Dance History

Malcolm McCormick, Dancer, Costume Designer, Dance Historian, Dies at 90

Malcolm John McCormick, a multidimensional artist of exceptional cultural and intellectual breadth, passed away on December 29th following complications due to a stroke. Born on October 30th, 1927 in Gouverneur, upstate New York, McCormick was a noted dancer, award-winning and influential costume designer, author, academic, researcher and authority on dance and theater. He was 90 years old.

After graduating from Canton High School in 1945, McCormick headed for New York City to pursue studies in art. He there discovered his true vocation, dance. "I had only one friend in NYC," he wrote, "and while sketching her in classes at Carnegie Hall I realized that it was the only thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life…dance, that is."

McCormick studied with Zachary Solov, Nanette Charisse and Antony Tudor. His most influential instructors were Margaret Craske, who coached him in Cecchetti technique, and Mia Slavenska, one of the 20th century's most brilliant dancers, and a formidable technician. As a soloist with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet (1951-59), he partnered among others Slavenska and guest artist Mary Ellen Moylan, George Balanchine's "first" ballerina. Like many dancers of his day, McCormick also appeared in musicals, summer stock, on TV, in spectaculars and performed across the USA as well as in Paris and other European venues.

In a dance career spanning three decades (1940s-1960s), McCormick was a contemporary and friend to a variety of luminaries and notables in the dance world. He maintained a lifelong personal and professional friendship with Slavenska, and in later years worked closely with her on codifying and recording her training method. When she passed away in 2002, he accompanied her ashes to Croatia, her homeland, and attended the weeklong celebration honoring her career in Zagreb. He was a historical consultant and interviewee for Emmy award-winning film Mia: A Dancer's Journey co-produced by Slavenska's daughter Maria Ramas. "Loved her for teach[ing me] so much about dance," he wrote.

An award-winning costume designer, McCormick created designs for productions at the Metropolitan Opera. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Limón Dance Company, Murray Louis Dance Company, Pennsylvania Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Lincoln Center Repertory Company as well as many individual performers were among his commissions. He gifted his designs to novice troupes such as Pilobolus. When his costumes for Mary Stuart at the LCRC won him the Billboard Critics Award, the citation read "… for the most beautiful costumes of [that] Broadway season." The Chujoy/Manchester Dance Encyclopedia credits him with having "… a considerable influence on modern dance, scenically and in costuming." The National Museum of Dance, Saratoga Springs, held a major retrospective exhibition of his dance costume designs (May-November 2017), selected from an archive of 250 drawings donated to the institution by the artist. He was a member of the United Scenic Artists Union.

McCormick was also a noted dance historian. In 2003, Yale University Press published "No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century." The magisterial 900 page-plus tome was co-authored with Nancy Reynolds, renowned writer, critic and director of research at the George Balanchine Foundation. It chronicled one hundred years of developments in ballet, modern and experimental dance for stage and screen in Europe and North America, while setting dance in broader cultural and historical contexts. The book, researched over twenty years, was the subject of laudatory reviews in the general media and the dance press, both in the USA, including in the New York Times Book Review, and in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Russia. Of her co-author, Reynolds states: "I have the highest regard for Malcolm McCormick as a scholar and thinker…During our lengthy collaboration…I found Malcolm to be an outstanding researcher and synthesizer of material, and his conceptual thinking was often excitingly 'outside the box.' He also had a grasp of social, cultural and philosophical issues as they could be brought to bear on the world of dance." Reynolds commissioned several articles from McCormick for the International Encyclopedia of Dance.

After obtaining an M.A. in 1968 from the Dance Department at the University of California, Los Angeles, McCormick joined the faculty, where he taught costume design and construction, and designed for performance and degree productions at the department. He was a guest lecturer at California Institute of the Arts as well as other universities for many years.

McCormick retired in 1979, and settled in his birthplace of Gouverneur, then in nearby Canton, NY.

Show Comments ()
Dance Training
Courtesy Rachel Hamrick

When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."

Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance on Broadway
The cast of Head Over Heels performs "We Got the Beat." Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown.

For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.

Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.

Keep reading... Show less
Get the print edition!
Just for Fun
Including, of course, Center Stage (Screenshot via Vimeo)

Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.

Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance on Broadway
In rehearsal for Dreamgirls. Photo Courtesy DM Archives.

Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.

But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.

Keep reading... Show less
What Wendy's Watching
Jeremy Pheiffer, Michael Watkiss in THEM, PC Rachel Papo

If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.

Keep reading... Show less
Stagestep's Encore hardwood flooring for full-service broadcast production facility, dance center and venue, Starwest, in Burbank, CA.

What is the right flooring system for us?

So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Catherine Conley is now a member of the National Ballet of Cuba. Photo courtesy Riley Robinson

This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.

"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Get the print edition!
What Dancers Eat
Aguirre taking a cooking class in Thailand. Photo courtesy Aguirre

Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.

Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance in Pop Culture
Florence Welch and Akram Khan share the choreography credit for Florence + the Machine's new music video "Big God." Via Instagram @florence

Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.

In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Savannah Lowery in George Balanchine's "Rubies." Photo by Paul Kolnik

Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.

As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.

"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."

Keep reading... Show less
Get the print edition!
Cover Story
Alice Sheppard photographed by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.

Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.

And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.

Keep reading... Show less
The Broadway revival of CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy

A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.

We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.

Keep reading... Show less


Viral Videos



Get Dance Magazine in your inbox