Barr's stage sets and props were minimal, and included platforms, benches, chairs, and ladders, all creating height; plastic representing snow or green cloth representing water; ropes, gymnastic hoops and other tubular shapes; metal rods and wires, and frames made of metal, wood or other materials to represent buildings or mountains.
Costumes varied from unitardsor flowing gowns with simple lines, to traditional wear such as kimonos or Central American costumes, and appropriate period or occupational dress, such as coat, vest and tie, hard hats, bathing costumes or 1950s blouses and full skirts. They were found or made by members of the group. Accessories such as parasoles, fans, masks, flags, musical instruments, guns and helmets, etc., were also used.
From the late 1950s, Barr took the "daring step" — tackling the work and concepts of poets and philosophers — the words had to be added."of including spoken words in her works, as well as music and movement. One critic described this as "a vocal and visual partnership", and explained that "Movement came first, but as [Barr] found more and more she wanted to say
Barr, as a person and as a teacher, was described as "intimidating and uncompromising ... The personal style remains direct and very no-nonsense, the Barr class continues to be the toughest, a hard-driving achievement in endurance." She described herself as "too selfish" to collaborate with other choreographers.
The scope of Barr's oeuvre has been described as "seemingly boundless"; ... express[ing] her social consciousness", can be discerned in her dance-dramas: the Australian environment, peoples and history, or "the cultural expressions of Australia's attitudes to living"; strong women; political issues and anti-war works. She also sometimes derived inspiration for pieces from paintings and from poetry and other works of literature. Many works explored more than one theme, and had multiple inspirations.her obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald mentioned "topics as diverse as the work of Mahatma Gandhi and Margaret Mead, drought and the Melbourne Cup." Several broad themes, "all
Reviewers during the 1950s commented that Barr was "tackling seriously and with considerable ability the creation of Australian characters and the expression in dramatic form of many aspects of our Australian life".These themes included the Australian environment and its weather, as well as historical events and relationships between different peoples with Australia.
Other works which focused on conflict and reconciliation between the original inhabitants of Australia, the non-Aboriginal population,and post-WWII immigrants included:
Another recurring theme in Barr's work was the portrayal of strong women.
During the approximately forty years in which Margaret Barr choreographed and produced dance-dramas in Australia, she was "talked about, not always with much comprehension or even friendliness." — Mexican-American modern dancer and choreographer José Limón said, after seeing Barr's work during a visit to Australia in 1963 "The vitality of your work evokes the qualities of the land — vast, cruel, lonely." Another, writing the following year, thought that the "subject matter is hackneyed and is filled with what was once novel choreographic and mimic effects which have now become Margaret Barr cliches." A male reviewer wrote that he found it "difficult at times to agree with her simplistic and emotive views of right and wrong and a world which is exclusively inhabited by heroines."One review in 1983 described the group as "a company that fairly consistently wins critical approval". Some critics saw genius, "richly imaginative choreography", and "uncompromising originality of thought." One wished "that our choreographers of classical ballet possessed just one particle of her electrical imagination." Others saw not dance, but gymnastics. Some were inspired by her themes
The dancers in her group were not professionals, but students in her classes. Some reviewers saw this as detrimental to the performance, as "no great technical proficiency and no stylistic development is possible",so Barr "suffers from the inadequacy of her part-time dancers' technique which has little resiliency of power." Others saw "a highly polished and integrated ensemble with exciting athletic virtuosity", and a "group [which] dances with spirit, discipline and intelligence". One saw limited dance technique and dance vocabulary, which, however, "achieved surprisingly deep emotional impact", and another observed that "Working mostly with relatively untrained dancers, Margaret Barr communicates through movement in a way that eludes most choreographers working in Australia at the moment." Several reviewers commented on her "beautifully sculptured groups", "varied and ingenious patterns", and "control of spatial relationships", but there was also criticism of "diffuse, meaningless running about", and the "dangers inherent in Miss Barr's unflagging endeavours to capture every possible permutation of design from the human body. Movement may lose fluidity, and the shapes the dancers make sometimes seem more like anatomical experiments than movements directed to artistic purpose."
Pask wrote in his Ballet in Australia: the Second Act, 1940-1980 that, with growing interest in such pioneers of the New Dance as Isadora Duncan, the Denishawn School and Kurt Jooss, it was to be hoped that Gertrud Bodenwieser and Margaret Barr would also attract such interest, and that their "enormous individual contributions more than deserve such exposure" as would result from productions of their works across Australia.
A festival to mark the centenary of Barr's birth was held at the University of New South Wales in Sydney in 2004, — Australian Poet, were still effective and moving. A documentary called Margaret Barr: Hebridean Suite, with dancer Diane Wilder performing the piece, was broadcast on ABC TV on the Sunday Arts program in 2007, and repeated in 2008.with a screening of Climbers and a documentary about Barr, as well as live performances including former members of the Margaret Barr Dance-Drama Group. A reviewer commented that "Going to see performances by her group was like observing dance history in a living form: themes were current, the way of moving was from another time." The reviewer felt that some pieces, such as The Three Sisters of Katoomba and Coming of the Rains, were "more problematical for a contemporary audience", but others such as Processions, Hebridean Suite and Judith Wright
Different opinions have been stated about the influence of Barr's dance-drama group or her seventeen years of teaching movement and improvisation at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, from 1959 to 1975. Some members of her group went on to further study of dance, including Juliette Fisher, a New Zealander the training they have with their gifted and hard-driving movement lecturer enables them to achieve many moments of distinguished and meaningful expression as dancer-actors." Reid Douglas, a drama tutor with the Arts Council and contributor to The Bulletin , observed that experiments and innovations by Barr were adopted by other choreographers some years later.who won a scholarship to study with Martha Graham in New York, and later joined the London Contemporary Dance School, and Kai Tai Chan, a Malaysian-born dancer who founded the One Extra Dance Theatre in Sydney in 1976. Theatre director and critic Rex Cramphorn, who graduated from NIDA in 1968, saw "little evidence of [Barr's] work or methods having any impact on Sydney theatre." Theatre critic Kevon Kemp wrote, "It is with the redoubtable Miss Barr that all NIDA students explore the meaning of movement, and it is thanks to her world-class teaching that after their courses our young actors and actresses are coming forward with such mastery of the physical aspects of their art. ...
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