Kathryn Karipides, Choreographer, 1935–


A belief that the body has its truths, which are sensed and must be listened to, informs the choreography of Kathryn Karipides. Perhaps it was the intensely physical dancing (think Zorba the Greek) of the Greek community of Canton, Ohio, an hour south and east of Cleveland, in which she participated as a young girl, or perhaps it was her academic grounding in the body discipline of physical education, that led Karipides to understand dance as a form of expression springing from “anatomical truths.” Certainly, the power and unusual grace of the dances for which she received the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1974 were undeniable.

She was barely 21 when she joined the physical education faculty of Cleveland's Flora Stone Mather College for Women, a division of Western Reserve University, in 1956, with a degree in P.E. from Miami University of Ohio. (At WRU, as at most schools well into the 1960s, dance was still considered a part of physical education.) Karipides began her dance training “rather late,” discovering the ancient art of movement, and her instinctive passion for it, only in college. “Hooked” by the art of dance, she resolved to make it her life pursuit. While fulfilling the requirements for a master's degree from WRU, she spent the next three summers at Connecticut College, then the mecca of dance.

There she studied intensively with some of the greatest modern dance artists of the time: the legendary Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Lucas Hoving, José Limón, and Louis Horst. At Colorado College, she learned the technique and philosophy of Hanya Holm, one of the pioneers of modern dance; in New York, she studied with Erick Hawkins and at the Hawkins Studio with Kelly Holt. Her studies abroad included work at the Mary Wigman Studio in Berlin, the Dalcroze Institute in Switzerland, and the Laban Art of Movement Studio in England.

But it was Hawkins's kinetic sensibility and aesthetic (inspired by Isadora Duncan's rediscovery of “natural” movements) that seems to have spoken most powerfully to the young dancer, who was already beginning to try her hand at choreography. In 1969, Karipides and colleague Henry Kurth, a highly acclaimed professor of scene and lighting design in WRU's theater department, formed the Dance Theater of Kathryn Karipides and Henry Kurth, which was open to any interested student as well as local professional dancers. For the next 10 years, Karipides was its co-director, choreographer and principal dancer. Kurth created the costumes, sets, lighting, masks, jewelry or whatever other props were needed. The result was an exciting collaboration in total theater art.

With such memorable pieces as Stein Song, an homage to Gertrude Stein, Salomé and Vertiginous Moment, and a steadily expanding season (and repertory), the project soon became the most important modern dance company in Cleveland. Karipides' lyrical dances were praised for the versatility of their moods—as compared with the ponderous seriousness of much modern dance of that time—and “a style as personal as handwriting," wrote Dance Magazine's Cleveland correspondent Bill Anthony, "and as unmistakable as Mozart or Stravinsky.”

When she retired from Case Western Reserve University in 1998, as Samuel B. and Virginia C. Knight Professor Emerita of Humanities, after a teaching career spanning 42 years and several generations of young dancers, Karipides was hailed by Northern Ohio Live magazine as “the godmother and guiding spirit of dance in Cleveland.” Through her vision, dance became a full-fledged degree program, and the university's old Mather Gymnasium had evolved into the Mather Dance Center, a venue for cutting-edge modern dance.

Since retirement, Karipides has continued her advocacy of dance locally, regionally and nationally, serving on many committees and boards, including the Cleveland Arts Prize Dance Jury, which she chaired for several years, beginning in 1995. Her many awards and honors include CWRU's Carl F. Wittke Award for outstanding undergraduate teaching, the OhioDance Award for a significant contribution to dance in Ohio, the Cleveland Arts Prize, Northern Ohio Live's Award of Achievement for Dance, the YWCA Career Women of Achievement Award for Cultural Arts, and the Dionysian Award by the Cleveland Chapter of the Order of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) for a lifetime of outstanding contribution to the arts.

—Dennis Dooley


Cleveland Arts Prize
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