The internationally renowned Dieman-Bennett Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres began in 1951 when Edna Dieman and Julia Bennett rented a room in the Cedar Rapids YWCA to give dance lessons.
Edna Dieman, a native Iowan, received a B.A. in music from Coe College, Iowa, and continued the study of dance at institutions around the world. She studied classical ballet, Spanish dance, and Indian dance among many other styles and became a member of the Ethnologic Ballet Company, dancing in New York City under the direction of La Meri.
Julia Bennett, born in Chittagong, India to English parents, is an alumnus of Lowther College, North Wales, and studied voice and classical ballet in London, England. She was auditioned by Sir Henry Wood and accepted at the Royal College of Music, London. Later she studied voice with Julian Kimball and ballet with Madame Legat and Preobrazhenskaya in Paris. During her early career, Bennett made many singing appearances in India with Julia Wortman, including performances with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra.
Edna Dieman and Julia Bennett met in New York. Initially the two women returned to Cedar Rapids from New York each summer to teach dance. Dieman and Bennett pointed to their encounter with a twelve-year-old student, who sadly told them at the end of the session, "It's all right for you to come and give us a month, but we have to stay here without anything," as planting the seed for them to form a studio in Iowa. In 1950 they moved permanently to Cedar Rapids and began teaching dance year round.
The credo of Dieman-Bennett Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres was "Diversity in Dance," a philosophy reflected in the many cultural influences from which their instruction was drawn. Their repertoire included classical Indian and Spanish dance, contemporary tap and jazz, court dances from the 11th through the 18th century, and classical ballet. The company offered concerts for children and adults, lecture-demonstrations, dance history, teaching seminars, and master classes with visiting dancers. Among these visitors was Dieman's mentor La Meri, who gave to Edna Dieman her choreography of Swan Lake, "translated into the dance-idiom of India," which became a feature of many of the Dance Theatre's performances.
The Dieman-Bennett Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres closed its doors permanently in 1997. Edna Dieman died in 1999 at the age of ninety-five. Julia Bennett died in 2014 at the age of ninety-seven.
The Dieman-Bennett Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres records are arranged in twelve series: Biographical Information, Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres, Festivals, Productions, Programs and recitals, Workshops and classes, Miscellaneous, Photographs, Scrapbooks, "Chest of Jewels" Manuscript Audiovisual, and Artifacts and Books.
The Biographical Information series is primarily concerned with the education and early careers of Edna Dieman and Julia Bennett. Included are programs and promotional materials for Dieman's work with Ethnographic Ballet and La Meri, newsclippings about Bennett's vocal performances in India and the United States, awards and honorary degrees presented to both women, and materials from their joint song and dance performances. Also included is a videocassette of a 1995 interview with the two concerning Carl Van Vechten's dancers.
The Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres series documents the formation and development of Dieman and Bennett's dance school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Included are written histories of Dance Theatre's founding, fundraising and administrative materials (including the establishing of a scholarship in connection with the school), newspaper clippings and magazine articles reviewing Dance Theatre performances, calendars of concerts and workshops for students to attend, letters inviting the Dance Theatre to perform at area events, and promotional materials advertising the company.
The Festivals series documents the Dance Theatre's participation in dance festivals at home and abroad. This series primarily concerns the company's work as part of the Scottish-American Ballet performance at the Edinburgh festival in 1988, and contains funding correspondence, newspaper clippings of performance reviews, and workshop and performance programs. Also reflected in this series is the Dance Theatre of the Hemisphere's choice to celebrate their twentieth anniversary by hosting the Mid-States Regional Ballet Festival in 1982, as shown in letters of congratulations and thanks, financial records of the festival, and promotional material.
The Productions series contains materials related to the full-scale performances put on by the Dance Theatre, including cast lists and rehearsal schedules, handwritten and typed choreography and production notes, scripts and scores, lighting and music cue sheets, costume sketches and fabric samples, programs, and correspondence. The productions in this series reflect the Dance Theatre's investment in cultural diversity, including A Digit of the Moon and Swan Lake, both performed in the "dance idiom of India." This diversity is reflected in their range of Western influences as well, as shown through the company's multiple Elizabethan-themed productions, as well as individual years in which their recurring Nutcracker was performed in the style of Commedia dell'Arte. A more traditional Nutcracker, performed in 1976, was filmed for television broadcast, and the records include the script for this production.
The Programs and Recitals series documents smaller-scale performances and guest appearances by the Dance Theatre. This series includes programs and promotional materials, correspondence with organizations and venues hosting performances, rehearsal schedules, handwritten and typed choreography and production notes, performance scripts, and musical scores. The performances in which the company participated range from larger events like "Carl Van Vechten: Contributions of a Century" to smaller events, including services, ordinations, and dedications at area churches.
The Workshops and Classes series documents the Dance Theatre's ongoing classes in Ballet, Contemporary Dance (including Jazz), and Ethnic Dance (featuring Indian Dance), as well as workshops hosted by the Dance Theatre. The series includes course listings, typed histories of dance and music for course instruction, and schedules for individual workshops and performances. Also documented in this series is "Big 'D' for Dance," a program in the early and mid-1980s that bussed nearly 1,000 sixth grade students from area schools to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids, where Dieman-Bennett Dance Theatre demonstrated the warm-up and training process that dancers undertake, culminating in a live performance for the students by the company. Material from this event includes organizational and funding correspondence, performance schedules and notes, and letters to the company and teachers from the sixth graders themselves.
The Miscellaneous Materials about Dance series contains book lists, magazine advertising correspondence, and application correspondence for the National Endowment for the Arts. Also included are project descriptions, budgets, and correspondence regarding a proposed trip to India during the 1970s.
The Photographs series includes photographs of productions, festivals, classes, and students of the Dance Theatre, as well as photographs of founders Dieman and Bennett.
The Scrapbooks series is primarily concerned with the history of Dieman-Bennett Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres, recorded in fourteen scrapbooks dating from 1941-1990. Also included are early scrapbooks documenting Julia Bennett's performance career in India, Edna Dieman's work with La Meri and Ethnographic Ballet, and the score, script, and production notes for the Dance Theatre's 1980 production of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale.
The "Chest of Jewels" Manuscript series contains a multivolume biographical manuscript by Julia Bennett and Edna Dieman. Interspersed frequently with photographs, memorabilia, and short essays on historical and cultural topics, these volumes begin with Edna Dieman's childhood in Iowa and her early career with La Meri, as well as Bennett's youth in India, her education in England and early performance career in the East and West. The volumes continue through Dieman and Bennett's meeting, collaborations, and the evolution of Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres. There is some chronological overlap among the early volumes (World War I, for example, is discussed in two separate volumes), and the later volumes include less manuscript material, functioning more as scrapbooks. Although some volumes and individual sections are attributed to Dieman, the majority appear to have been written and assembled by Bennett.
The Audiovisual series contains materials in audiocassette, videocassette, and film formats, including recordings of music used in dance productions.
The Artifacts and Books series contains books on subjects relating to dance, including reference texts, histories, teaching materials, and biographies of famous dancers. Also included are small costume accessories from dance performances, handheld and miniature instruments, and a set of eleven plaster figurines from India.