Choreographer, dancer and teacher Aileen Passloff died on Tuesday, November 3, at age 89 after a five-year fight with cancer. Arthur Aviles and Charlotte Hendrickson, dancers and close friends of Passloff’s, were present when she passed away.
In a 2019 article for The New York Times, Gia Kourlas called Passloff’s long career “a mighty one that has spanned ballet, modern dance and postmodern dance.” Passloff was a member of Judson Dance Theater and a professor of dance at Bard College for over 40 years.
Passloff was born in the Bronx in 1931 and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens. She studied ballet at the School of American Ballet, where she met and befriended choreographer and dancer James Waring, with whom she would remain close. As a young teenager, she made her dance debut in a performance at the 92nd Street Y with Waring’s company.
Passloff expanded her dance horizons while a student at Bennington College, from which she graduated in 1953. There, she was introduced to modern dance and dancers. “Being a student at Bennington was revolutionary for me. It rocked every thought I ever had,” Passloff said in a 2010 interview with Dance Magazine.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Passloff participated in the off-off-Broadway dance and theater scenes and was a member of the groundbreaking Judson Dance Theater. She danced with Toby Armour, Remy Charlip and Katherine Litz, worked with playwright and director María Irene Fornés, and studied flamenco in Spain with teachers Mercedes and Albano. From 1958 to 1968, Passloff directed her own dance company.
In 1969, Passloff began teaching at Bard College, where she was the L. May Hawver and Wallace Benjamin Flint Professor of Dance for over 40 years. For 26 of those years, she served as chair of the dance department. Her students at Bard included Aviles and Hendrickson, as well as Anne Bogart, Dušan Týnek, Liz Prince and David Parker, among others. She also taught at the Conservatory of Dance in Madrid.
Aileen Passloff. Photo by Bob Vergara, Courtesy Audrey Ross/Publicity
Passloff continued to present work until last year, making appearances in 2019 at the 92nd Street Y and in Cathy Weis’ Sundays on Broadway series at WeisAcres. Over the course of her career, she choreographed more than 200 dance pieces. Sally Banes, in Terpsichore in Sneakers, wrote of Passloff’s work: “Some of her dances are, like some of Waring’s, nostalgic tributes to great memories of ballet, or folk dance. Others were resolutely modernist.”
Passloff was featured in the recent MoMA retrospective “Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done.” Her numerous awards include a postdoctoral Fulbright scholarship in Spanish dance and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Program for Cultural Cooperation between the Spanish Ministry of Culture and U.S. Universities.
Catherine Tharin, director of Fridays at Noon at the 92nd Street Y, and a friend and former student of Passloff’s, spoke weekly with Passloff during the pandemic. Tharin says, “She always spoke about how grateful she was for her life as an artist. She always looked for and acknowledged beauty.”
The last lines of Passloff’s biography from her recent WeisAcres performance speak to her life and work: “She says that dancing and teaching dance have always been deeply connected to her. She has loved them both for as long as she can remember. If she has a legacy, it is the dancing of Arthur, Charlotte and all her many wonderful students.”
Details about a memorial celebration are still to come.