Frances Alenikoff, Dancer and Visual Artist, Dies at 91

July 9, 2012

By MARGALIT FOX

July 9, 2012

Frances Alenikoff, a dancer, choreographer and visual artist whose performances often interwove movement with slides, film, speaking, tape recordings and chant, died on June 23 in Southampton, N.Y. She was 91.

Her daughter, Francesca Rheannon, confirmed the death.

Ms. Alenikoff, who during her professional heyday worked primarily in New York City, was an active participant in the artistic ferment in and around the lofts of SoHo at midcentury and afterward. By the 1950s her work had begun to take on aspects of what would now be called multimedia performance, employing slides and chanting to add color and meter to the dance.

She founded and ran two dance companies. The first, the Aviv Theater of Dance and Song, was begun in 1959. Specializing in Israeli, Hasidic, Russian and Afro-Caribbean dance, it performed at black schools in the Jim Crow South; at the 92nd Street Y in New York; and, on Broadway, in Josephine Baker’s musical revue of 1964.

Ms. Alenikoff’s second company, Frances Alenikoff Dance Theater, was founded in the mid-1970s. It focused on dance as a theatrical medium of shifting shapes, augmenting the dancers’ work onstage with a range of visual and aural stimuli.

Her interest in creating such multimedia works, Ms. Alenikoff often said, was rooted in her overriding fascination with form — including bodily movement, the look of projected images, the counterpoint of spoken dialogue and the textural rhythms of chant.

Among her best-known works as a choreographer are two solo pieces she danced herself: “The One of No Way,” performed to verse by the avant-garde poet Armand Schwerner, and “Re-Membering,” which Ms. Alenikoff created in her 70s after recovering from a life-threatening bout of babesiosis, a tick-borne illness.

In later years, working from her home in East Hampton, on Long Island, Ms. Alenikoff was also a visual artist, producing paintings and collages that teemed with color and form.

The daughter of Clement Jack Lipman and the former Ruth Alper, Frances Lipman was born in Queens on Aug. 20, 1920, and raised in Manhattan. Her mother was a dancer who later helped introduce yoga to Hollywood.

Frances earned a bachelor’s degree in art and psychology from Brooklyn College.

Afterward she studied African and Haitian dance, drumming and singing with Katherine Dunham, one of only a handful of white students to be accepted into Ms. Dunham’s predominantly black school in New York.

Ms. Alenikoff’s first marriage, to Jules Alenikoff, ended in divorce, as did her second, to Martin Freedman. She is survived by her daughter, Francesca, from her relationship with Guido Teunissen; a grandson; and a great-granddaughter.

Her work was the subject of “Shaping Things: A Choreographic Journal,” a documentary film by Robert Machover.

Ms. Alenikoff continued dancing in public until she was in her 80s. As reviews of her late-life performances sometimes noted, she was fond of stopping, after an especially high kick, to tell the audience exactly how old she was.

Originally published by The New York Times