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David Vaughan (dance archivist)

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Dec 15, 2021

David Vaughan (May 17, 1924 – October 27, 2017[1]) was a dance archivist, historian and critic. He was the archivist of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1976 until the company was disbanded in 2012.

David Vaughan

In his long career, Vaughan was a dancer, choreographer, actor and singer whose work had been seen in London, Paris, and in New York, both on[2] and off-Broadway,[3] as well as in regional theatres across the United States, in cabarets, on television and on film.[4] Vaughan’s ballet choreography was used in Stanley Kubrick‘s 1955 film Killer’s Kiss, danced by Kubrick’s wife at the time, ballerina Ruth Sobotka.[5][6] He has worked with both modern dance and ballet companies.[7]

. . . David Vaughan (dance archivist) . . .

Vaughan was born in London, to Albert, who was the secretary of the British Linoleum Manufacturers’ Association, and Ada Rose (née Starks). He studied at Oxford, but did not begin dance training until he was 23 years old.[1]

At the age of 26, in 1950, Vaughan came to the New York City from London on a scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet, where he first met Merce Cunningham, who briefly taught there. Vaughan began studying with Cunningham in the mid-1950s, and became the company’s paid secretary when Cunningham opened his own studio, after which he served in various staff capacities with Cunningham. He began to collect dance artifacts in the late 1950s,[1] leading to an interest in collecting documentation to make a chronology of Cunningham’s works. This resulted in his being formally made the company’s archivist in 1976,[8] assisted by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.[9] He was the first in-house archivist for an American dance company.[1] He held this position until the disbanding of the Merce Cunningham Company in 2012, after Cunningham’s death in 2009.[1] The Cunningham archive was then donated to the dance collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.[1]

At Cunningham’s suggestion, Vaughan coordinated the Cunningham Company’s 1964 six-month world tour to Europe and Asia, with composer John Cage serving as music director, and artist Robert Rauschenberg as resident designer and stage manager, a tour which greatly enhanced the company’s reputation in the dance world.[1]

In 1988, after The Rockettes hired their first black dancer, Vaughan wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times criticizing major ballet companies for falling behind other types of cultural organizations in giving artists of color regular opportunities to perform because of long-held ideas about the need for uniformity among dancers on stage. He observed that, “ballet technique has always accommodated itself to human bodies in all their variety”.[10]

Both Vaughan and Cunningham took part in the Westbeth Oral History Project of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, since the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s studio was located in the complex. They were interviewed in 2007.[11]

. . . David Vaughan (dance archivist) . . .

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. . . David Vaughan (dance archivist) . . .