In memoriam Jonathan Wolken

June 16, 2010 · 36 comments

in Pilobolus News

It is with great sorrow that we mourn the death of Jonathan Wolken, one of our founders and artistic directors.  Jonathan passed away on Sunday night at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York after suffering sudden complications from a stem cell transplant.  Jonathan is survived by his wife JoAnne and his four daughters Sarah, Alyssa, Jenna, and Emily.

In the following weeks, we will be posting installments of Jonathan’s works, teachings, and legacy.  Please keep an eye on this space for updates and feel free to share any memories by leaving a comment below.

Related Posts

  1. The Jonathan Wolken Education Fund
  2. Jonathan Remembered: Pseudopodia
  3. Weekly Wrap: Remembering Jonathan and Dartmouth
  4. Jonathan Remembered: The Sushi Principle

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Kent Lindemer June 16, 2010 at 5:55 am

I am sorry to hear this sad news and am keeping him in the best of thoughts
at this difficult time for his family. Jonathan will be missed and i am sad that I personally will not have the opportunity to see him again in this world.

Much Love to All–especially JoAnne, Sarah, Alyssa, Jenna, and Emily.


Matt Kent June 16, 2010 at 6:16 am

Jonathan, in large dose, you altered my path, lead me, pushed me, shoved me, pulled me, into who i am and what i do. how i think. thanks. Peace. I loved you. Say hi to Zappa for me.
i miss you.
matt kent


Rick Julian June 16, 2010 at 6:28 am

Condolences to the Wolken and Pilobolus families.


Thomas Grimm June 16, 2010 at 9:06 am

With deep sorry I have learnt about Jonathans suddenly death!
I will keep him in my memory and thinking back to the days where we worked together, when he and all the other Pilobolus dancers visit me in my county house in Denmark.
And my return visit to there beautiful country place!
Thank you Johnathan for this inspiring hours we sheared!
Thomas Grimm
Producer / Director


Hillary Lane June 16, 2010 at 9:51 am

Thank you for all you taught me. There are certain sayings and thoughts that will stay with me forever as Jonathanisms.


Robin Werme June 16, 2010 at 11:53 am

Out of all the fantastic teachers that I have had during my lifetime, no one will ever compare to Jonathan. He has changed my life in ways that I will never forget. His creative passion has been inspiring to so many. He will be deeply missed. JoAnne and family, you are in my heart. Pilobolus, past present and future…please continue on and share more of Jonathan’s creative vision.


katt June 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm

My deepest sympathy to the company and to Jonathan’s family and friends. I will be eternally grateful for his precious and inspiring gift to humanity.


Diana Franceschin June 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I’m just a simple fan of Jonathan’s works. He gave us a great inspiration to go on along his visionary path. I’m sorry.



Harvey Pillersdorf June 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I’m loving the expressions from those who are sharing their memories. I did not have direct contact with Jonathan. Nonetheless, I have an abiding love for the inspiration that grew from Jonathan’s expression and his Pilobolus gang. Thank you Jonathan, Jonathan’s family members and all who continue onward.


Nancy Gabriel June 17, 2010 at 5:32 am

To everyone at Pilobolus and to Jonathan’s family, my sincerest sympathies. Jonathan’s spirit and energy were more than unique – he pushed and pulled in his own indomitable way to find the unusual, the dark, the humorous, the beautiful, and often the bizarre in his brilliant work. His personal stamp will be seen on stages around the world for decades to come, and we are all the better for it. Rest in peace,
Nancy Gabriel


Michael Noga June 17, 2010 at 6:27 am

I am most grateful for Jonathan and Pilobolus for initiating my interest in dance and movement several years ago. My condolences to the Wolken families and Pilobolus.


Wallace Chappell June 17, 2010 at 7:08 am

jonathan was big presence in my life…..always enjoyed jousting with him, and admired his search for fine work in himself, and in his ensemble….from hancher auditorium commissions to american ballet theatre and paul taylor cross-referencing to many happy hours at the joyce & around the planet….just absorbing the quest for the essential brilliance of the human body……and a profound giggle or two. much love, if not artistic bliss, is flowing the way of all the pilobolus family…..and the deepest of affection to joanne & all the kids…..from karen and wally chappell


Sarah June 17, 2010 at 11:27 am

I was a student at Hanover High School when Pilobolus first formed at Dartmouth. They used the high school auditorium for rehearsal space and I quickly became a fan. It has been fun to watch the group’s rise from local to international fame over the past 40 years. Very sorry about this loss.


Dudley Brooks June 17, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I only knew Jonathan Wolken from the other side of the footlights: a great performer/creator and part of one of the best dance companies ever. This is a very sad day.


Sharonica Williams June 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm

I was so unbelievably saddened to hear the news.

Jonathan was a ray of light… always smiling… exuding an air of warmth and welcome. I don’t know if he even knew the effect he had on others… the effect he had on me. I looked forward to seeing him every season at The Joyce. He’d always give me the biggest teddy bear hug :) . He gave the best hugs.

My heartfelt sympathy goes out to all of those who have loved him. He will be truly missed.



Marcela Minniefee June 18, 2010 at 8:51 am

What to say. . . There are no words just sadness for having lost him and joy for having experienced his work. To the Pilobolus and Wolken families, you are in my heart. My sincerest condolences.



Frank London June 18, 2010 at 9:11 am

The Klezmatics were fortunate to have worked together with jonathan and Pilobolus on “Davenen”. Jonathan was a great artist, great person, and his immortal spirit will continue to inspire us all. Our thoughts and sympathy are with his family, friends and loved ones. He is missed….


Jamey Hampton June 18, 2010 at 9:22 am

I remain shocked and saddened at Jonathan’s departure. He was a huge presence in my life, my gateway into dancing with Pilobolus, a constant comrade and supporter, and a loyal friend. He had more energy than anyone I know, held high standards, was a restless intellect with a gymnastic imagination. His generosity of spirit was extraordinary. I miss him deeply.


Gin Blische June 18, 2010 at 11:29 am

I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I know first hand of how the people you work with can become a major part of your life, and to lose one is life changing. My heart goes out to Jonathan Wolkens family and the people he has shared his gifts with throughout the years.


Lexie Biggs June 18, 2010 at 11:35 am

Sooo sad and sorry to hear of his loss and condolences to the Wolken family and to Pilobolus families. :(


RAS MIkey C June 18, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I can’t believe it! I just heard. My love goes out to the Wolken family and I’m so blessed to have the memories of this amazing individual. He truly is a legend and pioneer, gone too soon. I will not be forgotten, he will live on through those that he touched and the works he has produced. Eternal Rest. PILO PAPA


Peggy Fisher June 19, 2010 at 1:03 pm

With heavy heart I join voices so touched by Jonathan.
Though I experienced personally only a brief week of his excellence during a summer intensive in Maine, my work with children’s dance has been clearly influenced by his genius. Unfailing audience member since 1975, he trained my eyes and heart. His imagination, courage and leadership will continue to richly impact generations.
sending love to all


Joshua Perl June 20, 2010 at 5:17 am

I am so sorry to hear of “Finn’s” death. Some of my fondest memories are of learning the repertory from him and the rest of the gang back in 1982. The lessons he and others taught me have been an invaluable help in my artistic life.
I’ll remember his smile, gentle urgings for perfection, and the “wooly sweater demeanor” he had about him.
Oh, and driving in the Alfa. Although that was not my favorite memory.
Dance on Finn…


Ian Michael Towers December 15, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Hey Josh,

If you remember John Fogarty, who choreographed your WSS, please get in touch. Best…


Gail (Gauthier) Christmann June 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I’m saddened by the untimely death of Jonathan. A mightier spirit one could not find, a soul more full of life and joy… I send my deepest sympathies to the Pilobolus family and to Jonathan’s family. I am grateful for having known Jonathan, sorry to have lost touch over the years, and I know that his presence lives on with all who knew him. I look forward to his company in eternity, but I will miss him here.


Raymond T. Grant June 22, 2010 at 10:24 pm

The creative world has lost a great friend and champion wth the untimely death of Jonathan Wolken. My condolences to Jonathan’s family and the Pilobolus family.

It’s been said that there are only two ways you can be creative. You can sing or dance; or you can create the atmosphere in which singers and dancers flourish. My friend, you personified creativity. You were its definition.

From my time as director of the Tisch Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, to heading Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort in Utah, Jonathan was always there to give me counsel, advice, and courage.

It was a professional and personal honor for me to commission a new work from Pilobolus for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and I will always add my voice to the chorus of Jonathan’s praise.

Rest in peace my gifted friend.



Becca Anderson Darling June 23, 2010 at 10:30 am

My heart goes out to JoAnne and all of Jonathan’s daughters, the Wolken family…..and the Pilobolus family. An emptiness is left where Jonathan would be when you came into the Pilobolus office and in the circle that he would have us all gather around in. “Circle up…” he would say.
My fondest memory with Jonathan is of working with him one of one on Pseudopodia……I was the first women that he taught this amazing solo to and he really worked me on it, in the best way making sounds for each phrase and pause, “shooop, da,da, di da,and ,thwap and hold…and go!” He taught me dynamics and the importance of the natural gravity of movement and momentum. He had the excitement of a child when he would get right down on the floor with me and coach each roll. That was a lot of fun and I thank you Jonathan for passing that gift on to me. Your passion is undeniable and I am sure you are creating something spectacular up in heaven.
A teacher, friend, artist, choreographer gone from this earth too soon. I write with a heavy heart. Jonathan and his family are in my prayers. I am left with the undeniable reminder that Pilobolus is a family and a family that I feel lucky to be a part of. Time will heal and Jonathan’s legacy will go on. We must remember to love each other more and keep the spirit of collaboration alive.
Jonathan you are missed already.
Love and hugs to my Pilobolus family
Big hug to you Jonathan

with love
Becca Anderson

Pilobolus Dancer


jude woodcock June 24, 2010 at 12:42 pm

It was some help to me reading all the different comments on Jonathan. I hope it helps his family as well, knowing how much people loved him and how much of an effect he had on all our lives. I time as a Pilobolus dancer was an important part of my life. Jonathan was a part of that, providing some of the most rewarding times and some the the most frustrating times mixed together…I was my very best when I danced for you and your company. miss you


Rebecca Stenn June 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I am so very sorry to hear of this sad, sad loss for all of us, and extend my warmest, most loving sympathy to Jonathan’s family, friends and co-workers.

I have many wonderful memories of Jonathan, most especially though, each time he greeted me, it was with a warm and easy smile, one that immediately put me at ease. I remember one day in the studio working with Jonathan and Adam Battelstein and Jonathan making me laugh so hard I cried. He was supportive, incredibly enthusiastic, exacting, very funny, and an extremely creative force. He will be missed.


Melana Lloyd June 29, 2010 at 11:50 am

I am just hearing the news and even now the thought rocks me. Jonathan was/is definitely an inspiration to me. From the very first day of teacher auditions his words penetrated my life. Though most of the concepts were conveyed with humor, the intensity and care with which he communicated was life altering. “Go when you go, make a decision, stop noodling, know something so that you can contribute to the world around you. Sit up straight, be dignified.” He made me want and ultimately be a better person. I appreciated his earnestness in communicating his life’s work. I admired his ability to govern the room and guide its pupils. As a pedagog, I analyzed and marvel at his methods; his ability to construct a study, view movement as music, extract a kernel, solicit our intelligence and imbue us with knowledge we were unaware we were learning. I was too shy to openly express that the Pilobolean Method is grounded in an educational theory called Guided Discovery, where the person facilitating is only a guide. And that’s what Jonathan did. I’m sorry I did not share this with him face to face. I hope this message gets to you as you are cutting corners and torpedoing around heaven. I love and appreciate you for your integrity and commitment to invigorating the world. You will not be forgotten.

My heart and prayers go out to Mrs. JoAnne, the girls and all who loved him.



Erin Jennings June 30, 2010 at 6:45 am

I am so sad to hear of Jonathan’s passing. I met him a few years ago and was part of a small group he generously spent time with – teaching us about the pilobolean method and leading us to play, create and learn. I feel lucky to have known him and hope to pass on what he gave to me. A great man- a true teacher, generous, inspiring and affecting, warm, inclusive, encouraging yet challenging and huggable …..and remembering his laugh and his teacher voice, open arms and red suspenders. My heart goes out to his family and the whole pilobolus family. Many Condolences and love to you. I know he is greatly missed but will live on through the many he influenced.


Lisa Weil August 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I read today about the death of Pilobolus’ founder Jonathan Wolken. I am terribly sad about the untimely and sudden loss. of his individualist personality. My condolences to his family, and friends, and to the people who worked closely with him and knew him well. I am thinking silently about the arts, and artistic endeavors, and I credit his initiative and energy in going in his own artistic direction four decades ago.


marianne ross June 29, 2010 at 5:21 am

I’m heartbroken over the tragic news of Jonathan’s death.
He gave me one of my life-changing experiences in pilobolus’ summer workshop at Johnson State College in 1972, the first year of the mixed-gender company. Happy memories of “the stick”.
My condolences to the pilobolus family and innovators everywhere.
Long live Pilobolus!


Ruth M Feldman June 29, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I will always cherish the time I spent with Jonathan as an honorary Piloboli thanks to one of his passions – getting kids to dance – here in New Haven. I can’t imagine not hearing that hearty laugh or the smile that would brighten any room. He was a cherished friend and ol’ colleague. My prayers and wishes go out to his family and all the generations of Piloboli who had the great good fortune to call him teacher, partner, and collaborator. I will miss you. Ruth


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