Mary Anthony, an 83-year-old Kentucky-born artist with true New York spirit, confronted a recalcitrant minister in ’50s Tennessee in a successful effort to overturn a public ban on dance. She was the first to choreograph for weekly national television (employing Paul Taylor, Jane Dudley, and Bertram Ross among others), had one of the earliest racially integrated touring dance companies (petitioning the governor of Virginia for legal clearance to perform), and played the jawbone of an ass for John Cage’s first performance at MOMA. Her troupe celebrates its 43rd anniversary at the Theater of the Riverside Church this Saturday and Sunday. What drives her?
Mary Anthony: Primitive art and the ancient Egyptians. The creative spirit I see in that work is made with eternity in mind. It was made from people’s lives, a beautiful sense of living I strive to express through my dancers. Your art form chooses you. I was chosen and that brings a responsibility. I do as much as I can to keep it alive and enriched. I had a friend who changed her work for commercial projects. I asked her what was worth bastardizing her work for. She said, “Frankly, I’ve gotten used to my fur coat.” I turned and walked right out of the room. Not mixing art with commerce has a very simple premise: There’s no way to tiptoe through shit.
At Riverside, we start with the vibrant Conviviana, choreographed by guest artist Mary Ford, followed by my dramatic 1956 Lady Macbeth. Then two recent pieces by myself and my current co-artistic director, Kun Yang Lin, and the very witty Nature Dancing, which Bertram Ross created some 20 years ago. He’s been in the hospital with Parkinson’s since June; it’s very special for us to honor him in this way.