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Across the Wall (1975)
Photo: Dawn

Sally Gross is a New York based choreographer and performer who has been a dynamic presence in the dance world for over forty years. Sally Gross was born and raised in the Lower East Side of New York City during the late 1930’s and 1940’s. She was the last of eight children born to a Polish-Jewish immigrant family with little money and often helped her father sell fruit and vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon. As a native Yiddish speaker, she acted as a translator for her parents who hardly spoke any English.

Sally's life was very much shaped by the history of the Jewish Settlements in the Lower East Side. At the age of 13, she discovered dance during a summer camp sponsored by the local settlement house, Grand Street Settlement, whose mission was to foster and invigorate Jewish life. She then went on to study dance at Henry Street Settlement Playhouse located in the Lower East Side where she studied with celebrated choreographer Alwin Nikolais. There she discovered improvisation, one of the foundations for her dance style.

Ms. Gross was an original member of New York’s renowned Judson Dance Theater in New York during its highly influential history between 1962-1964. Ms. Gross and her colleagues that formed Judson Dance Theater are considered the founders of Postmodern dance, about whom in her book, Democracy’s Body, dance historian Sally Banes said, the Judson Dance Theater [exemplified] the democratic spirit of the enterprise; a joyous defiance of rules—both choreographic and social; a refusal to capitulate to the requirements of ‘communication’ and ‘meaning’ that were generally regarded as the purpose of even avant-garde theater; a radical questioning…of what constitutes the basic materials and traditions of dance.” The Judson group was an outgrowth of a dance composition class taught by Robert Dunn, a musician who had studied with the composer John Cage, and the artists involved with Judson Dance Theater were among the most adventurous avant-garde experimentalists. These artists collectively rejected the confines of Modern dance practice and theory in favor of a more democratic and egalitarian process and practice.

This adventurous spirit has led Ms. Gross to work across disciplines throughout her entire career. She has been featured in films such as Robert Frank’s Beat Generation masterpiece, Pull My Daisy (1959). Pull My Daisy was selected for preservation in the United States in 1996, as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." She has collaborated with renowned musicians such as cellist Robert Een, and worked with ground-breaking artists such as Meredith Monk (Atlas), Choreographers Lucinda Childs and Yvonne Rainer, theater artist Joseph Chaikin, director Robert Wilson and choreographer and media artist Jonah Bokaer. Ms. Gross most recently performed and toured in a production of KOOL:  Dancing In Her Mind (renowned theatre director Robert Wilson’s homage to Japanese theatre artist Suzushi Hanayagi) and was the subject of a documentary about her life produced by Albert Maysles called, Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness. The title echoes Gross’s work of the same name, which emerged from her Buddhist practice and quiet center.

About her work, the Village Voice dance critic Deborah Jowitt noted, “Every moment in a work by Sally Gross appears to be immaculate, chosen with care.” In speaking about one of her performances, New York Times dance critic Jennifer Dunning said “Sally Gross might have been a witch or magician in other times. All she has to do to weave a spell, it seems, is walk onto the stage and begin to move in that strangely drowsy but focused way of hers. The elements are simple, with much of the dancing performed in silence.” And, “She is also a choreographer with a sharp sense of visual effect, one who can indicate complex atmospheres and personal histories with the most minimal of brush strokes and the simplest of props.”

Ms. Gross has been awarded numerous prestigious fellowships and grants, among them: five National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowships, (1986, 1987, 1988,1995 and1996), two National Endowment for the Arts US/Japan Creative Artist Fellowships (1998 and 1999), six New York State Council on the Arts awards (1987, 1988, 1990, 1992,1993,1994), twoNational Endowment for the Arts Dance/Film grants (1981,1984) and a Guggenheim Foundation Choreography Fellowship (2001).

Ms. Gross has taught at CUNY/City College, NY, Fordham University, NY and elsewhere and while still teaching at CUNY regularly teaches in New York studios and facilitates workshops around the world. She also continues to perform in New York and abroad as well. She has been a fellow at Yaddo for the last four summers. In 2011, Gia Kourlas of The New York Times reviewed a concert by Ms. Gross and her company and said of her work “One,” “It’s pure Ms. Gross: peculiar, sharp and unsentimental. And the title fits: after all these years, she’s still the most entrancing dancer in the group.”