Interview with Randolph Swartz
LOCAL DANCE HISTORY PROJECT
Interview with Randolph Swartz by Terry Fox, May 15, 2017
At StageStep, 4701 Bath Street #46B Phila PA 19137
TERRY FOX: Randy, the first question that I have for you is just to ask you to give us a little bit of history about yourself. Where you were born, who were your parents, what was your first exposure to dance?
Did you study, or how did you come to know dance?
RANDOLPH SWARTZ: I was born in Brooklyn, New York (at a very early age). My father was an attorney, and eventually built and owned a country club, which did play into my dance experience along the way. My mother was an artist. She went to Cooper Union and taught at Hofstra University in New York.
When I was six, I started piano lessons, and at ten, I started Tap dance on Long Island, where I was growing up. I had the good fortune of, back then, being the only boy in class. We were hauled into New York to do these TV shows, “Magic Wishing Well,” and “ The Horn & Hardart Hour,” and all kinds of crazy things, none of which I remember exactly, except that we were brought in to learn a two-minute routine in the morning, and then performed it in the afternoon, in front of the brightest lights! I just remember, it was like the sun exploding in your face.
But when you’re ten, eleven, twelve years old; there was no fear. I was a little Tap dancer, and was growing up tapping away, and feeling very good about myself. My father had built a country club, and I think I was thirteen years old at the time, and he would have entertainment on Friday nights. I would get to go there, because I used to work the hat check. It was great. A quarter, people gave you a quarter! You could make a lot of money back then!
So one particular Friday — I remember going up and seeing this act; it was a father and two sons. And basically, I realized at that point in time that I was never going to be a dancer. It was Hines, Hines, and Dad!
TF: Oh, wow!
RS: I was not going to be a Tap dancer, because one of them was my age. I remember Maurice was my age. Later on we worked with Maurice on a show called “The Legends of Tap,” about his brother, and also other great legendary Tap dancers. But I knew then, right then and there, I realized, “Oh, so this is what it’s about!” All of the stuff I was doing is just piddling around.
My next big experience in dance was when I been hired to oversee the restoration, renovation and programming of the Walnut Street Theater, in Philadelphia in November of 1969. I had gotten my pilot’s license, because the consultants, the Theater had hired to do the lighting, and the tech, etc. were all private pilots. I went on and got my private pilot’s license, too. So then was looking for some place to fly.
I flew four dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet up to Canada. They wanted to go to the Place des Arts in Montreal to see a company that was not touring to the United States. And that was my first real, I would say, adult experience. The company featured Alicia Alonso and the National Ballet of Cuba. The National Ballet of Cuba did Carmen and Giselle; one night Carmen and one night Giselle. I mean, 45-minute standing ovations! It was just insane. And I thought, “Wow, this is pretty amazing stuff.” After that I sort of got stuck with presenting dance, because there wasn’t any such thing as a dance presenter. I mean, it used to be multi-performing arts impresarios like the All-Star Forum. Usually presenting one show on a Sunday.
TF: Like Sol Hurok ?
RS: Yes, “Sol Hurok Presents” at the Academy of Music, but no one was really doing much. I will say that the Gershman Y did bring in Agnes de Mille and some others.
TF: I saw Merce Cunningham there.
RS: And of course, the Art Alliance brought in Martha Graham. Mostly, not so much for performing as for talking about art. They were sort of “semi-demi-presenters.”
TF: So we’re talking 1969, you think?
RS: 1969 going into 1970, when the Walnut Theater opened February of 1971. We did our first dance series that spring. And we also did the first Philadelphia Dance Night. I believe it may have been the premiere of Philadanco, the first time they performed, en pointe, by the way.
They haven’t done much of that lately. But even back then, when they were starting out, they brought in a lot of the audience. It was the first time that Philadelphia dance companies actually got reviews. I don’t have a copy of the program, and I don’t recall who else was on it. But I do remember certain things about that time, in the early 70s.
TF: Did you call that program Dance at the Walnut?
RS: No, it was Philadelphia Dance Night.
TF: No, I mean dance series.
RS: I think I called it Dance Celebration—I don’t know if it was Dance Celebration. I have no information on the very early dates.
TF: Maybe The Walnut would have it.
RS: I remember what the first season was, and I remember only who else we presented.
TF: Who was in that first season?
RS: The first season was Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Alwin Nikolais, José Limón and Dance Theater of Harlem on their very first tour.
TF: And you had no dance interest before that?
RS: None. I knew nothing.
TF: From the time you were ten, or thirteen, or fourteen ?
RS: No. After my Tap dance thing, I had no training in it.
TF: That’s remarkable.
RS: I knew absolutely nothing about it. I went and saw a fellow by the name of the Charlie Reinhart.
RS: He was Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dance Program. And I said, “Look, I’m about to bring in dance and theater. I’ve got the theater people lined up, the Drama Guild.”
TF: You mean with the ADF, (American Dance Festival) quite probably, then at Connecticut College
RS: Well, he had come from Paul Taylor Company, where he was Paul Taylor’s first manager. I knew him when he was working at the NEA.
TF: The ADF was going on then. I was there in ’69 when he was there.
RS: I really don’t know that history, but I do know he was a big influence, and over the years, I’d seen him as an always sort of a steady hand. So he handed me a book, because I said I didn’t know anything about dance. Alvin Ailey was on the first season as well.
It was quite a season. It was a star-studded season, six companies, I believe. Only Ailey played a week. The others each played half weeks. We presented six or seven companies. José Limón was still alive. I recall Alvin was here. I mean, everybody was here! Taylor was dancing. Little did I realize or recognize how stellar these artists were. I think Murray Louis was still dancing in Nikolais’ company.
TF: I saw a lot of those companies then.
RS: And we presented Cunningham there. If not that year, the next year. It may have been that first year, or the second year, we presented Pilobolus. I mean, it’s like a Who’s Who back then. I had no idea what I was doing, except I had this book. This is true! I ended up going to New York a lot, to see things, and I learned. I learned a lot like that.
There was a young lady who worked at the Pennsylvania Ballet by the name of Leslie Bailey, who went on to be P.R. Director at New York City Ballet. She had a photographic memory, and was from New York, and was a really a big help to me. So I got a lot of information from her, in terms of watching dance. Then meeting people in dance, like David Howard, spending time with him, I learned more about ballet. Later we had Bella Lewitzky here, who was the master teacher of all times.
TF: The Horton dancer.
RS: Of course she was! There was a film called “Genius on the Wrong Coast.” We organized an event around it. Her Company performed at the Walnut Street Theater. The event was at the Painted Bride Art Center
TF: Well, that was later.
RS: Yeah, it would have been later.
TF: That was in the 90s.
RS: I would have been, because we did that tribute,
TF: The event included a panel of Horton dancers including Carmen DeLavallade and Archivist, Norton Owen.
TF: That was part of Philadelphia Dance Projects under the direction of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Director, Sam Miller. But let’s back up, then. So the dance series that you produced ?
TF: On opening, then, you had a Philadelphia Dance Night, in which there was the early Danco Company.
RS: And I don’t remember who else.
TF: Was Joan Kerr on that program?
RS: Probably, I would imagine. Was South Street around?
TF: They could have been.
RS: I seem to remember Ellen Forman, [director founder of South Street Dance Co.] as participating
TF: That might have been, but likely she was a little later.
RS: She was a force, and then, of course, you had the German invasion.
TF: You are referring to Gruppe Motion Berlin who had relocated to Philly and were just starting up here. They came in ’68 or so, too.
RS: Right, exactly. I knew them because they needed a floor. They were setting up a studio.
RS: Group Motion, right. Brigitta [Herrmann], and Manfred [Fischbeck] and Hellmut [Fricke-Gottschild].
TF: Group Motion would have actually have broken up by then.
RS: And then Karen Bamonte. Was that later, or then?
TF: Well, it was ’71 or ’72, I think, that Group Motion had split. And Karen Bamonte was a member of Group Motion, because she was an art student at PCA where Gitta and Manfred taught. When the three split, Helmut started Zero Moving Co. But Karen didn’t join ‘til later.
RS: When did she start doing her own thing?
TF: That may have been later into the 80s and 90s when Bamonte had her own company.
RS: I remember opening up my business StageStep at 1231 Race Street, and that’s when I saw Joan Kerr every day.
TF: So she had a studio independent of you?
RS: She was on the next floor up.
TF: Oh, okay. I thought you had rented her space.
RS: I was on the second floor; she was on the third floor. I think we began renting around the same time.
TF: And that was in the 70s?
RS: Oh, definitely in the early 70s. I was in a little 800 square foot space, where now we’re in 50,000 square foot here. So it was a very different kind of set-up at that point. Then I was representing artists, and providing services to the dance community. I remember her, and that’s really where I first learned about Lester Horton.
TF: So you first heard about Joan, then, in the early 70s?
TF: Not in the late 60’s, not in the mid-60’s?
RS: No. In the late 60s I was working at Columbia Pictures, so I was not in town for that. My dance focus really started when I began work at the Walnut Street Theater. That’s where I started to get involved with these people, those who performed on a series. You do that for 47 years, you pick up on a couple of things along the way!
TF: You do have a remarkable history. Certainly amazing.
RS: So Joan was there. I remember her as someone breaking barriers, with an interracial company. She was a real pioneer, and a bit of a rabble rouser.
TF: You say she was a pioneer, in that she started a modern dance company in Philadelphia?
RS: I think so.
TF: It predates Philadanco, as a company.
RS: Yes, it does predate Philadanco.
TF: And she probably had the biggest company at that time. There may have been some smaller Graham dance groups, but I think she may have pre-dated them as well.
RS: I think, well, José Limón was going to come down and start a company here. Did you know that?
TF: No, really ?
RS: It’s an interesting story. I think the Art Alliance may have that scenario. He actually came down a couple times to do something. It may have been through the Art Alliance, but I’m not absolutely sure about it. But I do know Limón was toying with the idea of having a Philadelphia-based company at one point. So, my contact with them was when I started the dance series. The NEA required that I identify the dance community, which was very diverse at that time.
TF: Who would you say, who else was in it beside Danco and Joan Kerr?
RS: Well, there was activity out in Swarthmore, Temple, and Bryn Mawr.
TF: They were students…
RS: I don’t know exactly, but I know they had least had dance programs there.
TF: Well, that’s right. There was a dance major at Temple.
TF: And a dance program at Swarthmore.
RS: And there was something going on at Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr, because they had people there.
TF: Dance courses but not a degree program.
RS: Again, I couldn’t drill down to tell you that. But there was that whole group of people who met in Nadia Chilkovsky’s [Director of the Philadelphia Dance Academy – Nadia Chilkovsky Nahumck] basement library, I remember, to talk about the formation of an organization to represent the dance community – which was very radical, because no one wanted to talk to anybody. Everybody was very, very competitive. There was no sense of a community at that point in time.
It took a little incentive. [to get participation] It took the fact that we gave tremendous discounts [to performances], and you could only go to the master classes if you were a member of the Philadelphia Dance Alliance, to begin with. If you were a Dance Alliance member, you got special discounts to go see our programs, and you were the only ones who could go to the master classes. So that’s pretty much how that whole thing began. That first meeting was there. I think the second meeting may have been at the Art Alliance, and then after that it was at the Walnut. I do remember some of the people who were there.
TF: Was Joan Kerr a part of that? I don’t think Joan was part of that.
RS: I don’t think she was part of that. I’m just trying to remember the people who were there. But Gary Celine [Kerr Co. member] was there.
TF: Gary would have been. But a lot of them danced in different companies, and did their own choreography.
RS: Of course, everybody did that. At some point in time, Joan Kerr and I collaborated on a film which was basically a choreographed—but exemplifying the Lester Horton technique.
TF: It was called Dance Class?
RS: Yeah, I think something like that. I haven’t seen it in a skillion years.
TF: Oh, I can’t wait to see it.
RS: But it’s going to be memory lane, I can assure you.
TF: She was, actually, an excellent teacher of Horton Technique. Everybody came to her studio—Judith Jamison, and everybody.
RS: Yeah, I do remember some—Jimmy Truitte.
TF: I was a student when Jimmy Truitte and Joyce Trisler came down from New York City, and Alvin [Ailey], too, to teach. That was as early as ’66, still, on South Third Street.
RS: I remember them in the studio. I’m telling you, you had to walk by my door to go up the stairs. It was a three-story walk-up to her space, and a two-story walk-up to mine, up a long and narrow staircase.
TF: So did you hear her flower drum all the time?
RS: The banging. I heard a lot of things. I’m sure I blocked a lot of it out! But it wasn’t a bother. I remember they had a piano up there.
TF: So how did you collaborate on the film? What did you do?
RS: I produced the film.
RS: I think Brian Kellman is the name of the filmmaker. We’ll see on the credits. But my memory is that Brian Kellman, who is a very celebrated documentary filmmaker, from Philadelphia. Kellman Films was the precursor of NFL Films.
TF: Oh, right on 13th Street.
RS: They were originally on Sansom Street, and then they moved to another place where they became NFL Films, and then they moved to Jersey.
TF: For a while they were on 13th right around the corner from your Race St. office.
RS: His father was the one that took the camera out, and went to the top, of the stadiums, and started shooting all the football footage, and that turned into a gigantic industry. And Brian was a documentary filmmaker. He’s still around. I think he’s in New York City, and I think he’s still doing his thing. I’m pretty sure he shot the film, in some warehouse, which I can’t remember where the heck it was. But we secured it—I don’t even remember about the money, or anything about it, in terms of where we came up with the money to shoot the film. But I was involved in Radio, Television, Film at Temple, master’s program. So I was into film, and that’s how I met him.
TF: So you were getting a Master’s at Temple? Did you get a Master’s?
RS: I finished and then went to work for the Walnut Theater.
TF: So that’s how you got to Philadelphia, then?
TF: That’s how from Long Island you got to Philly.
RS: I came to Philly to go to Penn. But from ’67 to ’69, I was also out of town all the time, because I was working for Columbia Pictures at the time when I was at Temple doing RTF with a guy named Rose, the head of the department back then. In any event, that’s how I met Brian Kellman, because I made a film called A March on Washington [against the war in Viet Nam] in 1969, the November March, which I do have DVDs of. He edited that film, and we took a graduate group of people at Temple to Washington. There was an undergraduate film group up at Penn, when I was there as an undergraduate.
So I was into film. So the idea of doing this film was, I’m sure, her idea, and she did the choreography and did everything. And I’m downstairs, and so somehow or other we collaborated on this, and shot it over a day or two. Again, the memory of which is buried deep. The fact that I have a copy of the darn thing still sitting around is amazing! Because I remember, the other aspect of that whole film thing is that Nadia Chilkovsky made millions of these little films to teach in schools. Remember those?
TF: No, I didn’t see them.
RS: I don’t even remember those things. But back in the day, that was sort of a curriculum-based thing, and I think all of those films are at the University of the Arts library at this point in time. But we distributed them. My company would rent them out to people all over the place, to schools, and so I had that little business deal with Nadia going on for however long it went on. So we made this film, Dancer’s Class. I had nothing to do with the recruiting of the dancers or anything that was in front of the camera. I have no idea what it looks like today. I haven’t seen it in years.
TF: We’ll have to interview you after we’ve all looked at it.
TF: I wonder if Jackie Menacker is in it.
RS: I’m sure that they’re all listed in the title.
TF: So how late do we think that was? Oh, here, it’s in her bio there. That’s where I ran into it.
RS: So this had to be somewhere in the mid-70s?
TF: So in the mean time, how else did you collaborate? Let’s just discuss how you served as a manager, or a promoter? Because it seems like, did you help her develop a board, and help her get funding and sponsors, and organizational things like that?
RS: I would say so if you put it in those terms, I would answer the question. I think I did some of it, but frankly I couldn’t tell you one detail these many years later. I remember talking to her on the phone when she had cancer. I do remember that conversation. She was very upbeat, but was aware she was dying. It was heart-breaking.
TF: I remember the memorial service for her was held in the Race Street Studio in January. 
Joan created and directed and produced The Dancer’s Class.” And it won a National Dance Film Association award in 1978. Where would that be, at Lincoln Center?
RS: Maybe Lincoln may have morphed into that. Names have changed.
TF: Yes, “to protect the innocent!”
RS: To protect—well, things move on. That’s all.
TF: So what about that genre of choreography, that classic modern, the subject matter, and Horton technique? What about Kerr’s repertory? Could you speak to that ?
RS: You know, I wish I could. I do know that Joan had a little studio upstairs, cast a much larger shadow than one might expect. This was not a corner dance studio.
RS: But also remember that I was a newbie to all of this. Even in 1975, I’d only done three or four seasons of dance. I did have my Bella Lewitzky moments, and that was an education unto itself.
TF: But that was later, wasn’t it?
RS: No, the first time we did Bella was in the early 70s.
RS: Yeah, with the great poster.
TF: Oh, okay.
RS: We brought her back at least one other time.
TF: Because I sort of remember her being here, too.
RS: It’s too bad, because I have the whole book of what we did at the Annenberg Center for 32 years, but I don’t have those first years in which we did work at the Walnut, but also did at the Merriam. Here, as well, we did some dance presenting, and at the Academy of Music, too. Interesting. Anyway, I really can’t speak to it. It has not stayed with me over the years. It’s a long time ago. I wish I did. I do know that her loss was a big loss.
RS: She, for me, was an introduction to a part of dance that I had not been exposed to before. I mean, I literally started with Paul Taylor walking in, “Hello, I’m Paul Taylor,” with the cast of characters that were all—if we had a hall of fame, they’d all be in it, followed by Alvin and Judy. José Limón walks in the door, and you meet him. Just, as Alwin Nikolais, Murray Louis. That’s the first season! Merce—I think we did Merce in the first season, because I remember the audience walking out as John Cage did sound checks as the “music” for the show.
TF: Cunningham was at the Jewish Y when I was in high school [’64].
RS: Yeah. He came and did this piece where a barre went across the front of the stage, with the purpose to block the view of the dancers from time to time.
TF: I believe that for that work he collaborated with composer Gordon Mumma.
RS: And who was Cuningham’s partner ?
RS: John Cage was running around the Walnut Street Theater doing sound checks. That was the ambient sound. I remember George Gerber, who used to work for me there at the Walnut, became an Imagineer for Disney afterwards, out in California. He had a much better memory of that whole experience of working with those two. I did them every decade, 70s, 80s, 90s, until the year before he died.
TF: So what were the other venues then if the Walnut was just doing mostly like a dance local night, and then a visiting company from out of town?
RS: Well of course, you had the Y. The Gershman Y was cooking. Of course, the Arts Bank wasn’t there. The Drake wasn’t there. You had, in the early 70s, downstairs at the Annenberg Center.
TF: Harold Prince, still going.
RS: The Harold Prince Theater.
TF: That was into the 80s, I think.
RS: It started, though, in ’72.
TF: All right, but I don’t know how much dance was there yet.
RS: Very little dance was there until I ended up bringing Dance Celebration there in ’83. They did have an umbrella series of local dance
TF: The Painted Bride sponsored one series there in 1980.
RS: It was an umbrella thing, called Dance Umbrella, or something like that, that they had the year or so before, and it was Philadelphia-based companies.
TF: Who was “they” – PDA? I don’t think they did any presenting.
RS: No. To my knowledge, they never did any presenting?
TF: So was there was the Bride. The Bride on South Street, and then ETAGE and the Bride in Old City.
RS: The Bride, yes. Well, I presented at the Bride, too, where we did our Next Move, but that was later on.
TF: And Joan was at Plays and Players. She was at the Gershman Y. She was at South Street, and then various college auditoriums around the region.
RS: Anybody do anything at TLA?
TF: Yes, she performed at TLA, and she also, according to Arthur Hall, encouraged him.
RS: Oh, there’s a name.
TF: Encouraged him to perform, and not only that, but to pursue his interest in ancestral roots.
RS: Yeah, I remember Arthur very well.
TF: And so there are some concerts at the Y, with local artists and there was a concert at Town Hall with Arthur Hall, and Group Motion, on North Broad Street at Town Hall.
RS: So I can’t help you with all of the details. As I’m seeing things here, they’re sort of jogging my memory. I know that we worked a little bit with local artists but I don’t know how much I did, if I did anything of any substance. I tried to get the dance community together, basically to provide them with the services that the NEA required but also identify a dance audience. My involvement with the dance community was primarily through The Philadelphia Dance Alliance, as we offered master classes and discounted tickets.
TF: That was my next question. Who were the audiences at that point? How did you find dance audiences, beyond Philadanco?
RS: Well, I’ll tell you what happened. The first year of the series, we had Dance in America on Public Television. The craze for fitness and health hit. Aerobics was tagged, at that point. The body type of what was the ideal woman changed completely, from the round, voluptuous 50s to the thin 70s, right? The late 60s, with Twiggy. So who looked like that ? Dancers looked like that. So when we hit that, it became instantly successful—instantly successful. I remember very well. Tickets were nine dollars and 95 cents. And Alvin Ailey cost $15,000 for a week.
TF: That’s pretty high, actually.
RS: But I got $5000 back from the NEA. So if you equate it to today, it would be—the NEA doled out about a hundred grand for that week. It’s frightening to think of, you know.
TF: When we presented David Gordon at the Painted Bride, the company fee was $5000, and the Bride went ballistic, because that was practically the cost of their whole dance presenting season!
RS: We did that whole thing, but we did the David Gordon thing.
TF: You presented Grand Union not his Pick-Up Company.
RS: Grand Union, right. But later we were part of a commissioning project by 26 co-presenters of his work United States (1988–1989) where each city the company toured had a section devoted to their local culture. The greatest marketing ploy of all time!
TF: Well one of my moments of remembering dance at the Walnut was Grand Union, and then also people walking out of Merce Cunningham and Gordon Mumma.
RS: Oh, I remember the first performance of Merce Cunningham, we didn’t have an audience left at the end. The second time we presented him, half the audience stayed, and was looking at all the electronic instruments. That was in the 70s, 80s. But by the 90s Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a member of the board of Merce Cunningham. He was becoming a legend. We presented him into the 2000’s and as late as 2012 before he passed.
TF: So the audiences were just fitness people?
RS: No, no, no, no.
TF: And they were students?
RS: No, I think that they were a general public who were willing to take a chance, and see something unusual.
TF: Maybe the visual arts group?
RS: Well, I think for sure the art museum-type people. The visual arts were very important. But believe it or not, we got a lot of what I call professional people, the doctors and lawyers. And of course, you had that whole underbelly of people who studied dance at some point, when they were young, et cetera. Remember, there wasn’t a lot of dance going on, outside of the, you know, Georgian State Dancers that would show up on a Sunday afternoon. These companies were just—I mean, Martha Graham was legendary then, of course. But people came and signed on, and we had a bunch of successful years.
TF: You probably got some of those audiences from the Gershman Y, too, because they were early dance audiences.
RS: I’m sure the Art Alliance people who were there, the people who were involved and interested in dance. You think we did surveys back then of audiences? We didn’t have a director of development. You know, the going philosophy back then was, “We give you a theater, you’ll have ticket sales cover the rest”
TF: Was that Joe Melillo? [Joseph V.Melillo] Was he there at that moment?
RS: No. Joe Melillo was at BAM.
TF: No, but before that he was Marketing Director at the Walnut Theater
RS: Not that I know of. Before I was there, it was part of the Schubert chain for Broadway tryouts. When I was hired on, they had Brian Loving, who was the architect, who renovated the facade [The theater was designated as a National Historic Landmark in the 60’s] There were no drawings of it, because it was so old, that they had to sort of dig away, and they found it had no foundation. They had to add a foundation to it, and they had all kinds of crazy support beams doubling things up.
Anyway, it took them a little while to sort it all out, and I ran around the country, looking at other performing arts venues, to try to get some idea of what to do. That’s why, if you go into—even back then, in 1971, there was color TV in the lobby, if you remember that. Lockers downstairs, which were stolen right from Lincoln Center. There was a whole bunch of stuff that you could to and couldn’t do. The theater expanded adding the six-story building next to it, which helped the space crunch.
Bernard Harvard became Director in 1980’s The dance series ran there until ’78 or ’79, and then I started presenting, at the Merriam Theater, and other places at the time. I remember doing Maria Benitez and Jose Greco, and doing some other contemporary companies. I figured that we needed to get the dance series back on track again, because the Walnut had become completely theater, and the Annenberg Center was interested and available. The Pew Charitable Trust back then was amenable to support our efforts, and did so. They did it for fifteen years.
TF: That’s great. So back to Joan Kerr. Who would you say were any of the splinter groups, or successor companies? Did you know the work of Faye Snow, Juba Contemporary Dance Theater?
RS: I knew who Faye Snow was. I mean, it’s a name that, when you say her name, it resonates. But to say that I knew the work, no. I was just not involved. In some respects Bill [Goldberg] was more involved in the local community, because of his connection to South Street Dance Company.
TF: What about the cultural/political context would you say shaped Philly, from like ’65 to ’75?
RS: Oh, my goodness. Well, that was the great cultural and Political revolution. It was Vietnam, the generation that actually could change history. It was a repudiation and change of traditions. When I went to Penn, there was a separate college for men and a separate college for women, and completely different rules. I could do something at Penn, and you could do something at Penn, and you’d be thrown out, and I wouldn’t. Women had curfews; men did not. It went on and on and on.
TF: I know.
RS: Women could not wear pants.
TF: I know. I couldn’t wear pants in high school.
RS: It was a whole slew of stuff. And all of that was changing, and it was like shifting sand under your feet. New ways of movement emerged out of sort of this revolutionary thing, Pilobolus being a perfect example of that, out of Dartmouth. Dance Celebration presented them here in our third season, as I recall, and it was a delight. And then there was Twyla [Tharp], who had shaken up the ballet world in the mid-70s, with her work Deuce Coupe which she choreographed for the Joffrey Ballet; breaking down the walls between ballet and contemporary styles. That’s really where that started to happen.
When I was first involved you could be a Limón dancer, or you were a Martha Graham dancer, and god forbid you were a Graham dancer who took a class with the Jose Limon people. You were castigated, thrown out, to the wolves. But all of that started to change.
All of that started to change, and that impacted everything. It impacted contemporary dance; it impacted ballet. It changed things we started having more fusion of styles and integrating narrative called “dance theater” which started emerging in Philadelphia, too. I can’t remember—the names, you probably can jog my memory. But I remember a company; I think they moved to Florida.
TF: Dance Teller. [Trina and David Collins]
RS: Dance Teller! Exactly right. I remember them as being sort of different—theirs were different voices coming forward.
TF: But that’s really getting late, well after Joan Kerr. That’s the late 80s. But you’re right, the groundswell of that is ’65 to ’75. It’s that era of transition, that’s for sure.
RS: Yeah, that’s where it started to happen. And I felt Joan was not being pulled along; she was one of the leaders of this thing.
TF: She was always a sort of radical.
RS: Yes. I recall her, politically and every which way. She was radical. She absolutely was.
TF: Even though her work might be psychological, or using Greek neoclassic themes, or such ?
RS: In many respects I always thought her in a classical sense, a traditional modern dance tradition.
TF: Yes, absolutely. For sure, Horton’s “choreodrama.”
RS: But she personally was a real radical person, and that drew people, I think, to the studio.
TF: Very Leftist, indeed.
RS: That drew people to the theater and to her studio, which I think in turn enriched their experience, and probably propagated lots of different things, which I’m unaware of to say. But I’m sure that she had a lot of influence on a lot of people and a lot of dancers at that time, because she was way ahead of the social mores of the time.
TF: Perhaps that includes in terms of the role of the artist in society.
RS: Didn’t she have a child?
TF: She did. She had two children. By her first husband she had Lisa, and then Jimmy was the second child, with Bob Summers. In her printed program dedication she said, “To my children, Lisa and Jimmy.” She was very earth mother at the same time that she was—
RS: Radical, yes, she was very much of that—she was sort of the flower child of dance.
RS: She was that.
TF: But not artistically. It’s so interesting.
RS: It’s very interesting.