Elina Mooney Keuter, 1942-2017: A Tribute

February 27, 2018

I offer this tribute on behalf of the numerous friends and colleagues who knew, loved and admired Elina during her years in New York City (1960s-70s). Her memory and influence endure in their hearts and work.

Dancer, choreographer and teacher Elina Mooney Keuter died peacefully at her home in Mesa, AZ on February 26, 2017. The cause was lung cancer. She had taught at Arizona State University with her husband, choreographer Cliff Keuter, from 1988 until her retirement in 2008.

Elina began her professional performing career with the companies of Helen Tamiris-Daniel Nagrin and Charles Weidman, who created his famous Brahms Waltzes on her. From 1962-64 she was a member of the choreographic collective Studio Nine. Performing in NYC, nationally and internationally through 1978 in the companies of Paul Sanasardo, Don Redlich, and Cliff Keuter, she also created works for her own Elina Mooney Dance Company. Her choreography has since been performed by the Australian Dance Theatre, San Francisco Moving Co., Dennis Wayne’s Dancers, Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre, Danceworks and many solo artists. In addition to her years at ASU, she served on the faculties of San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, University of California, Santa Cruz, C.W. Post College and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and was a guest artist at Stanford, University of California, Long Beach, Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre, and the Institute for the Arts in Hong Kong and Taipei. In Arizona she was a founding member of the new music and dance ensemble Krusta.

During this long and distinguished career, Elina made a deep impression on everyone who saw her dance, experienced her teaching or performed with her. As a member of both Elina’s and Cliff Keuter’s companies, I viewed her with awe. She was an astounding performer, compact and small but incredibly strong, with an uncanny ability to throw her body way off-balance yet maintain control. Physically and mentally integrated, spiritual and mysterious, she embodied a refined gentility with an inner core of wild abandon that was thrilling. Sensitivity and intelligence marked her work, but she was capable of blazing visceral energy and sudden explosive attack. There was never an extraneous movement—every gesture counted in her performance and her choreography. Her intense solo Figure, inspired by Japanese funerary figures, exemplified this uncompromising leanness in expressing layers of cultural iconography surrounding mortality.

Reviewing her featured performance in Cliff Keuter’s beautiful work Voice, New York Times critic Don McDonagh said: “Miss Mooney’s long solo showed her taut athleticism in a tour de force of leaps, sweeps and darting extensions.”

Phoebe Neville, a lifelong friend and dance colleague, remembers: “Elina was responsible for the wonderful series DANCE AT TEARS which gave choreographers an opportunity to try out their choreography in an informal setting. I’m grateful to have known and worked with her.”

Toby Towson, who danced with Elina’s and Cliff’s companies, says: “Elina’s soft voice, deep intuition, and artistic vision influenced the rest of my professional life. She had a gentle way that also included great power, humor and compassion.”

Elina is survived by her husband Mr. Keuter and their sons, playwright Matthew Keuter and theatre director and choreographer Nathaniel Shaw. The dance world pays tribute to this stellar artist who touched so many of us with her grace!