Dance Day

From the Archives: Dance Day

By Sariel Frankfurter

Aug 12, 2014

A copy of the SoHo Weekly News from 1980 shows a grainy image from Dance Day at The Kitchen: in the shadowy space of The Kitchen’s old home at 484 Broome Street, two women dance in close proximity, facing away from each other. One runs behind with clasped hands raised overhead and the other winds down to her left as if she might reach the ground in the next scene, perhaps snaking out to grab her partner. The caption reads, “Molissa Fenley and Elizabeth Streb: Boca Raton.” For those familiar with Elizabeth Streb’s Extreme Action Company of fearless and indefatigable flying dancers, or Molissa Fenley’s sinister, impassioned State of Darkness (1988), this image is like a childhood photo—a reminder of how far someone has come—epitomizing the significance of The Kitchen’s role in the early careers of today’s great artists.

Dance Day was an all-day event at The Kitchen on January 20th, 1980, curated by Eric Bogosian, which featured almost thirty choreographers, all of whom had previously created works at The Kitchen and beyond. Among them were choreographer Simone Forti, as well as Elaine Summers and Kenneth King, who were all pivotal to the origin of the postmodern dance scene at Judson Dance Theater. Former Cunningham dancer Karole Armitage, whose company Armitage Gone! has since performed internationally to critical acclaim, premiered “A One Time Objectstacle for The Kitchen”, in which she “...transformed herself into a primitive tool, essaying random, abstract tasks with and around an assortment of household, urban and industrial objects,” wrote Robert Coe for Live Magazine

The Kitchen’s Dance Day archives contain pages of handwritten notes on the show order, diagrams of the space, and checklists with tasks crossed off upon completion. Sifting through these documents is a way to relive the day: its minor crises and solutions, props accumulated and allocated. A letter reads, “Tentative talks will be: a discussion of health for the dancer, a discussion of the ‘space crisis’, a debate on aesthetics and style, a talk on publicity for the dancer, a talk on fund-raising for the dancer. We hope the day will act as a sign of solidarity for the downtown dance community.” It is remarkable that issues the dance community still faces, including the fundamental need for mutual support and solidarity among artists, were being discussed in open forums thirty-four years ago. 

Dance critic Sally Banes’ spread for SoHo Weekly News about the performances shows six images: in one, David Woodberry and Sara Vogeler lean at precarious angles against each other with expressions of utter calm; in another, Johanna Boyce’s cast of seventeen dancers, clad all in white, faces the audience with heads thrown back in song. Banes was evidently enchanted by the works she saw that day: she writes of Simone Forti, “Forti’s dancing gets clearer, more complex, and more absorbing for me over the years… she lets a certain wildness creep in now that is like a gift.” Of Armitage, “...the movements she makes for herself are entirely different from the ones [Merce Cunningham] makes for her, but just as perfect for the lissome body she has.” 

Robert Coe’s review for Live Magazine speaks to the event as a whole, describing it as a “chance to discover the shape of a seventies artistic legacy in what had seemed, particularly at mid-decade, to be little more than kinesthetic afterthought.” Coe notes pieces performed in silence, conceptual works, and “widespread concern with explicit gesture and with games--not solemn ritualistic ones, but games useful for making, thinking, and experiencing the dances themselves.” He concludes that downtown dance is indeed thriving and producing a diverse range of works. A day of discussion, collaboration, and exposure for dancemakers who would go on to create idiosyncratic and celebrated works, Dance Day was an extraordinary event in the history of The Kitchen and downtown dance, and a format for performance that might be practiced in the future to understand the breadth and trajectory of a generation of artists.

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