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RIP Elaine Summers, original Judson member

Written by
Gia Kourlas

Elaine Summers, one of the original members of Judson Dance Theater, died on December 27 in a Manhattan hospital following a fall in her SoHo loft on December 16. She was 89. Summers, who worked extensively in dance and in film, was a founder of Experimental Intermedia Foundation and created the intermedia works Overture and Fantastic Gardens. In 1985, she formed the Kinetic Awareness Center, a movement system created to develop connections between the mind and body. At the time of her death, she was working on her ongoing SkyDance project as well as her archives and a book with Thomas Körtvélyessy.

In 2010, Summers, at the request of the choreographer, dancer and teacher Juliette Mapp, presented the premiere of Skytime Skyweb as part of Platform 2010: "Back to New York City," a multigenerational performance series. At the time, I interviewed Summers and Mapp; it was one of the most illuminating and laughter-filled afternoons I've had the good fortune to spend.

Debbie Goldberg, Summers's assistant and self-described "friend and admirer," recalls the artist as a visionary. "A lot of times I would want some very specific information," Goldberg says. "We’d be talking about a project, and I would ask, 'How many dancers were in it?' But Elaine didn’t have that kind of tunnel vision. It might take me an hour to get an answer because we would have to explore everything first. I’d hear about this dancer or that project, because she really saw things in the big picture. She saw all the connections and she wasn’t afraid to explore. A lot of people told her, 'You can’t do that Elaine”, and of course she just did it.' She was very brave in not letting anybody stop her."

In Mapp's "Back to New York City" catalog, Summers is quoted as saying, "Ideas are out there, waiting for someone to make them visible. The world is full of ideas. You get your instructions, but if you don't act on them, it's just a dream." That's something, Goldberg says, Summers instilled in her, too. "Not to poo-poo the little thoughts that get in your head, but to let them grow a little bit, let them ferment and age and get all the flavoring together and then move on it," she says. "Don't  let anyone tell you you can’t do it. Just do it."

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