William Dunas (1947–2009)

March 10, 2010



William Dunas, the dancer/choreographer whose brilliance blazed through downtown New York in the early 70s, died in March, 2009, but the death was not known until recently. His dances were so intense as to seem brutal, and at the same time existential. In Ajax, he climbed a rope like a man desperate to escape some real or imagined terror. In A Poor Fool, he took a whole hour to shuffle across the front of the stage. In Our Lady of Late, he performed to a recording of songs by Meredith Monk while she rubbed the rims of crystal glasses. He transformed himself from piece to piece, sometimes appearing thin with a mop of curly blond hair, and at other times heavy and staunch with a crew cut. As a performer, he was never less than mesmerizing.


Deborah Jowitt of the Village Voice called him “the most single-minded” of dancemakers around that time. She also wrote, “[His] loneliness was so immense that he could be either the last man on earth or the first man in space.” Marcia B. Siegel, writing in The New York Times, wrote “he does practically nothing, and that leaves more for us to see.”


Bill Dunas grew up in Queens and attended C.W. Post College and Brooklyn College, where he studied theater, dance and art. He also studied with Paul Sanasardo and was influenced by Daniel Nagrin. He choreographed a powerful five-minute solo called Gap, to Penderecki’s almost unbearable “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” and used it in his first nine pieces between 1968 and ’71. His works had titles like X, Express, Wail, Wax, Job, Bojo, Bad, The Rite, The Trip, The Site, From Fool to Hanged Man, The King Is Dead, The Time of Your Life, The All the Same Faces Affair, To Love Us Is to Pay Us, The Children’s Crusade, Go Directly to Jail Do Not Pass Go, I Went With Him and She Came with Me, They Saw the Marching Band Go ’Round the Grand Stand, The Kids at Four, The Great Birthday Party & Exercises for the Rocker, The Trust Five Quartets An American Landscape. When he won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972—he was possibly, at 23, the youngest artist ever to receive one—he made eight pieces the following year.


He once said, “I love it when the audience and I are concentrating on the same thing.”


When he died he had been working on a book on the dance critic and poet Edwin Denby. —Wendy Perron



Photo by Frank Gimpaya,
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