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Doris Humphrey Dances


Educational Performance Collection


Performance Rights

Solos to Stage

  Stagings Around the World  

Staging from the Score




 Available for Performance
 Doris Humphrey Biography
 The Following Dances are Available for staging from the Labanotation Score through the DNB

Available for Performance

All of the dances described here have been recorded in Labanotation:

Air for the G String
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
The Call/Breath of Fire
Dawn in New York
Day on Earth
Fantasy and Fugue
Life of the Bee
New Dance
Variations and Conclusion
from New Dance
Night Spell
Partita V
Passcaglia and Fugue
The Pleasures of Counterpoint
Quasi Waltz
Ritmo Jondo
Ruins and Visions
The Shakers
Sonata Pathetique
The Desert God from Song of the West
Two Ecstatic Themes
Water Study
With My Red Fires

Under a new agreement with Charles Woodford, Doris Humphrey’s heir, the DNB will license and contract for staging on his behalf ten works by Doris Humphrey, with the rest of Humphrey's repertory being licensed and contracted by Amanda Thom Woodson. The ten works that will be handled, as before, by the DNB are:

Brandenburg Concerto #4 (Ruth Currier)
Day on Earth
Variations and Conclusion from New Dance
Partita V
Passacaglia and Fugue
Ritmo Jondo
Desert Gods from Song of the West
Valse Caprice
Water Study
With My Red Fires

If you are interested in one of the other Humphrey works, many of which are also notated, you may contact Amanda Thom Woodson directly at

Amanda Thom Woodson
Humphrey Foundation for Dance
Goucher College
1021 Dulaney Valley Road
Baltimore, MD 21204-2794

Amanda Thom Woodson will make staging arrangements for the works the Humphrey Foundation for Dance (HFD) contracts. If you wish to work from score on works contracted by HFD, you will be able to join the DNB and rent the scores, video and audiotapes as available, and all supporting material for the usual rental fees.

The license fees for these dances are reasonably priced so that the works are accessible, even on a limited budget. Sets and costumes can be reproduced simply.

A dance choreographed by Doris Humphrey is a treasure which should be included in every company's repertory. For further information or to arrange for a staging, contact the DNB for the ten works listed here, or get in touch with Amanda Thom Woodson.

Doris Humphrey Biography

Doris Humphrey, 1895-1958, is recognized as one of the founders of American modern dance. Her contribution to its technique lies in a distinctive approach to movement based on the fall from and recovery of balance. Her choreographic contribution includes many works considered masterpieces, including those available in Labanotated scores.

Trained in classical ballet, folk, and ballroom dancing, Doris Humphrey was an established teacher by the age of 18. A few years later, enrolling in a summer course, she was told by the teacher, "You shouldn't be teaching, you should be dancing." The teacher was Ruth St. Denis.

She quickly became Denishawn's star performer as well as its prime teacher. Though encouraged by Miss Ruth to choreograph her own works, she eventually left Denishawn with her partner, Charles Weidman, to search for ways to express a contemporary American spirit in dance.

Between 1928 and 1944 she performed and choreographed for the Humphrey-Weidman company, creating such works as Water Study, The Shakers, Air for the G String, New Dance, With My Red Fires, and Passacaglia. When physical disability ended her career as a dancer, she turned entirely to composition, serving as choreographer and Artistic Director for the José Limón Company. Three prominent works of this period are Ritmo Jondo, Day on Earth, and Night Spell. When final illness prevented even this outlet, she recorded the principles of her artistic life in The Art of Making Dances, which is widely used as a reference and textbook on choreography.

From early pieces that mirror the movement of winds and waves to mature compositions that reflect the complexities of human relationships, her choreography continues to be performed throughout the world—testimony to its enduring and universal qualities.


The Following Dances are Available for staging from the Labanotation Score through the DNB

 Water Study (1928)

Set to silence
10 women; 11 minutes
Imagistically conceived, Water Study conjures up a variety of sea moods ranging from calm to tidal and wind-driven turbulence. Performed in silence, the dance calls for ensemble work of the most subtle and complex order: completely synchronized rhythmic timing between the dancers.

 The Shakers (1931)

Music: Traditional
6 women, 5 men; 9 minutes
This dance is about religious purification achieved through ecstasy. The design is wrought of small quiverings and tremblings that increase to violent shakings and twistings of the whole body, or running half-falls and single wild jumps into the air. Watching the uncluttered, direct style the audience does not realize the power of the dance until they are completely mesmerized at the climax.

Photography by McClanahan-Wagner

 With My Red Fires (1936)

Music: Riegger
large cast; 30 minutes
With My Red Fires takes its theme from the line in William Blake's poem Jerusalem: "For the Divine Appearance is Brotherhood, but I am Love Elevate into the Region of Brotherhood with my red fires." It deals with the power of love--maternal, romantic, and fraternal--and its capacity for passionate and destructive excesses. It concludes with a vision of human brotherhood that prevails over prejudice, dissension, and violence.

The dramatic plot revolves around two lovers whose relationship is strongly disapproved by the girl's mother (the Matriarch). With dictatorial fury, she rouses a submissive group into a frenzy of violent persecution against the lovers--but in the process becomes so overwrought that she destroys herself. In the end, the lovers are transfigured in an embrace that suggest the equal respect of one human being for another.

Photography by Scott Peterson

 Passacaglia and Fugue (1938)

Music: Bach
13 women, 3 men; 14 minutes
A vision of an ideal world where the inhabitants live in peaceful accord with one another, this dance expresses the choreographer's conviction that man is potentially capable of creating such a utopia. Choreographically, its concept matches the grandeur of Bach's glorious music. Doris Humphrey explained that she had treated the piece "as an abstraction with dramatic overtones. The minor melody, according to the traditional Passacaglia form, insistently repeated from beginning to end, seems to say, 'How can a man be saved and be content in a world of infinite despair?' And in the magnificent fugue which concludes the dance, the answer seems to mean, 'Be saved by love and courage.' The dance was inspired by the need for love, tolerance, and nobility in a world given more and more to the denial of these things."

Photography by Scott Peterson

 Song of the West: Desert (1939)

Music: Roy Harris
12 women, 4 men; 11 minutes

This piece, celebrating the American West, originally was performed in three sections: Rivers, The Green Land, and Desert. The only surviving one, Desert, is a tense group ceremonial of primitive worship of sun and space.

 Partita V(1942)

Music: Bach
6 women, 1 man; 8 minutes
This work, created as a respite from more serious compositions, is a playful suite of dances based on the court dances of the 17th Century Europe and choreographed to Bach's Partita in G Major. Doris Humphrey said that "Bach . . . thought it was fun to do a set of these Partitas on odd Sunday afternoons, and three centuries later people, even dancers, are entitled to have fun too. It was built on the rhythms and shapes of folk dances."

 Day on Earth (1947)

Music: Copland
2 women, 1 man, 1 child; 20 minutes

The age-old cycle of work, love, birth, loss, companionship, death, and continuation. Day On Earth is the best example of the combined humanistic and kinesthetic possibilities of modern dance. In a completely non-literal, poetic way, but with a rich emotional tone, it compresses a world of experience into a small, spare form.

Photography provided by Repertory Dance Theatre

 Ritmo Jondo (1953)

Music: Surinach
4 women, 4 men; 12 minutes

Ritmo Jondo paints a portrait of men, of women, of meeting and parting. To tantalizing Spanish rhythms, a band of assertive males present themselves to a group of feminine admirers. They court them with sweeping abandon--and leave them to attend to more urgent matters. With its swirling, cascading motions for the women and vibrating, thrusting steps and gestures for the men, this work sets up a physical counterpoint of sexual encounter.

Photography provided by José Limón Dance Company

 Brandenburg Concerto (1959)

Music: Bach
8 women, 3 men; 8 minutes

Ruth Currier, who completed this final work when Doris Humphrey was unable to continue. finishing after Humphrey's death, says that it is "a gentle and happy celebration of the place you find yourself in . . . a meadow or clearing in the woods." In the beginning, a solo figure greet 4 others who celebrate with her. Two more are invited in. A trio enters, as if in a dream. The piece is restrained in the sense that it is not an emotional outpouring, but there is always feeling in the root. Each of the three movements contains a particular mood: 1) pleasant, gracious, with a kind of elegance; 2) a lament; 3) bright, alive, vibrant.

Photography provided by José Limón Dance Company

We wish to thank the following people, whose writings served as a basis for the descriptions of Doris Humphrey's works in this brochure: Sally Banes, Selma Jeanne Cohen, Ruth Currier, Deborah Jowitt, Margaret Lloyd, John Martin, Jane Sherman, Ernestine Stodelle, and especially Marcia B. Siegel.