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Shearer, Sybil (1912–2005) By Brooks, Bonnie

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM1308-1
Published: 01/10/2016
Retrieved: 30 May 2023, from


In the modern dance world, Sybil Shearer was by most accounts an idiosyncratic, singular, and somewhat esoteric figure whose career spanned the second half of the twentieth century. As a dancer Shearer came of age in the 1930s, when she studied at the Bennington School of the Dance, joined the Humphrey–Weidman company, and performed with Agnes DeMille. In 1941 she presented her debut concert as a soloist in New York City and became recognized as an innovator, an original voice within the generation that followed Bennington. The following year she moved to Chicago, a decision that enhanced her reputation for curiosity, elusiveness, and mystique. She founded her own ensemble of Chicago-based dancers, the Sybil Shearer Company, created scores of short solos for herself, and was a pioneer in the photographic and film documentation of her dances in collaboration with photographer Helen Balfour Morrison. Deeply philosophical and at the same time profoundly spiritual, Shearer devoted her career as well as her inner life—it is impossible to separate her artistry from her spirituality—to a constant search for cosmic meaning, aesthetic purity, and spiritual authenticity. Strongly influenced by Rudolf Steiner, she was a true modernist in the sense that she believed deeply in universal concepts and was in constant search of the evidence and experience of those realities through choreography and dancing.

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Citing this article:

Brooks, Bonnie. "Shearer, Sybil (1912–2005)." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. : Taylor and Francis, 2016. Date Accessed 30 May. 2023 doi:10.4324/9781135000356-REM1308-1

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