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Interview With Katherine Dunham

Jan. 15, 2000
Dunham, Katherine (Spoken-word CD - 2000)
Interview With Katherine Dunham
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[Ca. 2 min. of testing of equipment and introductory conversation.] Katherine Dunham speaks with Constance Valis Hill about the musical comedy Cabin in the sky including the reasons she was interested in participating [with her company, Katherine Dunham Company] in the show; George Balanchine's idea to have the show open with a Russian dirge and Ethel Waters' objection; her impressions of Balanchine at the time, including his humanity; the warm relationship between Balanchine and Dukelsky [Vernon Duke]; Dukelsky as a composer; the music of the show including what Dunham sees as her influence on it, in particular the Hell scene [the scene set to Fugue]; Dukelsky's and Balanchine's trip to Cuba; briefly, Boris Aronson, John Pratt, and the costumes for the show; the song My old Virginia home on the Nile, including the extent to which Balanchine helped her with the choreography set to that song; reasons for her use of fantasy and exotic elements; the combining of Virgina and Egypt as a smooth mixing of African elements into Americana; very briefly, some of her other Americana dances of this era, for example, Plantation dances; her aesthetic insight regarding art and science; dreams and fulfillment of dreams as the essence of art; the three main categories of dance she tried to include: primitive or exotic, ballet, and Americana; more on her Plantation dances including how she interviewed old people to reconstruct traditional steps [short gap]; Balanchine's help with her choreography set to Honey and the honeycomb; Hill plays a recording from 1964 of the song Honey in the honeycomb as Dunham and Hill comment; Dunham speaks about her using the Honey and the honeycomb number in night clubs; sing-speaks some of the lyrics from the song; Dunham looks at photographs and identifies a scene as Love me tomorrow; Dunahm speaks further about My old Virginia home on the Nile, including her costume and the possible location of the sheet music for this song; Balanchine's idea for a Bedouin-style costume for Dunham; Dunham sings a few bars [of the song Balanchine had originally suggested that Dunham sing in this scene]; Honey in the honeycomb as the most important song in the production for her personally; how as an artist she avoided segregated housing; her romantic interest in Balanchine at the time; the freedom in movement in Dunham's choreography as attractive to Balanchine due to his Georgian temperament.
Authors: Dunham, Katherine
Title: Interview with Katherine Dunham
Jan. 15, 2000
[sound recording]
Publisher: 2000
Characteristics: 1 sound disc (ca. 73 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
Notes: Sound quality is good. There is some extraneous noise, in particular in the first few minutes as well as an occasional extraneous hiss due to distortion in the original recording. However, the speakers voices are easily intelligible
Interview with Katherine Dunham conducted by Constance Valis Hill on Jan. 15, 2000, in New York City. The interview was conducted as part of Hill's research of the musical comedy Cabin in the sky in connection with the Popular Balanchine project. At times they look at and comment on photographs from the show. There are several other people present (including two, identified as Madeline Preston and as Megan) but they do not participate in the interview
Summary: [Ca. 2 min. of testing of equipment and introductory conversation.] Katherine Dunham speaks with Constance Valis Hill about the musical comedy Cabin in the sky including the reasons she was interested in participating [with her company, Katherine Dunham Company] in the show; George Balanchine's idea to have the show open with a Russian dirge and Ethel Waters' objection; her impressions of Balanchine at the time, including his humanity; the warm relationship between Balanchine and Dukelsky [Vernon Duke]; Dukelsky as a composer; the music of the show including what Dunham sees as her influence on it, in particular the Hell scene [the scene set to Fugue]; Dukelsky's and Balanchine's trip to Cuba; briefly, Boris Aronson, John Pratt, and the costumes for the show; the song My old Virginia home on the Nile, including the extent to which Balanchine helped her with the choreography set to that song; reasons for her use of fantasy and exotic elements; the combining of Virgina and Egypt as a smooth mixing of African elements into Americana; very briefly, some of her other Americana dances of this era, for example, Plantation dances; her aesthetic insight regarding art and science; dreams and fulfillment of dreams as the essence of art; the three main categories of dance she tried to include: primitive or exotic, ballet, and Americana; more on her Plantation dances including how she interviewed old people to reconstruct traditional steps [short gap]; Balanchine's help with her choreography set to Honey and the honeycomb; Hill plays a recording from 1964 of the song Honey in the honeycomb as Dunham and Hill comment; Dunham speaks about her using the Honey and the honeycomb number in night clubs; sing-speaks some of the lyrics from the song; Dunham looks at photographs and identifies a scene as Love me tomorrow; Dunahm speaks further about My old Virginia home on the Nile, including her costume and the possible location of the sheet music for this song; Balanchine's idea for a Bedouin-style costume for Dunham; Dunham sings a few bars [of the song Balanchine had originally suggested that Dunham sing in this scene]; Honey in the honeycomb as the most important song in the production for her personally; how as an artist she avoided segregated housing; her romantic interest in Balanchine at the time; the freedom in movement in Dunham's choreography as attractive to Balanchine due to his Georgian temperament.
Original Version: Original format : 1 sound cassette (ca. 73 min.; 1 7/8 in. per sec.; 2 channels). Originally recorded in 2000
Funding Information: Preservation was funded by Marianna L. Collins, 2010-2011
Linking Entry Complexity: Forms part of: Popular Balanchine collection. Audio materials
Local Note: Related materials including a transcript of all or part of this interview may be found in the Library's archival collections cataloged under the subheading Cabin in the sky, in Popular Balanchine dossiers, 1927-2004; call number: *MGZMD 146. The transcript was prepared by the George Balanchine Foundation and may have been edited
An earlier interview with Katherine Dunham conducted by Constance Valis Hill on Nov. 18, 1999, is cataloged in the Library's Oral History Archive under the call number: *MGZTL 4-2714
Archive original: *MGZTCO 3-2715
Immediate Source of Acquisition: Gift. George Balanchine Foundation
Subject Headings: Audiotapes Dunham, K Musicals. Cabin in the sky African Americans in musical theater Katherine Dunham Company Duke, Vernon, 1903-1969. Cabin in the sky. Honey in the honeycomb Duke, Vernon, 1903-1969. Cabin in the sky Dunham, Katherine Balanchine, George
Topical Term: Audiotapes
Musicals
African Americans in musical theater
Additional Contributors: Hill, Constance Valis
Donor Note: Marianna L. Collins, 2010-2011
Found in: Popular Balanchine collection
Oral history archive
Research Call Number: *MGZTL 4-2715
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