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By Dance Magazine
Mona Rice at 18 in Denishawn's Warrior Dance
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Rice
Mona Dawn Irvine Rice, a modern and Denishawn dancer who had inspired countless artists throughout New England for over 50 year, died in Boston on November 26, 2013. As a director, producer, performer, choreographer and educator, Rice founded the dance department at Cushing Academy and taught and performed with Marion Rice’s Denishawn Dancers at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and in New York City in the 1970’s.
Mona was born in Mars Hill, Maine on August 22, 1931. She and her family moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, when she was 9 years old. She graduated from Fitchburg High School in 1949 at the top of her class, serving as class Vice-President as well as the sole recipient of the DAR Education Award that provided her with a full scholarship to Middlebury College upon graduation. She declined, instead choosing to marry her dance teacher’s son, James Parker Rice, Jr, the love of her life, in order to devote herself to the dance she adored and to raising a family.
She received her BFA in Dance through University of Massachusetts–Amherst’s “University Without Walls” program, studying with Hannah Wiley, and other artists at Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges.
Rice spent much of her early years studying ballet, modern, Denishawn, and ballroom dance at the Marion Rice Studio of the Dance in Fitchburg, MA, with her mentor, Marion Rice, who had performed with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Mona Rice also studied with Consuelo Atlas and other professional dance artists at the Dance Circle in Boston during the 1950’s and 60’s. Her performances with Marion Rice's Denishawn Dancers were renowned for the depth of content and professional standards, as well as the fact that three generations of dancers from the Rice family performed together for many years: Mona’s mother-in-law, Marion Rice, Mona’s sister-in-law, Carolyn (Rice) Brown of Merce Cunningham Company, Mona herself and her two daughters, Robin and Rebecca Rice.
In a 1972 performance at Jacob's Pillow—the year after Ted Shawn's death—Rice performed many of the rarely seen Denishawn pieces, including Sonata, choreographed by St. Denis with Doris Humphry, as well as Valse a la Loie (sometimes called Valse No. 14). Other lead roles included performances of Denishawn’s Valse Brilliante, the solo Waltzer, Sonata Pathetique and the signature Soaring.
In the 1980’s and 90’s, she continued to perform and stage Denishawn work throughout the United States and Canada, with companies including Boston Ballet, the Boston Dance Company, Les Grands Ballets Canadian in Montreal, as well as during the “Dance in the Millennium” Festival in Washington, DC and the 1981 “Roots Festival” in New York City.
In Ruth St. Denis' DeLachau, 1972
Photo by James Klosty, Courtesy Rebecca Rice
Mona was not only a gifted performer but also an original choreographer. She choreographed over thirty serious works, including Give a Damn (1967), Carmina Burana (1968), Emotions (1976) and Electronics (1977), as well as many full-length original children’s’ productions including Creation (1987) and Peter and the Wolf (1991). Her credits included theater work at the High-Tor Summer Theater and with the Stratton Players in Fitchburg where she was also an actor. Mona Rice, Carolyn (Rice) Brown and Marion Rice all collaborated to choreograph God of our Fathers—performed for 60 years at the end of every Marion Rice concert.
Rice founded the dance department at the Cushing Academy private school in Ashburnham, MA where she worked from 1961–1976. Her focus at Cushing was to teach modern dance, Denishawn and creative thinking. She also ran a Ballroom Dance Program at the Fay Club in Fitchburg for many years teaching local children and teenagers the 1970’s. In 1981, she and her husband created The Dance Center.
Mona was a rare beauty and loved by many. She was a person of artistic grace, vitality of spirit, integrity and intelligence. She loved theater, culture, nature, music, animals and children. She was the ultimate romantic. She modeled her philosophy of life around her favorite Prose Poem, “Desiderata.” Mona and her husband, J. Parker Rice, Jr. of 63 years, spent 48 years in Ashburnham raising a family and renovating their cherished c. 1796 house they named “Windswept.” In 2005 they retired to Westport, NY where they established a special place overlooking the Adirondack Mountains. Mona Rice leaves her loving and devoted husband, three children, four grandchildren and one-great grandchild. —Rebecca Rice