Gemze de Lappe

Gemze de Lappe (born February 28, 1922, Portsmouth, Virginia - died November 11, 2017, Manhattan) was an American dancer who was most famous for her her work with Agnes de Mille, starting in 1943. She was frequently partnered by de Mille's favorite male dancer, James Mitchell.

Trained as a young child by Irma Duncan, she performed with Irma's company at age 8. Michel Fokine saw the performance and soon after accepted de Lappe in his company. She continued studying with Irma while studying with Fokine. De Lappe states "Irma taught us to use our imagination and express what we were seeing in our mind's eye: to look through walls or ceilings and see trees and clouds and mountains. This was the most important lesson I ever learned as a dancer. It taught me about acting, and I used this throughout my career."(1)

Her many Broadway musical theatre performance credits include Simon of Legree in the original production of The King and I (also in the film version), Paint Your Wagon (Donaldson Award winner), Juno, and The American Dance Machine. She also appeared in the original West End and first national companies of Oklahoma!, dancing the iconic role of Laurey in the 'Dream Ballet'. De Lappe's long concert dance career included engagements with American Ballet Theatre and the Agnes de Mille Dance Theatre. For several years, she was a professor of dance at Smith College, and held a number of visiting appointments afterwards. In 1989, Niagara University awarded her an honorary doctorate.

Gemze joined Hortense Kooluris and Julia Levien in the Isadora Duncan Centenary Company performances in 1977 and 1978, and continued to perform and teach Duncan dance. Anna Kisselgoff described de Lappe's 'Water Study' in a January 1978 New York Times review: "No program note was necessary to explain the imagery that Miss de Lappe, in a green drapery, conveyed so precisely but with an amazingly restricted vocabulary of small steps, arm movements and turns. This was, quite simply the essence of water. Energy rippled up to the finger tips, the turns suggested a whirlpool, the chiffon billowed out in waves, and suddenly the wavelike dance itself subsided into a lakelike calm."(2)

De Lappe remained active as a choreographer and teacher well into her older years, and was especially well known for reconstructing the work of de Mille, Isadora Duncan, and Jerome Robbins. She worked regularly with the New York Theatre Ballet, where she offered nuanced appraisals of the performers. Dancer Elena Zahlmann, stated that "Miss de Lappe would sometimes tell her not to point her toes so much but rather open herself up to her feelings for the person she was onstage with." (3) She recreated de Mille's choreography for the 1979 Broadway revival of Oklahoma! and choreographed 'Abe Lincoln in Illinois' on Broadway. De Lappe regularly traveled the country, recreating the original choreography for such shows as The King and I, Oklahoma!, Brigadoon, and Carousel for various professional, regional, and educational theatre companies. In Spring 2011, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts presented an accurate recreation of the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! with the original choreography recreated by De Lappe.

In 2007, she was awarded Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre. In 2012, she received the Martha Hill Dance Fund Lifetime Achievement Award.

References
1. Eichenbaum, Rose. The Dancer Within, Intimate Conversations with Great Dancers, Wesleyan University Press, 2008, p.208.
2. Kisselgoff, Anna "Dance: Duncan Works Restaged," N. Y. Times, Jan. 7, 1978, p. 13.
3. "Gemze de Lappe, 95, Dies: Keeper of the Agnes de Mille Flame," N.Y. Times, Nov. 17, 2017.

BK via Wikipedia, MRH via additional sources.

Gemze deLappe with Hortense Kooluris (l) and Julia Levien (r)
Gemze on tour with Agnes De Mille, 1950's
Gemze de Lappe

Publications

The Enduring Essence: the Technique and Choreography of Isadora Duncan, Remembered and Reconstructed by Gemze de Lappe. Introduction to Duncan Dances, Filmmakers of Philadelphia. Calvin De Frens Corp. 1967. Interviewed by actress Jenny Sterlin, Produced and directed by Sharon Arslanian.

Affiliations

Smith College Dance Department — Artist in Residence (1979—1992)

Isadora Duncan Commemorative (Centenary) Dance Company (1977—1978)

Videos

Collection Title Date
The Collection of Adrienne Ramm Hortense Kooluris Memorial 2007-10-01
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Brahms 7
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Three Graces
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Gemze de Lappe performs Flames of the Heart
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Gemze, Hortense, Julia, and Sylvia perform Cymbals
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Gemze, Sylvia, and Julia perform Dance of the Furies
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Gemze performs Water Study
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Ave Maria

Related items in the Archives

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Photos > Gemze de Lappe

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Irma Duncan — Apr 23, 1937

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Riverside Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — May 26, 1977

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Oct 23, 1977

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Duncan Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Riverside Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Jan 05, 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Anita Zahn Memorial Celebration — Nov 05, 1995

Related references

Kisselgoff, Anna. "Dance: Duncan Works Restaged," New York Times, January 7, 1978, p. 13 (need subscription to read entire article).