Dancer Daniel Nagrin appeared in Shirley Clarke’s first short film, 1953’s Dance in the Sun, and he later could be found performing in the Kitchen at the Mercer Arts Center.
The Kitchen was founded by Steina and Woody Vasulka, two European immigrants who wanted to create an alternative arts space at Mercer’s that programmed everything from video to electronic music—though they also made room for rock ’n’ roll. “The New York Dolls started in the Kitchen,” Steina said. “They rehearsed in the Kitchen and then they performed there, and it got very wild. Their audiences were very out there.” She recalled one night when she saw a bag of heroin on the floor during a Dolls show; Steina ran over to hide it from the police just outside the room, but an enterprising audience member snatched it up first. The Vasulkas also helped incubate an all-male ballet troupe founded by Larry Ree. “Les Ballets Trockadero started in the Kitchen, after he performed his dance in Vain Victory,” she said, referring to Ree’s interpretation of Anna Pavlova’s famous dance, “The Dying Swan.” “I knew Larry through Jackie Curtis,” Steina added, “and he asked if he could rehearse there.” Steina gave the Kitchen’s keys to Ree, who used it as a rehearsal space for his troupe, which was originally named Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet Company (some members eventually branched off and formed the well-known Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo company). Many other contemporary dancers also performed at the Kitchen, including Shirley Clarke collaborator Daniel Nagrin, who asked the composer Rhys Chatham to accompany him in 1971. “I saw these Slavic-looking people that Daniel also invited to come play, and it was Woody and Steina,” Chatham recalled. “Steina was on viola and Woody had his synthesizer. So we hit it off.”
From Chapter 27 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore