Jean Erdman Campbell
Dance, Choreographer, Avant-garde
Jean Erdman made a significant contribution to American arts as a dancer, choreographer and avant-garde theater director. Beginning with her work as a principal dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1938-42 in which she originated many roles in Graham’s groundbreaking repertory of that time, Erdman established herself as a leading artist of the post-pioneering period of American modern dance. In 1962 her production, The Coach with the Six Insides, an adaptation of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, captivated the New York theater world winning OBIE and Vernon Rice Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Off-Broadway Theater before taking off on a world tour including engagements in Italy at the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds and in Dublin, Tokyo and Paris.Her 1971 Tony-nominated choreography for Joseph Papp’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, Lincoln Center production of Jean Giradoux’s The Enchanted, along with the more than fifty dances and total-theater works she choreographed for her company all demonstrate her sensitive musicality and the intricate blending of world dance and theater styles that is the hallmark of her aesthetic vision.
Erdman’s early dance training in Hawaii in the first part of the 20th century included ancient hula, tap and Isadora Duncan technique. As a student at Sarah Lawrence College she encountered the two other major influences of her life:Martha Graham and and the scholar, Joseph Campbell. In 1938 she married Campbell and began rehearsals with the Graham Company the following day. Throughout her career she continued to study and champion world dance both as a source of individual creativity and an important expression of the human spirit. Her guiding belief that a choreographer should create for each new dance a style of movement intrinsic to its subject led her to develop a varied and exciting repertory, collaborating with some of the most innovative artists of the time, including Louis Horst, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Merce Cunningham and Maya Deren. Her deep, creative interchange with Campbell, contributed to the embrace of the mythological dimension in her work. This coupled with her widely recognized genius for distilling human experience into abstract form give her work a particularly poetic and enduring quality.