Sally Gross – The Pleasure of Stillness

By Albert Maysles, Kristen Nutile

This film follows charismatic artist Sally Gross during the process of creating her dance piece “The Pleasure of Stillness” for her annual performance season in New York City. Gross, “the most poetic of minimalist modern-dance choreographers” (New York Times) has been dancing for more than fifty years. The film shows the choreographer at work, still dancing, now in her seventies, teaching and choreographing with her company.

Sally Gross was born and grew up 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. Discovering dancing when she was 13, Sally went on to study dance at Henry Street Settlement Playhouse located in the Lower East Side where she studied with choreographer Alwin Nikolais. There she discovered improvisation, one of the foundations for her dance style. In the 1950's she became affiliated with the so-called Beat Generation and appeared in the avant-garde classic film “Pull My Daisy” by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie (1959). Early in the 1960's she was part of the Judson Dance Theater, a group of choreographers, visual artists, musicians and writers considered one of the founders of Post Modern Dance.

A lot of her dances, especially her solos, are autobiographical and touch upon themes like her parents' immigrant experience, motherhood, the mother-daughter relationship, mysticism and general meditations on life. During the late 1970's and well into the 1990's she choreographed and performed with her own daughter Sidonia. In 2000, Sally performed her most autobiographical piece, “Where is Jake?” which captured her experience working with her father selling produce on the streets of Manhattan. As a mature dancer she has been examining the themes of loss, departure and death, inspired by tape recordings of Samuel Beckett readings by the famous theater director Joe Chaikin.

After the documentary by Albert Maysles, we present the short dance film: “Stopped in her Tracks” by Susan Brockman and Sally Gross, USA 1978, 6 min., 16 mm