The dance world recently had to say goodbye to another incredible dance artist and human being, Mary Jane Eisenberg. Born on March 28, 1951 in Erie, Pennsylvania to parents Mina and Richard Eisenberg, Mary Jane graduated from Academy High School before moving on to life an amazingly productive life in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco as a dancer, choreographer, law student, arts administrator, Jewish educator, and energy healer. Her wife, Alyson Belcher, stated that Mary Jane was “deeply connected to her Jewish roots and spiritual practices that included meditation and energy healing work. She was known for her beautiful spirit and her gentle strength.” Mary Jane passed away peacefully on December 24, 2023 at the age of 72 following a long, courageous battle with ovarian cancer.
In New York, Mary Jane performed with the Glen Tetley Dance Company (1968-70) and the Louis Falco Dance Company (1970-75) where she performed alongside such notable dance artists as Louis Falco, Jennifer Muller, Juan Antonio, Matthew Diamond and Georgiana Holmes.
After relocating to Los Angeles, Mary Jane was a member of Dance/LA (1976-80) and for ten years (1980-1990) she was the founder, director, choreographer (and dancer) of Shale: Mary Jane Eisenberg Dance Company. Works choreographed by Mary Jane for her company included Close to Home (1976), Apartments (1977), Mommy (1978) and Train Station (1980), among numerous others. Shale company members included Donna Steinberg, Tina Gerstler (Reynoso), Walter Kennedy, Roger Montoya, Janet Carroll, Ellen Kennedy, Gracie Ramos Roman, Frank Adams, Janice Darrin, Susan Kawashima, William Pasley, Michael Shearer, Nicholas Gunn, Richard Korngute, and Sean Green. Mary Jane was also a free-lance choreographer creating works for the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet, the Long Beach Ballet, and Bette Midler’s “No Frills”.
Mary Jane also choreographed Boundary Waters, a 45-minute outdoor dance performance set to music by Bruce Fowler that traveled from Lifeguard Station 26, Ocean Park Boulevard and Barnard Way, north to Santa Monica Beach Station 24. “Much of the considerable pleasure and point of “Boundary Waters” came from the juxtaposition of “authentic” beachgoers and Eisenberg’s witty dance transformations of their behavior–her parodistic suntan-creme ritual, for instance. But other moments affirmed the link to the sea of both this culture and human imagination in general.” Lewis Segal, LA Times 1986
According to a review written in 1986 by Donna Perlmutter in the LA Times, Mary Jane called her choreographic style “hyper-realism”. Lewis Segal also mention this in his 1988 interview with Mary Jane. “These forays into the high-energy style she named “hyper-realism” anticipated the work of other acclaimed West Coast choreographers (including Seattle-based Mark Morris) and made Eisenberg a major force in the local dance community. In addition, she created innovative works compressing complex time lines and social panoramas into brilliantly layered theater images.”
“She always showed a sharp eye for detail. Now Eisenberg presents a broader and more sober view of the human condition, burdened by responsibility for our lives and beset by forces beyond our grasp.” Shelley Baumsten, LA Times, 1987. Baumsten said of Mary Jane’s work titled Tango: “Eisenberg’s wicked dance drama for a quartet of sexual predators, still captures more tango flavor than most earnest tango imitators…”
Outside of the concert dance arena, Mary Jane was know for working with Bette Midler: Art or Bust! (1984) and The Doors: Dance on Fire (1985).
From 1980 to 1990, Mary Jane was a part-time faculty member of the Department of Dance at California State University, Long Beach where she taught modern dance technique, directed student concerts, and created numerous works for dance students. During this time, she also made several dance films before moving on to studying law. At the University of California, Berkeley she received a BA Peace and Conflict Studies, Phi Beta Kappa (1995); and later attended the University of California Law, San Francisco, JD Program (1998). When I once asked her why she no longer wanted to practice Law, Mary Jane answered that she discovered that she did not much care for being around lawyers.
Expanding her talents even further, from 1999 to 2006 Mary Jane was the Managing Director of the San Francisco based Joe Goode Performance Group followed by a B’Nei Mitzvah Coordinator and Lead 6th Grade Teacher at Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco for seven years. From 2014 to the time of her death Mary Jane was a Certified Energy Healer.
Hobbies that Mary Jane enjoyed included Meditation and energy healing, T’ai Chi, Qigong , knitting, and drinking really good tea.
Mary Jane Eisenberg is survived by her wife Alyson Belcher; sister Emily Kuhn and her husband William Kuhn; and brother Richard Eisenberg and his wife Amy Eisenberg.
A private service was held at the home she shared with her wife, Alyson, in Sacramento, CA. Friends and colleagues of Mary Jane’s are encouraged to donate to one of the following charitable organizations: Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance; National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, or Sharsheret.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Mary Jane Eisenberg in Ritual – photo by Glenda Hydler, Mary Jane Eisenbert Profile – Photo by Alyson Belcher – collage by LADC