Ethel Winter (1924–2012)

May 31, 2012

A passionate, powerful dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Company and teacher with the Graham School and Juilliard for more than half a century, Ethel Winter died in March. She originated several roles in the company, including Helen of Troy in Clytemnestra and Aphrodite in Phaedra, and was the first woman that Graham chose to take over her roles.

Born in 1924 in Wrentham, MA, Winter studied a wide variety of styles as a teen in Boston. She earned both her BA and MA from Bennington College, where she met Martha Hill, who became a lifelong mentor.

Winter was first introduced to Martha Graham in 1943 when the company was in residence at Bennington. She performed as a lead dancer from 1945–1969, and appeared as a guest artist until 1973. In the early 1950s, she also performed with Anna Sokolow and Sophie Maslow.

In addition to her illustrious performing career, Winter had a passion for teaching. She was a permanent faculty member of the Graham school from 1943–2006, and she taught for 50 years at Juilliard. Additionally, she co-founded the London School of Contemporary Dance in Britain and the Batsheva School in Israel.

Marni Thomas, Graham master teacher and a former soloist with the company, met Winter in 1958. Of Winter taking on Graham’s roles, Thomas recalls, “Ethel brought forward a passionate elegance that flowed between the untamed and the serene command of the characters she danced. Her Girl in Red in Diversion of Angels burned with a wildfire that contrasted with the tranquil majesty of her Joan in Seraphic Dialogue. Her Helen of Troy in Clytemnestra was appealingly wanton against the uncomplicated openness of her Bride in Appalachian Spring.” Thomas remembers of Winter: “She was a lyrical and impressively regal figure onstage, yet very down to earth, practical. And she had a great sense of humor offstage.” —Emily Macel Theys