Mertz wins state’s highest arts award

Annelise Mertz, professor emerita in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, has received the 2004 Missouri Arts Award, the state’s highest honor for achievement in the arts, for her contributions to arts education.

Gov. Bob Holden and his wife, Lori Hauser Holden, presented the award in a Feb. 11 ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City.

Mertz has long been a force on the St. Louis dance scene — as a teacher, as a performer and choreographer, and as a tireless champion for the arts. In 2001, the University dedicated the Annelise Mertz Dance Studio in Mallinckrodt Student Center — the University’s primary dance rehearsal/performance space — in her honor.

“For Annelise, dance education is not about teaching technique or creating pretty images,” said Henry I. Schvey, chair of the PAD. “It is about the drama and passion of life itself.”

Born in Berlin, Mertz trained in ballet, modern dance, Laban theory and notation and Wigman technique, pursuing graduate work with choreographer Kurt Jooss at Germany’s renowned Folkwangschule, now part of the University of Essen.

She danced professionally throughout Europe with several distinguished companies, including the Kurt Jooss Dance Theatre; the Dance Company of the State Opera, Berlin; and the Municipal Operas of Darmstadt and Dusseldorf.

Mertz immigrated to the United States in 1955, teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago before coming to Washington University in 1957.

She quickly made her mark on campus, founding and serving as artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Washington University and, in the mid-1960s, spearheading the creation both of the Dance Major Program, which she directed for some 31 years, and of the PAD itself.

She also founded the Washington University Summer Dance Institute and established several off-campus programs in creative dance for both children and high-school students. Additionally, Mertz has presented dance master classes in England, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel and across the United States.

In 1966, Mertz founded and served as the first president of Dance St. Louis (originally called the Dance Concert Society), a not-for-profit organization focusing on modern dance — “an American art form then virtually unknown in St. Louis,” Mertz recalled — which continues to sponsor performances by nationally known professional companies.

In 1978, she founded the professional company St. Louis Ragtime Ensemble (later the St. Louis Dancers), which, over the next decade, would perform throughout the St. Louis region and abroad, including Ireland and Germany.

As a choreographer, Mertz has earned a reputation for creating work that is imaginative and witty, yet also highly personal and possessing a great flair for the theatrical. Over the years, she has staged more than 40 original works at venues ranging from the Saint Louis Art Museum and St. Louis Opera Theatre to Cooper Union in New York City and the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin.

Though “retired” since 1990, Mertz recently edited and contributed one of 18 essays to The Body Can Speak: Essays on Creative Movement Education With an Emphasis on Dance and Drama.

The Missouri Arts Award is sponsored annually by the Missouri Arts Council and given in five categories — arts education, arts organization, individual artist, leadership in the arts and philanthropy.

In addition to Mertz, other winners were, respectively, the Coterie Theatre, Kansas City; Agnes Wilcox, St. Louis; Kyna Iman, Salisbury; and Kenneth and Nancy Kranzberg, St. Louis.

Frances Poteet, formerly of St. Louis, received the first Ruby MAC Award for her achievements as executive director of Missouri Arts Council from 1968-1973.

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