The Passing of Ernestine Stodelle

Ernestine worked with the Doris Humphrey Society and MOMENTA from 1990 until her last visit in 2003. Her work teaching over a decade of our Technique Workshops has inspired and educated generations of dancers who can carry on her knowledge of the technique of Doris Humphrey. Without Ernestine’s tireless dedication to our video projects documenting Humphrey’s great early works, we would never have been able to complete the six videos capturing Ernestine’s understanding of both the quality of the movement and Humphrey’s choreographic intention.
Stephanie Clemens 1/2008

OBITUARY – Ernestine Stodelle Komisarjevsky Chamberlain


Ernestine Stodelle Komisarjevsky Chamberlain – celebrated modern dancer, author, teacher and one of the foremost chroniclers of modern dance in America – died on January 5, 2008, at the age of 95 in California.

Born May 6, 1912 in Oakland, California, Mrs. Chamberlain studied ballet as a child at the Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet in New York. She began her professional dance career as a member of the pioneer modern dance company of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, becoming a soloist with the Humphrey-Weidman Dance Company at the age of 17. She later became a partner, dancer and choreographer of original works with Jose Limon.

During that same period – 1929 to 1935 – Mrs. Chamberlain also performed as a dancer with many symphony orchestras, operas, concert programs and in Broadway shows in Philadelphia and New York. From 1935 to 1939, she was in Europe, introducing American modern dance to enthusiastic audiences by presenting solo recitals and lecture-demonstrations in Paris, Salzburg and Geneva.

It was in Europe where she married her first husband, the internationally-known theater director and stage designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky (1882-1954). They returned to the United States at the outbreak of World War II, opening a studio of dance and acting in New York. She soon afterwards formed the Ernestine Stodelle Studios of Modern Dance and, for the next fifty years, Mrs. Chamberlain focused her energies on the training and development of the careers of many talented dancers, many of whom went on to professional careers in modern dance.

During those years, Mrs. Chamberlain also focused on reconstructing the dances of her mentor Doris Humphrey and teaching the Humphrey technique. She reconstructed the early works of Doris Humphrey, beginning with Air for the G-String and Two Ecstatic Themes for the Jose Limon Dance Company. In addition, in 1990 she premiered the reconstruction of two dances originally performed by Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman in 1929. At the request of others, she staged Humphrey works in Canada, England, Switzerland and throughout the United States. Mrs. Chamberlain also gave lectures on modern dance history and technique with an emphasis on the Humphrey-Weidman and Martha Graham techniques.

Following her first husband’s death, Mrs. Chamberlain married John R. Chamberlain (1903-1995), nationally-known author, columnist and syndicated writer, and moved to Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1956. She moved her dance studio to Cheshire, continuing to teach modern dance to both children and adults, while becoming a noted author, university professor and critic of the dance.

Mrs. Chamberlain published two books: The Dance Technique of Doris Humphrey and Its Creative Potential (Princeton Book) andDeep Song, The Dance Story of Martha Graham (MacMillan). In addition, she was a free-lance writer for The New Haven Register, Dance Magazine, Art Times and Ballet Review. She co-edited two books on dance research with Patricia Rowe of New York University:Dance Research Monograph One and Dance Research Collage.

Mrs. Chamberlain was also an Adjunct Professor at New York University, conducting courses in Dance Criticism and Aesthetics in Dance, starting in 1970 through 1991.

Mrs. Chamberlain is survived by 13 great-grandchildren, 20 grandchildren and six children: Elizabeth Chamberlain Huss; Margaret Chamberlain Davis; John R. Chamberlain, Jr.; Tanya Komisarjevsky Metaksa; Benedict Komisarjevsky; and Christopher Komisarjevsky.

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