Sophie Maslow - Biographical Information
Born in 1911 and raised in New York, dancer and choreographer Sophie Maslow began her training at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where Martha Graham's early company was formed. From 1931 to 1940, Maslow was a member of the Martha Graham Company, appearing in productions of Primitive Mysteries (1931), American Document (1938), and Letter to the World (1940), among others. The new form of modern dance pioneered by Graham became an important part of Maslow's own style.
Like many New York dancers of her era, Maslow became involved in leftist politics. She taught dance classes for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and participated, alongside lifelong friend Anna Sokolow, in Workers Dance League concerts. For League concerts, she choreographed or danced such pieces as Two Songs about Lenin (1934) and Women of Spain (1938).
Beginning in 1941, Maslow's dances turned to a focus on the American experience expressed through the folk music and folk dance traditions. The first piece to define this new style was Dust Bowl Ballads, based on the music of Woody Guthrie. Folksay (1942), based upon Carl Sandburg's work The People, Yes, incorporated a number of Guthrie's songs and included live performances by Guthrie and Earl Robinson. Many of Maslow's dances from this period, including both Dust Bowl Ballads and Folksay, emerged from Maslow's founding of the Dudley-Maslow-Bales Trio which grew out of the leftist New Dance Group.
The American Dance Festival premiered Sophie Maslow's The Village I Knew in 1950, a suite of dances based on Sholom Aleichem stories and depicting life in a pre-war Russian Jewish shtetl. Following the success of Village, Maslow produced many more works with Jewish themes. These included Celebration, based on Israeli songs (1954), Anniversary, commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (1956), and The Dybbuk (1965). Jewish themes, however, were never her exclusive focus; in 1978, for example, she choreographed Visions of Black Elk, based on the massacre of American Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Most of these dances were originally staged by Maslow's own Sophie Maslow Dance Company, though they have since been widely performed by other groups.
Maslow continued an active life, staging her dances and traveling widely, well into her eighties. In March 2000, she was awarded a Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewy Beineke Chair for Distinguished Teaching by the American Dance Festival, an organization she had helped to found. Maslow died in June 2006 at the age of 95.