Elizabeth Bergmann, the director of Harvard’s dance programs, announced Monday that she will stay in Cambridge at least until June 2005, reversing her earlier decision to retire after this academic year.
Watching famed Finnish choreographer Lazlo Berdo—one of a number of professionals Bergmann has brought to Harvard in her two-year career—work recently with Harvard dancers convinced her to stay on, she said.
“I just watched it and I started getting tears in my eyes,” Bergmann said. “It was lush and beautiful.”
But Bergmann also acknowledged that politics—notably brewing tension over the loss of the Rieman Dance Center—helped convince her to stay.
With a long history leading University dance programs, Bergmann’s voice carries weight with the administrators who will decide the fate of the program.
“She understands how dance works at Harvard, what the spaces are, and how all the support spaces need to work,” said Office for the Arts Director Jack Megan, who oversees the dance program. “To have her input during this very important time of transition...is absolutely essential.”
Bergmann said she is optimistic that strong support for the dance program among administrators will help the program eventually find a workable space.
Under terms of the 1999 merger agreement between Harvard and Radcliffe, Harvard’s dance programs will not be able to use Rieman after 2005 because the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study will convert it into a meeting space for its fellows.
The College has not yet identified an alternative location for dancers, many of whom say no adequate replacement for Rieman exists in Cambridge.
Bergmann said the dancer’s coordinated effort this fall to protest the loss of Rieman convinced her she wanted to stay to lead the effort to save dance.
“The real show of support for the dance program and the need for not changing leadership at this critical time were very important,” she said.
“With her on board through all of this, we’ll have a greater chance for survival,” said dancer Adrienne M. Minster ’04. “Her voice is really important for the administrators to hear on the issue of dance space.”
Before the academic year began, Bergmann said she felt she “was done.” She had finished what Harvard hired her to do: restore the Rieman Center as a performance space, create academic credit courses in dance and bring more students into the program.
In 1999, 499 students were involved in the dance program, compared with 600 now. Bergmann created and taught a class on the theory of movement.
In addition, her teaching invitations to professional dancers such as Berdo have given Harvard students an opportunity to pursue dance on a more serious level.
“Because of her I’ve had so many opportunities to work with all kinds of professionals,” said dancer Christina M. Shelby ’04. “I think it’s really important for that to happen at Harvard, especially because of the loss of Rieman.”
Bergmann brought strong academic as well as professional dance credentials to Harvard.
“She’s a very serious teacher of college-age people,” said Kathleen McCormick, director of programs for the Office for the Arts. “I felt we needed someone who really understood the liberal arts environment.”
During her 20-year tenure at the University of Michigan, Bergmann developed its dance program from a recreational activity to a part of the curriculum in which students can earn a degree.
By designing a building for the dance program and recruiting visiting artists, Bergmann created a curriculum “that was much more nurturing of developing artists than people who would go on to teach physical education,” said University of Michigan faculty member Gay Delanghe, who worked under Bergmann.
“She is an inspiring teacher,” Delanghe said. “A lot of people take her classes and she can move them.”
In 2000, the University of Michigan recognized Bergmann’s work with a citation of merit.
Bergmann has also served as faculty chair of dance at California State University, Long Beach and Shenandoah University in Virginia. She is a Fulbright scholar and has received three choreographic fellowship grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Professionally, she has danced and choreographed in New York, where she taught modern dance legend Jose Limon.
The search committee to find a new dance director had planned to publicly kick off its search on Tuesday—the day after Bergmann announced she would stay. Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, who was to have overseen the search, said he was relieved Bergmann decided against retirement.
“I feel as though I had completed a worldwide search, identified the best candidate, and she accepted the position,” he wrote in an e-mail.
—Staff writer William M. Rasmussen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.