Dance Magazine: November 1999
by Nancy G. Moore

 

NEW YORK--As part of an international effort to consolidate documentary materials on Katherine Dunham, Terry Carter, president of the Council for Positive Images in New York City, has produced a sample videotape of the first of two major audiovisual projects underway: Katherine Dunham: A Portrait of the Artist -conceived as a sixty-minute television documentary- and The Dunham Technique, a two-hour educational videotape for dance teachers, scholars, and dancers.

 

 

Carter is a film producer, director, and actor who divides his time between Oslo and New York. In 1992 he received partial funding from the NEA and the National Black Programming Consortium to begin filming in St. Louis at the ninth annual Katherine Dunham Technique Seminar. But production has slowed while he awaits further support. In the meantime, Dunham has celebrated her ninetieth birthday.

The sample videotape is a compilation of excerpts from Carter's television documentary. It offers a glimpse of how he plans to combine rare, archival film footage of Dunham performances with close-up interviews and detailed shots of contemporary dance classes in Dunham technique. Dunham has worked with him on and off camera. She has helped him to select his subjects, including the late Lucille Ellis's reminiscences about what it was like to join the Dunham company as a young Chicago girl who suddenly found herself a "dance pioneer" in Norway. Doris. Bennett-Glasper demonstrates Dunham barre work, while professors Albirda Rose and Glory Van Scott begin an oral history that will eventually include the recollections of other Dunham dancers, such as Talley Beatty, Vanoye Aikens, and Tommy Gomez.

The dance sequences -past and present- have been carefully edited so that they demonstrate the continuity in Dunham technique over fifty years, in one instance, we see an old black-and-white film clip of Dunham teaching a polyrhythmic running step to members of the Royal Swedish Ballet. Then we see kids onstage during the 1992 St. Louis seminar trying a different polyrhythm in place.

 

 

Carter intends his educational videotape, The Dunham Technique, to give a more thorough account of Dunham's innovations, focusing on classroom exercises and the development of a Dunham dance from rehearsal to performance. His plan is to film Dunham as she teaches a class over a period of four weeks, assisted by Van Scott, Aikens, and Walter Nicks. This project may also employ the new technology of Performance Capture, which translates live dancing into digital images.

These two audiovisual projects were among many scheduled to be considered during an international meeting, "Conceptualizing the Legacy of Katherine Dunham," in September at the Caribbean Cultural Center in New York. Dr. Marta Moreno Vega invited scholars, artists, and administrators to develop a master list of archival materials on Dunham in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, and Africa. Vega wants to reconceptualize Dunham's biography to emphasize her role in civil rights as well as in dance.