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Six Dancers Reminisce

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One summer afternoon, six alumnae from the earliest years of the Juilliard Dance Division gathered at the Silver Spring, Md., home of Martha Gallagher Wittman. Afterward, Carol Egan (B.S. ’60), who has been a dance correspondent for numerous publications, wrote The Journal a letter about the event, which she described as a look back on the history of modern dance since the mid-20th century. The group reminisced about their lives together and apart—and about their mentor, Dance Division founding artistic director Martha Hill. “We realized that, between the six of us, we had probably taught several tens of thousands of dance students and performed in front of audiences numbering in the thousands as well,” Egan wrote. 

Front row: Barbara Rosing Supovitz, Ilona Hirschl Russell, Carol Egan. Back row: Helene Cohen Breazeale, Martha Wittman Gallagher, and Hazel Chung.

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Hostess Martha Gallagher Wittman (Diploma ’58) talked about her four years in the Juilliard Dance Theater under its founder, Doris Humphrey (Juilliard faculty 1951-58), performing in works by faculty members Humphrey, Anna Sokolow (1957-93; she was also on the Drama faculty for 24 years), José Limón (1951-72), Donald McKayle (late 1950s to 1964), Valerie Bettis (1957-59), and others. Subsequently Wittman danced in the companies of Sokolow, Ruth Currier (faculty 1953-59), and Joseph Gifford and performed in works of Jack Moore (faculty 1959-61) and Judith Dunn; she also choreographed for Betty Jones (faculty 1953-72; she was also on the Opera faculty) and Fritz Ludin’s Dances We Dance company for 28 years. In 1958 Wittman joined her musician husband, Josef Wittman, on the Bennington faculty, retiring in 1994. Her next move was to the D.C. area after her former student Liz Lerman  invited her to join her multigenerational (ages 25 to 74) company—Wittman has been performing, choreographing, and teaching with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange ever since. 

At Juilliard, in addition to the Juilliard Dance Theater, Ilona Hirschl Russell (Diploma ’58) danced in Bill Hug’s (Diploma ’59) Dance Quartet with Janet Mansfield Soares (B.S. ’61), Sandra Hammond (’57), and Jerry Bywaters Cochran (B.S. ’58). After graduating she was an adjunct dancer with the José Limón Company and did Missa Brevis at Bear Mountain. “Just being in Limón’s presence was so exciting,” Russell said. She joined the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in 1959, and then she and her dancer-husband, Thomas Russell, were among the first to join the National Ballet Company in Washington. In 1965 the couple opened the Russell School of Ballet in Fairfax, Va., retiring just last year from operating it and its affiliate the Fairfax Ballet. 

As a child, Barbara Rosing Supovitz (’54) wanted to dance on Broadway, but a meeting with Martha Hill (Dance Division director 1951-1985) at age 15 changed her life. As a member of Juilliard’s first graduating dance class, she felt “very privileged” to have the opportunity to study with faculty members Martha Graham (1951-77) and Antony Tudor (1951-71). After graduating she did children’s theater work for several years and then moved to the D.C. area with her husband and sons, where she danced with Adventure Theater In-School Players and Library Theater. In 1972 she founded Kinor Dance Company, a contemporary Judaic dance ensemble that blends Israeli folk and modern dance. Through mentoring from Naima Wallenrod Prevots (’57), Supovitz received a master’s at American University in 1979 and then taught at Montgomery College for 20 years. She continues to perform, choreograph, and teach, specializing in master classes and folk dance workshops. 

Helene Cohen Breazeale (B.S. ’59), did commercial work—with Myra Kinch in The Common Glory in Williamsburg, Va., on Broadway in Oklahoma and The Music Man, and with José Limón—before entering academia. In 1964, she and her husband moved to Cleveland where she danced with Mark Ryder and she taught at Case Western Reserve and Cleveland State universities. In 1972, she started the dance company at Towson (Md.) University. “I had to work very hard to get dance out of the physical education department,” she said. In 1990, Breazeale became an associate dean at the school, but four years later, a new career shift presented itself when Towson University hosted Mstislav Rostropovich’s World Cello Congress and she headed the event, spending a year in Leningrad, the site of the conference. “We raised over a million dollars and had 10,000 people attend,” she recalled. Breazeale became the executive director of the World Music Congresses, producing another cello event in 2000 and the first World Guitar Congress in 2004. She retired from Towson in 2005.

After graduating, Hazel Chung-Hood (Diploma ’57) was inspired by seeing the first company of Balinese dancers to come to New York and, through a Ford Foundation and other grants, subsequently studied in Indonesia. “Because of my training and musculature, I was trained to do the male roles,” she explained. “My role was to lead the drummer and orchestra through my movements.” After three years, she returned to New York, worked in a Juilliard office, and began lecturing about and performing Indonesian dance. Along the way she met (and later married) ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood, joining him at U.C.L.A., where they started a dance-ethnology department. After a long and successful career together, they moved to the East Coast. For the past 25 years, Chung-Hood has worked in the healing arts, dividing her time between her work in ohashiatsu, a type of healing bodywork, at her Maryland studio and her Bali residence.

Finally, this reporter’s life: Although performing was a priority—I had danced with the companies of Bella Lewitzky (honorary doctorate ’93) and Joyce Trisler (’57), among others—I also needed to make a living. Thanks to the mentoring of Martha Hill, my first real job was teaching modern dance at the Rotterdamse Dansschool, and while in Holland, in addition to learning Dutch, I also danced with the Scapino Ballet. Returning to New York, I taught at Adelphi and in after-school programs, and danced with Jack Moore and Jeff Duncan. I sorely missed Europe, however, and in 1963 received (in part thanks to Hill) a Fulbright Fellowship to study opera direction at the renowned Komische Oper in East Berlin, spending a fascinating year navigating between East and West Berlin and learning German. Back in the States again, I taught at Smith only to be seduced back to Europe to work with the Polish Pantomime Company in Wroclaw. (Hill suggested I apply for a U.S. State Department Specialist Grant to fund the experience.) After those heady days of international travel, I taught at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh; Vienna’s Hochschule fur Musik; New York City’s High School of Performing Arts; and, finally, the University of California, Berkeley (1976 to 1999), after which I retired to Hawaii.

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