The first monograph dedicated to the pivotal work of African American postmodern dancer, choreographer and video artist Blondell Cummings.
A foundational figure in dance, Blondell Cummings bridged postmodern dance experimentation and Black cultural traditions. Through her unique movement vocabulary, which she called "moving pictures," Cummings combined the visual imagery of photography and the kinetic energy of movement in order to explore the emotional details of daily rituals and the intimacy of Black home life. In her most well-known work Chicken Soup, Cummings remembered the family kitchen as a basis for her choreography.
This book draws from Cummings's personal archive and includes performance ephemera and numerous images from digitized recordings of Cummings's performances and dance films; newly commissioned essays by Sampada Aranke, Thomas F. DeFrantz, and Tara Aisha Willis; remembrances by Marjani Forté-Saunders, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Meredith Monk, Elizabeth Streb, Edisa Weeks, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar; a 1995 interview with Cummings by Veta Goler; and transcripts from Cummings's appearances at Jacob's Pillow and the Wexner Center for the Arts. Bringing together reprints, an extended biography, a chronology of her work, rarely seen documentation, and new research, this book begins to contextualize Cummings's practice at the intersection of dance, moving image, and art histories.
The book accompanies an exhibition of the same name co-organized by the Getty Research Institute and Art + Practice, on view at Art + Practice in Los Angeles from September 18, 2021 through February 19, 2022.
Blondell Cummings (1944-2015) was a choreographer and video artist who mined everyday experiences like washing, cooking and building to create works celebrated for their rich characterizations and dramatic momentum. According to Wendy Perron, Cummings crossed over from modern to postmodern, from the Black dance community to the avant-garde community. Cummings referred to her stop-motion movement vocabulary as "moving pictures," which combined her interests in the visual imagery of photography and the kinetic energy of movement. Her dances drew from an accumulation of character studies that often began with photography and workshops, and included poetry, oral histories, and projection. Her interest in moving pictures is also evidenced in her commitment to dance films. She both supported the documentation of dance, and created many experimental dance films.
Cummings was born in Effingham, South Carolina but was raised in Harlem, New York City and began dance study in the New York public schools. She attended New York University's School of Education, did graduate work in film and photography at Lehman College, and continued serious dance study at the schools of Martha Graham, José Limón, and Alvin Ailey, along with Eleo Pomare, Thelma Hill, and Walter Nicks. She was also deeply influenced by choreographers who worked across mediums, including Meredith Monk, Yvonne Rainer, and Elaine Summers. In 1969, she became a founding member of Monk's company The House, where she danced for ten years. In 1978 Cummings formed the Cycle Arts Foundation, a discussion/performance workshop focused on familial issues including menopause, caregiving, rituals of the everyday, and art-making—emphasizing her commitment to relating the arts to everyday life. She toured extensively in the 1980s and 90s, and by the 2000's she was a fixture of New York City's downtown dance community and a committed educator. In 2006, her dance Chicken Soup (1981) was deemed an American Masterpiece by the National Endowment for the Arts.