Judson Memorial Church in New York City. At the Cutting edge in a dance revolution of the 1960’s.

Just facing Washington Square on the edge of Greenwich Village, this Baptist Church with its Campanile is now an historic landmark which, in turn,  has housed a landmark exploration -perhaps explosion- of dance in the 1960’s. By the mid- 19th century, the Village had a large population of African-Americans, followed by German, French, Irish and Italian immigrants. Earlier, a more affluent community had begun an exodus. This community is described by Henry James in ‘Washington Square’. The church soon began a ministry of health and community outreach for both members and non members. During the 1920’s the church ran a settlement house, and in the Great Depression, the church allowed homeless men to sleep in the pews.

In the 1950s, the church supported a radical arts programme. It made space available to artists for art exhibitions, rehearsals, and performances. The church  assured that this space was to be a place where these artists could have the freedom to experiment in their work without fear of censorship. In 1957, the church offered gallery space to Claes Oldenberg,  Jim Dine and Robert Rauschenberg, then unknown artists. In 1959, Judson Gallery showed work by pop artists, Tom Wesselmann, Daniel Spoerri and Red Grooms. Yoko Ono had her work exhibited at the gallery.

The Judson Dance Theater, which began in 1962, provided a venue for dancers and choreographers, including Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs  and Yvonne Rainer, to create and show their work. Among others, these dancers and choreographers shaped dance history by creating the first avant-garde movement in dance theatre since the modern [contemporary] dance of the 1930s and 1940s. For the past several decades, Movement Research has presented concerts of experimental dance at the church on Monday evenings during the academic year.[wikipedia]

Meredith Monk’s name  belongs with Judson.  So does a founder member of the Judson Dance Theater, Judith Dunn, who died prematurely. This is the only glimpse of her dancing I could find on the internet:


What is ‘postmodern dance’? A glimpse at the Sixties art from Judson may offer a clue. Here is Claes Oldenburg [whose studio was in Judson in the Sixties]:

Robert Rauschenberg:

 Bessie Schonberg discusses the directions of choreography in the 20th century:

 Yvonne Rainer:

 Trisha Brown: 

 Meredith Monk and Lucinda Childs were both studying choreography, as was I, in a Sarah Lawrence class taught by Bessie Schonberg. Merry was somewhat awkward in her physical choices and produced odd sounds or sharp movements; she had an uninhibited ability to release her imagination and a generous personality. Lucinda Childs, somewhat older than Merry and I, was statuesque, imperious, aloof, and I don’t remember her ever speaking. Both Lucinda and Merry received encouragement from Bessie.  We all three had classes from Judith Dunn, as well. The artistic ambience at Sarah Lawrence was a shock to me, having been reared in ballet [and the South]. Martha Graham felt imprisoned by ballet and hated it. Ballet certainly wasn’t Bessie’s cup of tea.

 Lucinda Childs:

 Meredith Monk:

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