Modern Dance Choreographer Cliff Keuter, 79, Has Died

September 7, 2020

Modern dance choreographer Cliff Keuter died peacefully at his home in Mesa, Arizona, on September 1st, 2020. He is survived by his admiring sons, theatre artists Matthew Mooney Keuter and Nathaniel Shaw, his brother Jerry Keuter, and his four grandchildren. He was 79 years old.

Keuter began his life in the farming community of Nampa, Idaho. At an early age, inspired by his older brother Jerry, he fell in love with the films of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, and began tap dancing and dreaming of the stage. As a teenager his family moved to San Francisco, where he was deeply inspired by the teaching and choreography of Welland Lathrop.

In his early twenties, with little more than fit in a duffel bag, Keuter moved to New York City. Over the next 20 years he immersed himself in and contributed to the innovation and creativity of New York’s modern dance scene throughout the 1960s and 70s. His mentors, colleagues, collaborators and friends included Martha Graham, Anna Sokolow, José Limón, Paul Taylor, Daniel Nagrin, Helen Tamiris, Walter Nobbe, Paul Sanasardo, Lucas Hoving, Pearl Lang, Gus Solomons jr, Karla Wolfangle and Candace Ammerman to name just a few.

Following a brief tenure dancing for Paul Taylor (for whom his son Nathaniel also danced from 2004 to 2006), Keuter formed the Cliff Keuter Dance Company of New York, which toured nationally and internationally for 10 years. After gracing the cover of Dance Magazine (August 1979), Keuter returned to the Bay Area with his wife, dancer and choreographer Elina Mooney, and their two young sons, forming the New Dance Company, where he felt he had his most prolific and successful creative period. In 1988 Keuter joined the dance faculty at Arizona State University, where he was the artistic director of Dance Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Keuter’s body of work includes well over 200 full-length ballets. A choreographer of immense range, his work shined its most singular light in his small cast dance-dramas, which often utilized sound collages of his own design, his own paintings or those of colleagues, and props from the daily poetics of life. His most celebrated works include Sunday Papers, Tetrad, Plaisirs d’Amour, Field, The Murder of George Keuter, Women Song, Till Death Do Us Part and Brothers. His original ballets are in the repertory of Rambert, Bat-Dor Dance Company, Australian Dance Theatre, Nederlands Dans Theater and Ballet du Rhin among others. Video archives of his early works can be found in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.

As a teacher, Keuter was known for his infectious and inspiring enthusiasm, and the delight he found in uplifting and inspiring his students. Having taught and choreographed on thousands, who, in turn, followed in his footsteps, the “ripple effect” of Keuter’s joyous devotion to dance is immeasurable.

As a husband and father, his sons knew him to be an inexhaustible source of love, support, and laughter. The life shared between Cliff and Elina, loving parents, long devoted to each other, was a dance for the ages.

Yo, pa! We love you! —Matthew and Nathaniel