Karen Clark Raine
Karen Clark Raine, a widely admired modern dance performer, choreographer and artistic director, died of cancer May 27 in her longtime hometown of Oakland. She was 75.
She danced as Kay Clark, and established her professional reputation as a founding member, in 1966, of Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) in Salt Lake City, which 54 years later remains in the top tier of modern dance performance groups. RDT was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation as the nation's first repertory dance company.
The funding likely came as a surprise to dance communities in much larger American cities. But the Utah capital had the highly regarded University of Utah Department of Modern Dance faculty and its graduates. Ms. Clark received BFA and MFA degrees from the university.
At RDT, Ms. Clark served as dancer, choreographer, teacher and, with Linda C. Smith, co-artistic director, and at the same time continued her studies with important artists in modern dance, including Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber, Jose Limon, Alwin Nikolais, Ethel Winter and Yuriko.
With the company, she performed the work of many choreographers, including John Butler, Farber, Limon, Lar Lubovich, Anna Sokolow and Glen Tetley. She also performed in reconstructions of works by Isadora Duncan, Doris Humphrey, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and Helen Tamiris.
The Rockefeller investment in RDT had been special in another regard: the company was structured for years as an artistic democracy, without an artistic director, Rather, Ms. Clark, Ms. Smith and dancers Lynne Wimmer and Bill Evans, along with others, rotated as elected artistic coordinators.
In 1969, when Ms. Sokolow was teaching a technique class for the company, she said that Ms. Clark "danced like a princess." Ms. Clark thereafter jokingly referred to herself as the "artistic princess."
"She was in fact regal," said Mr. Evans, her former RDT colleague. "If you didn't see Kay dance, think of Carolyn Brown. Or imagine Carmen De Lavallade. They each had similar elegance and majesty, on stage and off."
Said Ms. Wimmer: "RDT and many of the dance world will miss Kay. She has legendary status."
As choreographer, Ms. Clark created more than 50 works for RDT, Children's Dance Theatre and RDT TOO, both in Salt Lake City, Chicago's Columbia Dance Center and in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dominican College of San Rafael, UC-Santa Cruz, The Marin Ballet Summer Masters workshop and Mills College. Her work has toured across the United States with additional performances in Canada, Sweden and the then-Soviet Union.
She also lectured at many colleges, universities and museums in the country, including the Smithsonian, and was a dance movement specialist for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Ms. Clark moved from Utah to the Bay Area in 1983 and had dance teaching assignments at several colleges and universities, including Dominican and Santa Cruz, and then for many years she served on the dance faculty at Mills College.
Her childhood was largely spent in Pasadena, Calif., where she showed early ability and grace. She was named "Posture Queen" at McKinley Junior High--a title she seldom mentioned without a chuckle--and performed as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the city's annual production of The Nutcracker ballet.
Ms. Clark was born Feb. 25, 1945, in nearby Hollywood, the daughter of J. Kent and Ora Christensen Clark. (Her father was a prominent professor of English literature, author and writer of comic songs about science at California Institute of Technology).
She married George Raine, a journalist, in 1975 in Salt Lake City. She is survived by her husband of 45 years and by brothers Don, of Oakland, and Jeff, of Chanhassen, Minn.
Ms. Clark has been laid to rest in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. A celebration of her life will be planned after the coronavirus lockdown ends.
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Jun. 2 to Jun. 7, 2020.