By JENNIFER DUNNING
Published: December 16, 1987
FOR many dancegoers, Mura Dehn is known, a little vaguely, as a woman who had something to do with film and black dancers. But the Film Forum is doing something about that, with a double feature consisting of ”In a Jazz Way,” a short film on Miss Dehn by Louise Ghertler and Pamela Katz, and a two-hour excerpt from ”The Spirit Moves: A History of Black Social Dance on Film,” a documentary by Miss Dehn. The program opens today for a two-week run at Film Forum 1.
”In a Jazz Way,” shot in 1985, offers a tantalizing look at Miss Dehn. It has the look of a documentary that originally had more ambitious things on its mind, but Miss Ghertler and Miss Katz do give us an undiluted dose of Miss Dehn, who died in February. We see her at her kitchen table, in her apartment in Washington Heights, reminiscing about her youth in Vienna and about her work recording and preserving the artistry of some of the great known and anonymous dancers of the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.
Schooled in the dancing style of Isadora Duncan, Miss Dehn had been exposed to jazz in her native Russia, but she became a jazz fan when she met Josephine Baker in Paris in 1925. Judging by old film clips of her own work, Miss Dehn made fascinating use of jazz idioms to create her own unusual form of concert dance. She arrived in New York in 1930. ”I wanted to come home,” she says, ”to be within my own land of dance. I was waiting to come.”