Merce Cunningham: 65 Years

By David Vaughan, edited by Melissa Harris and Trevor Carlson

App for iPad, Aperture 

August 2012

No matter how strongly you recommend that your students read about the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the experience will never be as compelling as actually viewing the dances or listening to Cunningham himself speak, which is what you get with Merce Cunningham: 65 Years, an iPad app developed by David Vaughan in conjunction with Aperture and the Cunningham Dance Foundation. The app embellishes Vaughan’s commemorative book Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years (1997, Aperture) with more than 40 video clips, 200 photographs and a selection of journal entries, essays, choreographic notes, costume sketches and drawings.

Vaughan, archivist for the MCDC for over 50 years, documents Cunningham’s dance life from the early days in the 1930s through the final performance of the MCDC’s two-year Legacy Tour, following the choreographer’s death in 2009. The text records almost every work that was presented and the major events in the company’s history. Most compelling are the media features—interviews, videos, drawings and photographs—sprinkled throughout. For instance, one can watch Cunningham describe the time he danced for Helen Keller in a class led by Martha Graham (a clip from the online video series “Mondays with Merce”), or compare an excerpt of a Cunningham piece created on the computer software LifeForms with the finished work performed onstage. The video clips of performance excerpts, however, are only 15 seconds—too brief to thoroughly analyze each piece—but viewers can see the progression of Cunningham’s work throughout his career. Admiring the videos and photographs alone—even without the text—a dancer could get lost in the app for hours.

Scott Robbins, Courtesy IABD

The International Association of Blacks in Dance is digitizing recordings of significant, at-risk dance works, master classes, panels and more by Black dancers and choreographers from 1988 to 2010. The project is the result of a $50,000 Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

"This really is a long time coming," says IABD president and CEO Denise Saunders Thompson of what IABD is calling the Preserving the Legacy and History of Black Dance in America program. "And it's really just the beginning stages of pulling together the many, many contributions of Black dance artists who are a part of the IABD network." Thompson says IABD is already working to secure funding to digitize even more work.

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The Dance Concept staff in the midst of their costume pickup event. Photo courtesy of Dance Concept

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"I struggled with the decision for a month, but it hit me that a virtual recital was the one thing that would give our kids a sense of closure and happiness after a few months on Zoom," says Lisa Kaplan Barbash, owner of TDS Dance Company in Stoughton, MA. She's one of countless studio owners who faced the challenges of social distancing while needing to provide some sort of end-of-year performance experience that had already been paid for through tuition and costume fees.

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Ryan Smith Visuals, courtesy Whitworth

A New Hampshire resident since 2006, Amanda Whitworth is the director of dance at Plymouth State University and the co-founder of ARTICINE, a nonprofit that uses the performing and creative arts as a means to improve people's health. Whitworth is also the founder of Lead With Arts, a consulting service working in three priority areas: performance and production, arts and health, and creative placemaking. The NH State Council on the Arts recommended her to the governor for a two-year term, February 2020 to February 2022. She is the first dancer in New Hampshire to hold the title of artist laureate. We caught up with her to hear about her new role:

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