The First Concert of Dance at the Judson Dance Theater

The Judson Memorial Church at 55 Washington Square was home to two groups (in addition to the Judson Gallery) - the Judson Poets' Theater and the Judson Dance Theater. The Dance Theater generally gave performances in the main sanctuary of the church while the Poets' Theater usually performed in the choir loft. (JD40)

The dancers in the Dance Theater's first "Concert of Dance" were named on the flyer for the event as FREDDIE HERKO, Bill Davis, Judith Dunn, Robert Dunn, Ruth Emerson, Deborah Hay, Richard Goldberg, David Gordon, Gretchen Maclane [sic], John Herbert McDowell, Steve Paxton, Rudy Perez, Yvonne Rainer, Carol Scothorn, Elaine Summers and Jennifer Tipton. (JD39)

The dances emphasized improvisation and reflected Cagean notions of chance and randomness. (A John Cage composition, Cartridge Music, was used for two different dances performed either simultaneously or overlapping each other. (JD40)) Ordinary actions such as walking or even standing still were often portrayed as a type of dance. The press release described the choreographics as "Indeterminacy, rules specifying situations, improvisations and spontaneous determination." (JD39)

The evening for the first performance started with the projection of a film - Overture - which consisted of edited clips from a variety of sources. The dance critic for The New York Times referred to the film as "a moving picture assemblage" and noted "The overture was, perhaps, the key to the success of the evening, for through its random juxtaposition of unrelated subjects - children playing, trucks parked under the West Side Highway, Mr. [W.C.] Fields, and so on - the audience was quickly transported out of the everyday world where events are supposed to be governed by logic, even if they are not." (JD41)

The people listed as the makers of the film were: W.C. Fields, Eugene Freeman [sic], John Herbert McDowell, Mark Sagers, and Elaine Summers. Summers had learned filmmaking from Gene Friedman who was also a friend of McDowell. Friedman encouraged in camera editing - a technique that Warhol would also employ.

Elaine Summers:

He [Friedman] would say, 'Take a three-minute reel of film and do a complete story nonverbally with it. And no cutting, you have to do it in the camera.' And then he would want one that had zooms... John [Herbert McDowell], Gene and I got together and used a chance system from the telephone book. We took all the film strips, and we rolled them up, and we put them in a big paper bag. They had numbers on them... We'd get a number from the telephone book, like 234-5654, and we'd have to put the film strips together in that sequence." (JD41)

McDowell later recalled that some of the film segments were upside down and backwards. (JD41) Summers also choreographed a dance for the evening - Instant Chance - which included FREDDY HERKO in the cast. (JD48) Herko also performed in other dances during the evening including a solo performance - Once or Twice a Week I Put on Sneakers to Go Uptown - to music by Erik Satie. (JD43) Allen Hughes reviewed the evening in the July 7, 1962 issue of The New York Times, noting "Fred Herko came out dressed in multicolored bath or beach robe with a veil of lightweight metal chains covering his head and face... One's attention was riveted to his dance, which was no more than a kind of unvaried shuffling movement around the floor to the accompaniment of a piano piece by Erik Satie. (Satie would have loved it.) This was the Sneakers dance, but Mr. Herko was barefoot all the while."
(Allen Hughes, "Dance Program Seen at Church," The New York Times, 7 July 1962, p. 9/JD44)

From Democracy's Body: Judson Dance Theatre, 1962-1964 by Sally Banes:

"... certainly connections could be drawn between the factual realism of much of the work at Judson and the new, figurative paintings of the Pop artists. The use of sports images, of flags, of popular genres and Hollywood myths, radio music, and even of the ballerina image served as raw source material for the Judson choreographers, just as highways, beer cans, Coca-Cola bottles, and pictures of Marilyn Monroe served the Pop artists. The found gesture - whether from everyday life or "commercial" dance - was used in dance in much the same way that the found object - either junk or the imagery of commercial art or ordinary industrial products - was used in fine art. Impersonal methods of creating dance - through chance or distancing techniques - had their parallels in the silkscreens, projected enlargements, and factory-made objects by Pop artists." (JD129-130)