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Blondell Cummings

A resource of selected archives, bibliographies, and pedagogical tools relating to the work of choreographer and video artist Blondell Cummings (1944-2015).

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 stop-motion movement vocabulary as “moving pictures,” which combined in her interest 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. Several of these works will be on view in the exhibition Blondell Cummings: Dance as Moving Pictures

Cummings was born in Effingham, South Carolina but was raised in Harlem, New York City. Cummings began dance study in the New York public schools. As Thomas F. DeFrantz notes, 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, Jose Limon, 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 The House, with whom 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 relate the arts to everyday life. In 2006, her dance Chicken Soup (1981) was deemed an American Masterpiece by the National Endowment for the Arts.

While key biographical information is cited in the Biographical Resources section of the research guide, essays in the forthcoming exhibition companion volume Blondell Cummings: Dance as Moving Pictures will offer a significant contribution to her biography, understanding of her aesthetic and conceptual concerns, as well a historiography that positions her practice within dance, moving image, art histories.  

References: 

Wendy Perron, “Remembering Blondell Cummings.” Dance Magazine, 2015.

Thomas F. DeFrantz, “Blondell Cummings Biography” Free to Dance: The African American Presence in Modern Dance, 2001

Blondell Cummings Biography, Jacob’s Pillow Archives. 

  • Cummings, Blondell. Retracing Steps: American Dance Since Postmodernism. Directed by Michael Blackwood, 1988. 

  • Cummings, Blondell. Dance Oral History Project. New York: New York Public Library, 1988.

  • Goler, Veta. "An Interview with Blondell Cummings: Living With the Doors Open." High Performance no. 69/70 (Spring/Summer 1995): 16-21.

  • Houston-Jones, Ishmael. “Of Blondell.” Contact Quarterly Vol. 41, no 1, Spring 2016: 74.

  • Bromberg, Craig. “Dancewatching: Cummings: Movements in Stop-Action Pictures.” Los Angeles Times (1923-1995). April 14, 1985, sec. CALENDAR.

  • Dixon-Stowell, Brenda. “Blondell Cummings: ‘The Ladies and Me.’” The Drama Review: TDR 24, no. 4 (1980): 37–44.

  • Dufton, Merrt. “Blondell Cummings.” New Dance 37 (Summer 86): 18.

  • Dunning, Jennifer. “Dance: Food Suite by Blondell Cummings.” New York Times. 1983, sec. HOME.

  • Paris, Carl. “On The Protagonists: Documents of Dance and Debate.” Danspace Project, February 12, 2012.

  • Segal, Lewis and Donna Perlmutter. “Dance Reviews: Cummings’ Focus Is Photographic.” Los Angeles Times (1923-1995). April 22, 1985, sec. San Diego County.

  • Albright, Ann Cooper. “Auto-Body Stories: Blondell Cummings and Autobiography in Dance.” in Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance, 179–205. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

  • Albright, Ann Cooper. “Dancing Bodies and The Stories They Tell.” in Choreographing Difference: The Body and Identity in Contemporary Dance, 119–45. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1997.

  • Albright, Ann Cooper. “Performing Across Identity.” in Engaging Bodies: The Politics and Poetics of Corporeality. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2013.

  • Ferris, Lesley. “Cooking Up the Self: Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings ‘Do’ the Kitchen.” in Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance, 186–210. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

  • Goler, Veta. Dancing Herself: Choreography, Autobiography and the Expression of the Black Woman Self in the Work of Dianne McIntyre, Blondell Cummings and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. Dissertation, Emory University, 1994. 

  • Hussie-Taylor, Judy, Ishmael Houston-Jones, et al. Parallels: Danspace Project Platform 2012. New York: Danspace Project, 2012.

  • Juarez, Peabody, and Phillips, eds. Blondell Cummings: Dance as Moving Pictures. Los Angeles: X Artists’ Books, forthcoming (2021). 

  • Paris, Carl. “Defining the African American Presence in Postmodern Dance from the Judson Church Era to the 1990s.” Transmigratory Moves. 1 (2001): 234–43.