Armgard von Bardeleben (1940–2012)

March 29, 2012

Armgard von Bardeleben, a statuesque former dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and former director of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, died this past January of melanoma at her home in New York. A noted teacher of Graham technique for five decades, she traveled the world to share the choreographer’s work and distinct style.

Von Bardeleben’s training began in choreographer Kurt Jooss’ Folkwang Schule, a celebrated center in Essen, Germany, not far from the family farm where Von Bardeleben grew up. Encouraged by visiting dancers and choreographers including Yuriko and Pearl Lang, Von Bardeleben moved to New York in 1963 on a student scholarship to the Graham school.

She quickly found her way in the city, where the modern dance scene was flourishing. By 1973, she had become a member of the Graham Company. Her best known role was as the Ancestress in Graham’s Letter to the World. After several years onstage, she turned her focus to teaching Graham technique, joining the faculty of the school, and eventually becoming its director from 1980–1983.

Bardeleben’s teaching career led her to the dance division at the State University of New York at Purchase, as well as Cologne, Germany, Salvador, Brazil, and Singapore. At nearly 6’2″, she cut an imposing figure in the studio.

In the decades that followed her directorship of the Graham School, Von Bardeleben continued performing occasionally. “I have a vivid recollection of Armgard performing a reconstruction of Mary Wigman’s Hexentanz,” says Muriel Manings, a noted dance teacher. “She brought the mystery and power of that historic work into sharp focus.” —Hanna Rubin


Bardeleben while assisting Yuriko in a summer course, possibly Paris in 1970.  Photographer unknown, Courtesy Bardeleben family.

At top: Bardeleben in Wigman’s
Hexentanz in New York, 1985.  Photo by George Ancona, Courtesy Bardeleben family.