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Beloved Dance Historian, Writer and Archivist David Vaughan Has Passed Away
Beloved dance historian, writer and archivist David Vaughan passed away today at the age of 93. His extensive archival work for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company set a new standard for dance preservation. In tribute, we offer this profile, by Siobhan Burke, which appeared in our December 2015 issue to celebrate Vaughan's Dance Magazine Award. Even then, at age 91, he was still performing.
At 91 years old, David Vaughan could pass for a much younger man. He's writing a book (his fourth), holds monthly film screenings at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and recently went on tour, as a performer, to the Montreal Fringe Festival. These ventures are just the latest in a lifetime of dedication to dance. His indelible contributions to the field—as a writer, historian and archivist—only continue to deepen.
A latecomer to ballet class, Vaughan began formal training at 23 in his native London, though he'd been "obsessed with dancing," as he puts it, from a young age. He moved to New York City in 1950 with a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, where he met a modern dance teacher named Merce Cunningham. When Cunningham opened his own studio in 1959, Vaughan became the secretary, which helped to supplement his modest income as a performer in off-Broadway musicals.
Fajans and Vaughan. Photo by Gilbert Gaytan.
That side job blossomed into more. At John Cage's invitation, Vaughan coordinated the Cunningham company's 1964 world tour, a reputation-building milestone for the group. His affinity for collecting and organizing company ephemera—programs, press, photographs, letters—earned him the formal role of company archivist in 1976, created through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The position was unprecedented for a dance troupe; as Vaughan says, "I had to invent the job as I went along." Cataloguing the company's developments—his original index card system, he says, still rivals any computer—he ensured that its history did not fade into the past.
His ingenuity rippled out. "He paved the way for so many of us," says Norton Owen, head of the archives at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, adding that Vaughan set the "gold standard" for dance archiving practices. "In a way, he's still leading the pack."
Vaughan's warm, enlightening prose can be found in Frederick Ashton and His Ballets, his celebrated biography of the British choreographer, and the journal Ballet Review, to which he has contributed since its first issue in 1965. Having poured his vast, meticulous knowledge of Cunningham's oeuvre into the breathtaking book Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years, he's now at work on a biography of another mid-century renegade, the underexposed choreographer James Waring.
And his performing career? He and his 30-year-old friend, the dance artist Pepper Fajans, plan to return to Montreal in January for a reprise of their award-winning Fringe Festival duet. "We were a big hit!" Vaughan says. He's earned the bragging rights. —Siobhan Burke
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Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
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He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"