Interview with Bonnie Bird, 1977-10-17

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Interview with Bonnie Bird, 1977-10-17
Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Associated name)
Bird, Bonnie (Interviewee)
Vaughan, David, 1924- (Interviewer)

Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection. Audio materials

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1977-10-17
Library locations
Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound
Shelf locator: *LTC-A 1441
Bird, Bonnie
Cage, John
Cage, John -- Bacchanale
Cage, John -- Inlets
Cage, Xenia
Cornish, Nellie Centennial, 1876-1956
Cunningham, Merce
Fort, Syvilla
Weston, Dorothy Herrmann
Ross, Nancy Wilson, 1901-1986
Bennington School of the Dance
Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle, Wash.)
Martha Graham Dance Company
Inlets (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Dance -- Study and teaching
Music and dance
Prepared piano music
Northwest, Pacific
Content: David Vaughan interviews Bonnie Bird, probably in New York, New York, on October 17, 1977. This interview was created as research for David Vaughan's book, Merce Cunningham: Fifty years (New York, Aperture).
Content: Title and date provided by cataloger based on audition and handwritten note on original container and cassette.
Content: Handwritten note on original container and cassette: "1: DV Interview with Bonnie Bird ; 17 October 1977 ; 2. Bonnie Bird continued (rest of side is blank)".
Venue: Recorded in, New York, New York, 1977 October 17.
Acquisition: Gift; Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation, 2011-2012.
Citation/reference: Forms part of the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection.
Physical Description
Extent: 1 audiocassette (54 minutes) : analog
Sound quality is good.
Streaming file 1, side 1: Bonnie Bird speaks with David Vaughan about her background as a dancer in the Martha Graham Company and then teaching the Graham technique at Cornish College of the Arts; her recollections of Merce Cunningham while he was a student at Cornish in the late 1930's, including his change in major from drama to dance; she speaks about the head of the drama department, Alexander Koriansky; she speaks about student performances especially one in which she had to change the program last minute to being a lecture-demonstration; she speaks briefly about performance programs given by the students to showcase their compositions as well as teaching choreography based on the ideas of Louis Horst; briefly, teaching a summer course at Mills College, meeting Lou Harrison there, and his introducing her to John Cage and Xenia Cage; she speaks about Cage and an idea that he had for a modern dance with John Steinbeck; inviting Cage to be the accompanist for her classes at Cornish College; Cage's interest in percussion and the percussion concerts he created at Cornish, including Cunningham's participation in one; Cunningham's friendship with fellow student and anthropologist, Joyce Wike; more about Wike's study of the Pacific northwest Native American dances; Bird speaks about how her own awareness of her family's history grew at that time; she speaks about Cunningham's Inlets (1977) and it's relationship to the Pacific northwest landscape; Vaughan speaks about Cage's score for Inlets that incorporates sounds of water in conch shells and pine cones burning; Bird speaks about meeting Nancy Wilson Ross through Nellie Cornish, how Ross shared Bird's interest in relating the various fields of arts, and the climate of the times that fostered artistic exploration; Bird speaks about how the interchange between the arts at Cornish created an environment that inspired the students, especially Cunningham; she speaks about how Cunningham returned from a family vacation to Washington, D.C. inspired by the Vaudeville and tap dance performances he saw there; she tells an anecdote about being concerned for Cunningham's eating while he was saving up for a new pair of shoes, and briefly the general impact of the Great Depression on the students; they look through programs and read the program note for Skinny structures (1938) in which Cunningham performed and created a solo; Vaughan lists other Cunningham works from this time, which were under the direction of Bird for her composition class, Unbalanced march (1938), and Jazz epigram (1938?); they speak more about the choreographic material for Skinny structures; Bird speaks about graduate student Syvilla Fort's solo concert Bacchanal (1940) with music composed by Cage; she tells an anecdote on how Cage began to explore prepared piano music when she brought in brass for a prop and it accidentally fell into the piano during dance class; they speak briefly about the reasons that Cunningham didn't give a graduation concert; ends abruptly. Streaming file 2, side 2: Bonnie Bird continues to speak with David Vaughan about taking some of her Cornish students to Mills College for the Bennington School of the Dance summer sessions; the duet she created for Merce Cunningham and Dorothy Herrmann [Weston] to perform at Mills and the positive reception of their performance; Cunningham's technique and characteristics as a dancer at that time; Martha Graham's invitation of Cunningham and Herrmann to dance with her in New York, Cunningham taking Graham's offer, and his performance with the Martha Graham Dance Company in Seattle the following year; they speak about how Cunningham thinks of his time at Cornish College as an important influence on his career; Bird tells an anecdote about Nellie Cornish's response to discovering that Bird had eloped; briefly, the influence of the Pacific Northwest landscape on artists; ends abruptly.
Type of Resource
Sound recording
RLIN/OCLC: 913959272
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b20732854
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): ef4e6300-b8f6-0133-228b-60f81dd2b63c
Rights Statement
This item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Item timeline of events

  • 1977: Created
  • 2023: Found by you!
  • 2024

MLA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Bonnie Bird, 1977-10-17" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1977.

Chicago/Turabian Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Bonnie Bird, 1977-10-17" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 31, 2023.

APA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. (1977). Interview with Bonnie Bird, 1977-10-17 Retrieved from

Wikipedia Citation

<ref name=NYPL>{{cite web | url= | title= (sound recording) Interview with Bonnie Bird, 1977-10-17, (1977)|author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=May 31, 2023 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations}}</ref>

Interview with Bonnie Bird, 1977-10-17