Claudia Gitelman (1936–2012)

September 6, 2012

Dancer/choreographer/teacher/writer Claudia Gitelman passed away at her home in New York City on August 14. Gitelman was part of an early generation of dancers who worked with pioneering choreographer Alwin Nikolais at the Henry Street Playhouse in the early 1950s. Phyllis Lamhut, who was a founding member of Nikolais’ company in 1948, described her as “a beautiful young woman—elongated and regal and technically meticulous.” Given the moniker “Golden Claudia” by Murray Louis, she later danced in the Murray Louis’ Company in addition to teaching at the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab.

She also appeared in the original production of Camelot on Broadway, performed internationally on the concert stage, and choreographed for her own group from 1973 to 1990.

A graduate of University of Wisconsin—Madison in 1958, Gitelman first attended Hanya Holm’s summer intensive in Colorado Springs 1959. She later performed in Holm’s Homage to Mahler, and in 1976 Holm cast her as the soloist in her interpretation of Mahler’s poignant Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children). Claudia continued to be associated with Holm until her death in 1992.

Gitelman began teaching modern dance and dance history at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts in 1985. She retired from full-time teaching in 1997, serving as Professor Emerita until her death. She has also taught at Adelphi, Sarah Lawrence College, and Columbia University Teachers’ College, where she got her MA.

Gitelman was the author of many articles for Ballet Review, Dance Chronicle, and other publications. Her book Dancing With Principle: Hanya Holm in Colorado, 1941–1983 (University Press of Colorado, 2001) is an account of Holm’s summer school in Colorado Springs for 43 years. In 2003, Claudia compiled and edited Liebe Hanya: Mary Wigman’s Letters to Hanya Holm, a collection of vividly written letters that documents the lives of two remarkable women who were at the center of 20th-century dance modernism.

Her latest publications are On Stage Alone: Soloists and the Modern Dance Canon, co-edited by Barbara Palfy, just published by University Press of Florida; and The Returns of Alwin Nikolais: Bodies, Boundaries and the Dance Canon with co-editor Randy Martin (University Press of New England, 2007).

Gitelman was active in Society of Dance History Scholars and spoke on panels frequently. She often reminded colleagues that modern dance is not solely an American creation, but was also pioneered in Germany by Mary Wigman and her disciple, Hanya Holm. In 2010, she curated the multimedia exhibition “Alwin Nikolais’ Total Theater of Motion” at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The exhibition celebrated the centennial of Alwin Nikolais, one of the most versatile, innovative, and influential artists of the 20th century.

Gitelman once said that Nikolais’ approach in the classroom “empowered teachers to invent in class, so that educating became a creative experience—a way to guide and discover. Because of that, I never grew tired of teaching.” She felt Nikolais’ concepts permeated her way of life: “His methods were durable and have served me well through years of teaching. He is still with me.”

Her colleague at Rutgers, Julia Ritter, says: “For all of her students and admirers, Claudia’s teachings will be with us in the studio, the rehearsal, the library, and in performance as we continue to remember her influence on our lives.”

Gitelman’s choreographic work, Inside Sam, will be performed at the American Dance Guild Festival on September 8.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Claudia’s name may be made to the New York Public Library by using this link. At the bottom of the form, please select that your donation go specifically to the Library for the Performing Arts, where Claudia spent many hours and which she held in high regard.  —Julia Ritter and Wendy Perron


Photo by Tim Davis, DM Archives.


At top: Photo by Tom Caravaglia, Courtesy Alix Gitelman.