Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Did she or didn't she? Louise Brooks last Denishawn performance?

I have been researching Louise Brooks' time as a Denishawn dancer for more than a decade. And over that time, I have managed to collect material on each of her hundreds of Denishawn appearances -- from the first on Monday, October 2, 1922 at the Temple Theatre in Lewistown, Pennsylvania to her last on Saturday, May 3 at the Palace Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey.

Brooks' two seasons with Denishawn is laid out in the form of a timeline on two pages on the Louise Brooks Society website, Denishawn Dance Company Tour 1922 - 1923 and Denishawn Dance Company Tour 1923 - 1924. This information is drawn, in part, from The Professional Appearances of Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn: A Chronology and an Index of Dances 1906 - 1932, by Christena L. Schlundt. This rare but exceptionally useful book was published by the New York Public Library in 1962.
Louise Brooks as a Denishawn dancer, circa 1924.

What I have done over the last decade is to "reverse engineer" Schlundt's timeline. I have done this through literally hundreds of inter-library loan requests, searching through on-line databases, as well as trips to libraries and archives in the Midwest and on the East coast. In doing so, I have collected a filing cabinet full of newspaper articles, images, advertisements and programs. All together, they paint a portrait of Brooks' two full seasons with Denishawn, then the leading modern dance troupe in America.

According to Schlundt, the last three Denishawn performances during which Brooks was a member of the company took place at the beginning of May. The season ended. And sometime shortly thereafter, Brooks was dismissed from the company for having an attitude. According to Schulndt and what I have been able to find, the last three performances were
Thursday, May 1, 1924 in the evening at the Rivoli Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Friday, May 2, 1924 in the evening at the Savoy Theatre in Asbury Park, New Jersey 

Saturday, May 3, 1924 in the evening at the Palace Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey 

Recently, however, I came across an advertisement for a performance which postdates what is thought to be Brooks' last appearance with Denishawn.

This advertisement appeared on May 4, 1924 in the Zanesville Times Signal.


I found this advertisement in the May 4, 1924 edition of the Zanesville Times Signal, a small town Ohio newspaper. Perhaps the ad represents an event scheduled at the last minute, one that wasn't represented on their documented tour itinerary. This supposition is supported by the fact that there are no anticipatory articles or advertisements in the Zanesville newspapers prior to this engagement.

Nor, curiously, are their any follow-up pieces, like a review. Denishawn was a very popular troupe, drawing large, sometimes sell-out crowds wherever they played. As such, they also received a pretty fair amount of press coverage, whether articles announcing their coming to town or reviews which followed their performances.

What is also curious is that two of the other advertisements on the newspaper page on which the above advertisement appears reference March events. Might the above ad been run by mistake? The Denishawn Dance Company had appeared earlier in Zanesville on Wednesday, March 26 at the Weller Theatre. A June article in the same newspaper mentions what a hit they had been earlier in the year (not saying exactly when), and notes that the company would return in October for yet another engagement. Apparently, the citizenry of Zanesville really liked the Denishawn Dancers.

I am flummoxed. Either I have found an undocumented Denishawn performance, or the Zanesville Times Signal layout department really screwed up. There aren't any on-line records I can think to check. Nor are there any reference works here at LBS headquarters which shed any light on this minor mystery.
The Weller theater in Zanesville, Ohio.
If you can provide any information on this mystery, whether to confirm or rule out an appearance by Denishawn in Zanesville, Ohio on May 4, 1924, please contact the Louise Brooks Society.

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