William Harren (July 31, 1955-October 5, 1989)
William Harren was a unique and powerful performer, choreographer, and teacher of dance. His contributions to the Minnesota dance community were many.
Born in 1955 in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, Bill was one of ten children. He rode horses and performed in theatre productions, but did not take a dance class until his freshman year at the College of St. Joseph/St. Benedict near St. Cloud. The following year, he transferred to the University of Utah, where he earned a BFA with Honors in Modern Dance, studying with Shirley Ririe and Joanne Woodbury of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, among others. He also studied extensively in Colorado with Hanya Holm, German pioneer of modern dance, whose artistic philosophy had a tremendous influence on his work, and later led him to study and perform internationally with Holm’s world-renowned former student Alwin Nikolais in the Nikolais Dance Theatre. He also performed in New York with Ruth Currier and Phyllis Lamhut.
Bill taught and choreographed dances for Rezone Dancers, the precursor to Zenon (“Day”, “See Jane Run”, and “Shelter,” all in 1983.) He joined Minnesota Jazz Dance Company in 1984, and choreographed “As You Desire Me” and “Samothrace” on MJDC that same year. He also taught and choreographed for Children’s Theatre Company and School, as well as presenting his work in many independent settings.
In 1985, Bill founded modern dance company Ballet Harren, and served as Artistic Director and principal choreographer from 1985-89. Beginning as a company of three with his wife Georgia Harren and Holly Schramm, the company grew by its final year to include dancers Jennifer Anderson and Georgia Corner. Ballet Harren’s premiere in 1986 was a full evening-length work of Bill’s choreography, “Life and Death.” The artistic range of Bill’s choreography was seen in “Life and Death”s many vignettes and movement sequences, from humor to moving emotional expression, to the theatrical use of voice and commentary. Another memorable evening-length piece was “The Silent Opera” in 1987. All sound was created onstage by the performers, and the piece was an abstract story of the inner life and imagination of an elderly woman in a nursing home. His final work was 1989’s “Laughter and the Four Winds,” a quartet for Ballet Harren’s women, which was a beautiful example of the lyricism and motional intelligence which had always graced his work.
Just as important to Bill as choreography was dance education. Ballet Harren taught and performed in many dance residencies in schools all over Minnesota. Bill created Ballet Harren’s Dance Access for Educators, a program which provided elementary classroom teachers with fundamentals of dance and resources to enable them to include creative dance in their teaching.
In 1988, Bill was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He also received grants from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations.
William Harren died in 1989 of AIDS at the age of 34.