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Historical Profile: Daniel Nagrin

American modern dance contains a rich history of remarkable artists that laid foundations for the way we understand and engage with dance in the present day. Daniel Nagrin, born May 22nd in 1917 in New York City, was one such artist. Nagrin studied with prominent modern dance figures such as Martha Graham and Helen Tamiris, and had an expansive choreographic and performance career which took him on tour around the U.S. between 1957 and 1984.

Hallmarks of Nagrin’s career are his work as a solo artist, infusing jazz into modern dance, and insisting that his pieces have an "inner life" — an intensity and momentum that expresses an inward meaning, not just an outward display of technical skill. Nagrin was known for solos that investigated character in intimate and analytical ways. He would portrait highly specific characters of American life, letting archetypes form a gestural movement style with narratives that unpacked a social consciousness and self awareness. For example, Nagrin's most famous solo, Strange Hero, was a study on the classic American New York gangster and their very particular code of ethics. Nagrin sought to understand the underlying driving forces behind his characters actions, and used this research to inform his performances of them. Elina Mooney, a professor at Arizona State University where Nagrin taught for ten years, says of Nagrin's work: "They are very examined portraits of a particular personality, and there’s always a sense of the social context in which these persons lived."

Nagrin was also known for work that questioned identity inside of political environment of the time. He often worked with sweeping themes of isolation among conflict, reflective of the racial and war tensions of the time. Nagrin was fond of both jazz dance and music, often using both in his work to layer social and political commentary into his pieces.

Nagrin's career extended beyond solo performance; he created six successful Broadway musicals along with Helen Tamiris. In 1971 he formed The Workgroup, with dancers developing improvisational pieces to jazz rhythms. He also taught at the Arizona State University for ten years, further asserting his legacy into the future of American dance.

Dogtown Dance Theatre will be presenting six solo works choreographed by Daniel Nagrin and restaged by Shane O'Hara. The performances are part of the annual Dogtown Presenter's Series, which last year was postponed due to COVID-19. After what seems like a very long year, Dogtown is finally proud to announce its first limited capacity in-person performance scheduled for April 30 and May 1, 2021. In the return of the Dogtown Presenter’s Series, Dogtown Dance Theatre is excited to host The Daniel Nagrin Celebration: A Concert of Solos by the Rebel of Modern Dance presented in coordination with the Daniel Nagrin Film, Theatre and Dance Foundation. Alongside the limited in-person performances, the show will also be available on Dogtown’s new digital platform, Dogtown STREAM.

Performers for The Daniel Nagrin Celebration: A Concert of Solos will include male dancers from an impressive line of careers in modern dance. Audiences will enjoy solos choreographed by Daniel Nagrin performed by Paul Dennis, Donald Laney, Shane O’Hara, Matthew Pardo, and Desmin Taylor.

Virtual performances will be available beginning May 7, 2021 on Dogtown STREAM at and on iOS applications and Roku.

Purchase tickets for this event here. Dogtown is beyond excited to be hosting its first live performance since the pandemic; we cannot wait to have everyone back in the theatre!

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Priyanka Sharma
Priyanka Sharma
11 hours ago

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Thank you for sharing this information about Daniel Nagrin! It's fascinating to learn about his significant contributions to American modern dance and the upcoming celebration of his work at Dogtown Dance Theatre at my location


Pierce Waters
Pierce Waters

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Frequently incorporating social and political commentary into his creations, Nagrin frequently drew inspiration from jazz dance spacebar clicker

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