Annelise Mertz, 93

Memorial service June 18 will honor professor emerita, a major figure in St. Louis dance community

The Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences (PAD) will host a memorial service for professor emerita Annelise Mertz at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 18, in Edison Theatre.

A force on the St. Louis dance scene for more than five decades, Mertz was a celebrated teacher, performer, choreographer and champion for the arts. She died April 28 at her home in Clayton, of pancreatic cancer. She was 93.

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-Chicago before coming to Washington University in 1957. She quickly made her mark on campus, founding and serving as artistic director of Washington University Dance Theatre 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.

In 1966, Mertz founded and served as the first president of Dance St. Louis, a not-for-profit organization that continues to sponsor performances by nationally known modern dance companies. In 1978, she founded the St. Louis Ragtime Ensemble (later the St. Louis Dancers), a professional troupe that, over the next decade, would perform throughout the St. Louis region and abroad, including concerts in Ireland and Germany.

As a choreographer, Mertz earned a reputation for creating highly personal works that were also imaginative, witty and theatrical. Over the years, she staged more than 40 original pieces 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 1988, Mertz remained a regular presence in the PAD. In 2002, she edited and contributed an essay to the book The Body Can Speak: Essays on Creative Movement Education with an Emphasis on Dance and Drama (University of Illinois-Carbondale Press).
In 2001, the university dedicated the Annelise Mertz Dance Studio in Mallinckrodt Center — its primary dance rehearsal/performance space — in her honor. In 2004, she received the Missouri Arts Award, the state’s highest honor for achievement in the arts.

Mertz is survived by a cousin, Ines Ruoff, of Germany; and by a nephew, Wolfgang Heinisch, of Austria.

Mertz donated her body to the Washington University School of Medicine. Memorial contributions may be made to the Performing Arts Department, Campus Box 1108, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, 63130-4899, which will establish a fund in her name.

Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 935-5858.

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