The word “legendary” gets tossed around an awful lot these days, but it truly fits the life and work of choreographer Elaine Summers, who passed away at Bellevue hospital on December 27 after a fall at her home. She was 89.
Elaine was a New Yorker for more than 60 years, moving here from Perth, Australia in 1951. She was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, which also included choreographers Trisha Brown and Lucinda Childs and painter Robert Rauschenberg. She created her own movement theory and technique known as Kinetic Awareness, combining self-awareness with the knowledge of proper anatomy to help dancers develop their own styles without injuring their bodies. Her students included Meredith Monk and members of The Wooster Group.
Elaine was also a pioneer in combining dance and film. In 1982, she began a series of pieces about her relationship with the sky called Skytime. Skytime was a multi-part collaborative work centered on the use of the Internet, with live-streamed segments, video projections, art installations and live music and dance. The last iteration of Skytime was performed at Solar One on September 28, 2014 with the title “Moon Rainbow” and included collaborations by Pauline Oliveros, Carman Moore, Raphaele Shirley, Thomas Körtvélyessy who performed simultaneously in the Netherlands, Kiori Kawaii and Ione. Solar One, with its big view of the sky and the river, was one of Elaine’s favorite sites, and we will miss her.
Photo of Elaine and Kinetic Awareness students by Paula Court.