James Waring

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Not to be confused with James Warring.
James Waring
Born (1922-11-01)November 1, 1922[1]
Alameda, California
Died December 2, 1975(1975-12-02) (aged 53)[1]
New York City
Nationality American
Known for modern dance

James Waring (November 1, 1922 - December 2, 1975) was a dancer, choreographer, costume designer, theatre director, playwright, poet, and visual artist, based in New York City from 1949 until his death in 1975. He was a prolific choreographer and teacher.[2] He has been called "one of the most influential figures in the New York avant-garde in the late fifties and early sixties",[3] "one of dance's great eccentrics",[1] "a focal point for dance experimentation before the existence of the Judson Dance Theater",[4] and "the quintessential Greenwich Village choreographer in the late 1950s and 1960s".[5] Waring's collage style of building dance works influenced the development of the avant-garde Happenings which were staged in the late 1950s.[3]

Life and career[edit]

Waring's training began in 1939 in San Francisco, where he was exposed to numerous kinds of dancing, including ballet at the San Francisco Ballet School, the Graham technique, and the interpretive dance of Raoul Pausé.[6] Later he studied with Anna Halprin, Louis Horst, Antony Tudor and Anatole Vilzak, and also took some classes with Merce Cunningham.[7]

In 1946 Waring presented the first of the over 135 original works he would create over the course of his career,[1] "Luther Burbank in Santa Rosa", at the Halprin-Lathrop Studio Theatrer.[6] Other works he showed during this period were based on or influenced by Japanese Noh drama, the work of Edgar Allan Poe and primitive art, as well as the ballets of George Balanchine and the dancing of Alexandra Danilova, taking from these sources what interested him and mixing them together.[6]

Five years later, in 1951, Waring was among a group of choreographers in New York who created Dance Associates, a co-operative. In 1954, he began presenting works with his own company in annual concerts, continuing to do so until 1969. He also choreographed for other companies and performers, including Manhattan Festival Ballet – which he was instrumental in founding, the Netherlands Dance Theater and Violette Verdy.[1] Notable among Waring's works were Dances before the Wall, Variations on a Landscape and Sinfonia semplice.[1] He disbanded his company in 1975, shortly before his death, but in 1974 his male dancers formed Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a travesty dance ensemble in which the men perform as ballerinas.[5]

Numerous dancers who went on to prominence danced in Waring's company, including Toby Armour, Joan Baker, Richard Colton, Edwin Denby, Tanaquil LeClercq, Aileen Passloff, Arlene Rothlein, Alec Rubin, Martin Sarach, Ruth Sobotka, Paul Taylor and David Vaughan. Later dancers who would go on to found the Judson Dance Theater and create postmodern dance studied with Waring or danced in his company, including Lucinda Childs, David Gordon, Deborah Hay, Fred Herko, Yvonne Rainer and Valda Setterfield. In 1959 and 1960, Waring organized performances at the Living Theatre – in whose building he held his composition class – in which his students presented their works; these were a precursor to the Judson Church performances.[8]

Waring was one of the founders in 1961 of the New York Poets Theatre, and he also directed plays at the Living Theatre and the Judson Poets Theatre. He worked with Frank O'Hara, Diane Di Prima, and Kenneth Koch, among other poets.[5] Waring makes a brief appearance in Andy Warhol's 1963 film Haircut #1.

One of the three theatres at Theater for the New City is named after Waring.


Waring, who designed the costumes for his dance works, collaborated with visual artists such as George Brecht, Red Grooms, Al Hansen, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, Larry Poons, Robert Watts and Robert Whitman.[3][5] In addition, Julian Beck of the Living Theatre designed sets for some of Waring's work.[5]

Musically, Waring sometimes wrote his own music, but more often he worked with composers and musicians such as Philip Corner, Terry Jennings, Malcolm Goldstein, Richard Maxfield and Marga Richter, among others.[3]

Style and process[edit]

In Terpsichore in Sneakers, Sally Banes describes Waring's work:

[Waring's] dances sometimes looked like [Merce] Cunningham's – with their decentralized use of space, collage formats, disconnected structures but balletic carriage – but his method was based on intuiton rather than chance. Waring abandoned narrative and dramatic structure in the mid-1950s, creating atmospheres (often nostalgic) referring lovingly and archly to variety dancing and ballet, and mixing musical as well as dancing styles (including ordinary and idiosyncratic gestures). Waring was a gentle humorist, sometimes parodying other dance genres, often close to camp.[8]

Choreographer David Gordon, who first danced professionally in Waring's company, describes Waring's process:

Jimmy [Waring] was an education for me, as he was for most people who came in contact with him. ... [He] taught me about art and developed my taste ... Jimmy's approach was ... whimsical. His way of working led you – or led me at any rate – to accept any idea as valid simply because I'd thought of it. I thought of it and I kept it, and what came next was what I thought of next. I don't believe Jimmy meant to absolve me of all responsibility for my work, but I got the impression that wild intuitive guessing was all I had to do to make art. I never threw anything away. I remember distinctly Jimmy's saying, "If you don't like it now, you can get to like it. If you can't get to like it, who says you have to like it?" The point of it was to demystify art and free the artist from the limitations of his own taste. There was a great sense of liberation that stemmed from John Cage's championing of this philosophy, and Jimmy, among others, was establishing alternatives to the kind of teaching that had dominated modern-dance composition up until then.[9]

In her Work 1961–73, Yvonne Rainer wrote about Waring:

Jimmy had an amazing gift which – because I was put off by the mixture of camp and balleticism in his work – I didn't appreciate until much later. His company was always full of misfits – they were too short or too fat or too uncoordinated or too mannered or too inexperienced by any other standards. He had this gift of choosing people who 'couldn't do too much' in conventional terms but who – under his subtle directorial manipulations – revealed spectacular stage personalities. He could pull the silk purse out of the sow's ear. At its worst, dancing with Jimmy could feel like a sow imitating a swan, but I got a lot out of it. He used what I had and demanded more than I thought I had, and his instincts were usually right. In some ways he fathomed my potential more accurately than I could at the time. Although I have often disagreed with him on matters of taste and style, I can't dispute that he is something of a genius.[10]



  1. ^ a b c d e f "James Waring" in Oxford Dictionary of Dance via Answers.com
  2. ^ McDonagh, p. 215
  3. ^ a b c d Vaughan, David. "James Waring: A Rememberence". Performing Arts Journal v.5 n.2 (1981) abstract
  4. ^ McDonagh, Don. The Rise and Fall and Rise of Modern Dance quoted in Chin, Daryl. "Mistaken Identities: Part II" on ReadingDance.com
  5. ^ a b c d e Chin, Daryl. "Mistaken Identities: Part II" on ReadingDance.com
  6. ^ a b c McDonagh, p. 216
  7. ^ Personal correspondence with David Vaughan, Cunningham's archivist (7/9/2013)
  8. ^ a b Banes, Sally. Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. ISBN 0-395-28212-8 p.8
  9. ^ Croce, Arlene. "Profiles: Making Work". The New Yorker (November 29, 1982)
  10. ^ Rainer, Yvonne. Work 1961–73 quoted in Chin, Daryl. "Mistaken Identities: Part II" on ReadingDance.com


  • McDonagh, Don. The Rise and Fall and Rise of Modern Dance. New York: New American Library, 1970. pp. 215–230

Further reading