If you remember the '60s, it's been said, you weren't there. But many choreographers represented in this month's Summer of Love-themed Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival do remember. Their lives and aesthetics are shaped by that era of American cultural politics. Festival director Jenneth Webster and several of the artists tell how they spent the summer of 1967, and what they'll show on Lincoln Center's plazas.
Webster's inspiration, she says, "was a feeling of infinite possibility, and a likeminded community — the peace marches, realizing how many people were walking with us on the streets." She'd been living in New Orleans, but "in the summers I came up here and made movies. I might have been in the East Village. I never took drugs, so I don't have that excuse."
Paul Taylor, whose superb troupe performs August 3 and 4 at Damrosch Park Bandshell, couldn't remember offhand, so he consulted a catalogue of his dances. "I made Agatha's Tale to Carlos Surinach and Lento to Haydn; I was just working, trying to keep the company together and touring a lot. I wasn't one of the marchers or sitter-ins; I was just trying to do my thing, though I sure didn't approve of the war. We toured abroad, to places where the American image was slipping, though not as badly as it is now."
He loves bringing his company to Damrosch Park. "It's wonderful, it's free, and even in the rain, people stay with their umbrellas." This season the ensemble offers two different bills: Book of Beasts, Esplanade, and the new Lines of Loss on Friday, August 3; and Airs, Profiles, Piazzolla Caldera, and this year's Troilus and Cressida (Reduced) Saturday, August 4.
Trisha Brown, coming to Damrosch August 14, was making innovative works in the city that summer, and she's still at it. "I've had a wonderful dialogue going between my past and present work since the remounting of Man Walking Down the Side of a Building at the Tate Modern [in London] in Spring 2006," she said. "It hadn't been performed since 1970!"
Her Damrosch bill, she says, "works well outside. We can perform without the sets and not alter the integrity of the pieces," which include the 1971 Accumulation to the Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band," the 1976 Spanish Dance to "Early Morning Rain" performed by Bob Dylan, the 1998 Canto Pianto to [selections from] Monteverdi's Orfeo and PT to music by John Cage.
Other Damrosch dance programs planned by Webster because the artists involved have ties to key political and social issues of the late '60s, include the San Francisco-based Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu (August 10 and 11), and two evenings shared by Los Angeles' Lula Washington Dance Theatre and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (August 16 and 17). "Washington grew up in Watts and is familiar with the Watts riots," Webster says. "The Hawaiians exemplify the spiritual and playful aspects of the '60s." She's also scheduled plaza performances by Roxane Butterfly's Worldbeats, Tamar Rogoff's Solar One artists, and Akim Funk Buddha.
"Do we still have joy in dance, and invention" asks Webster, "or has it all been beaten out by economics?" If there is still joy and invention, this free festival, which she has run now for 20 of its 37 years, is a great contributor to it. By commissioning new works to be shown August 23 at a "'60s Snapshots" program on the South Plaza, Webster has enabled choreographers Gus Solomons Jr, Merian Soto, Yoshiko Chuma, and Elaine Summers to revisit the past and barrel into the future.
Each artist gets two 15-minute slots. Summers performs only once because she must wait until dark to project her films on balloons and umbrellas and "floating things" like big skirts. "I love dusk," she says. "Things will appear and fade depending on where the light is. A projector forms a cone of light that's dimensional when an opaque or translucent surface goes through it — like a body. That's the magical thing."
Summers, a dancer and filmmaker who teaches intermedia, is 82. "In 1967, I was trying to support myself as a commercial choreographer. With a lawyer who also worked for Bob Fosse, I was forming a place where artists could work in experimental intermedia. I made a concert just for Fosse; he contributed the first $2,000 to the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. I found 25 E. 4th Street, a beautiful loft with 13 windows for $200 a month. EIF included Trisha Brown, Phil Niblock, Marilyn Wood, and Carman Moore; Trisha invited me to shoot her 'walking on the wall' dance. It was the beginning of the New York State Council on the Arts, and Russell Connor was the head of the media department."
About her "Snapshot," she says, "There are these trees in the south plaza, red maples, ten feet high. All I could think of was a line from Dante's Divine Comedy: "midway in the journey of my life I came upon a dark forest, where the path was lost." Most of the lighting will be the films; at the end I have gorgeous 16mm film images from Crowsnest. In 1987 I showed that up on the white wall, perfectly reflected in the pool; it looked like they were dancing in the water and in the air. For the 2007 piece, Pauline Oliveros will play the harmonica; it'll be acoustic, with wandering minstrels walking around."
Solomons, 68, directs Paradigm, "a company of oldsters," and is a veteran of past festivals. Forty year ago, he recalls, "I was dancing with Merce Cunningham and doing pieces of my own, experimenting with form and structure and location, but I wasn't willing to give up technical movement, as the Judson people did."
For Snapshots, he says, "I'll do what I did back then, environmental dances, now called site-specific. Six of my students and former students from Tisch, five men and one woman, in jumpsuits 'cause that's what we used to wear. The music is various selections from Frank Zappa, from the symphonic to the risqué. He wrote more music than Bach."
In 1967, Yoshiko Chuma was in Japan. "I was 17, in high school, and our culture was very affected by American culture; the Beatles came to Japan in 1966. The Vietnam War was going on, and there were many anti-war activities.
"Vietnam was very damaging to U.S.-Japan relations," she continues, "but much of the news about new music, folk songs, poets, feminism, and activism came from the U.S., and I was influenced by these sources. War is going on now, too; the Summer of Love is history and connected to antiwar sentiment."
Her RED CARPET 1967 is "a very light piece. It was patterned after the Oscars. I'll have a 50-foot red runway; you'll hear music inspired by 1967." The dancers Ursula Eagly, Elise Knudson, Steven Reker, Saori Tsukada, and Chuma will perform to live music by Anthony Coleman, William Parker, Richard Marriott, and Christopher McIntyre.
Merián Soto is "53, and so happy to be dancing still." She now choreographs and teaches in Philadelphia. In 1967, she says, "I was a teenager; I had my first trip to New York that summer. I was studying at the National Academy of Ballet with Thalia Mara. For a teen from Puerto Rico, it was pretty amazing; Stevie Wonder had a concert at the Delacorte. It was sold out, and we couldn't get in. The drums were there already, and you had the sense of people outside, playing music, coming together."
She'll show What is Love?, part of a series of works with branches designed as performance frames for a meditative movement practice she's developed over the past two years. It's dedicated to her teacher and mentor Elaine Summers, "who taught me to move slowly and gave me tools for a lifelong exploration of body consciousness."
Elizabeth Zimmer writes about dance and theater for Metro, Gay City News, and several other publications. Her play, North Wing, documents her experiences during the Summer of Love.