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David Vaughan.

David Vaughan (1924–2017)

Dance historian and archivist David Vaughan, best known for his archival work for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, died on October 27, at the age of ninety-three, Dance Magazine reports.

Born in London on May 17, 1924, Vaughan began learning ballet at the age of twenty-three. After receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in 1950, he relocated to New York City where he met the revolutionary American choreographer Merce Cunningham.

Vaughan worked as Cunningham’s secretary when the avant-garde dancer opened his own studio in 1959. Vaughan organized the company’s world tour in 1964 and became its first official archivist in 1976. The archival position, which at the time was unusual for a dance company, was created with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “He paved the way for so many of us,” Norton Owen, the head of archives at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, told Siobhan Burke in a 2015 interview.

Vaughan continued to chronicle the company’s work until it disbanded in 2012. In 2001, most of the materials he compiled, including 948 reels of film and hundreds of boxes of records, manuscripts, and choreographic notes, were given to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Vaughan is the author of Frederick Ashton and His Ballets (1977) and Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years (1997).

Throughout the years, Vaughan also acted and danced on and off Broadway and for television, film, and cabarets, as well as regional theaters across the United States. In 2015 he collaborated on the work Co.Venture with Pepper Fajans, a former personal assistant of Cunningham’s, and performed the piece in Montreal and at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York the following year. The piece explores Vaughan and Fajans’ cross-generational friendship.

Vaughan is the recipient of numerous honors, including the 2000 Congress on Research in Dance Award for outstanding leadership in dance research; a 2001 New York Dance and Performance Award (“Bessie”) for sustained achievement; and a 2015 Dance Magazine award.

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