Bonnie Bird: ‘pioneer, educator and dancer’

In this the 70th anniversary year of the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, we decided to delve into our history using items from the Laban Archive. In this blog post we take a look at the life and work of Bonnie Bird who played a crucial part in the development of what was then the Laban Centre.
Bird was born in Portland, Oregon and was educated at the Cornish School of Fine Arts in Seattle where she studied with Martha Graham. Graham invited her to join the Graham concert group in New York where she performed in many premieres over the period 1933-37. In 1937 she became head of the dance department at the Cornish School where she trained Merce Cunningham among many others, and where John Cage was an accompianist. She was amongst the first members of the dance faculty at the 92nd Street Y in New York and taught there from 1951-1963, establishing the Merry-Go-Rounders, a highly successful company that presented dance for children. She was a founder member and president of the American Dance Guild and the Congress on Research and Dance. In 1974 she began a long association with the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance (now the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance), applying and developing her theories on dance training by helping to institute Britain’s first BA (Hons) degree in Dance Theatre studies, and subsequently Britain’s first MA and PhD degrees in Dance Studies. (TL, 2016)
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Bonnie Bird with participants at the Cage/Cunningham Residency held by the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in the Great Hall at Goldsmiths’ College, July 1980. Photographer: Peter Sayers. [RefNo: LA/D/12/4/1/44, Laban Library and Archive]

Bonnie Bird proposed the foundation of a postgraduate course for dancers who had already completed a minimum of three years full-time professional training and which would entail students becoming members of a professional repertory company  – thus  Transitions Dance Company was born. The name ‘Transitions’ was chosen ‘to indicate the fact that the company is the means by which the dancers bridge the gap between student life and professional dance’. (Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, p. 4)
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Bonnie Bird (centre) with members of the first season of Transitions Dance Company, including Sonia Rafferty (1st on the left) and Anthony Bowne, Administrative Director of the company (6th from the right), 1983-1984. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: D24/1/J/1, Laban Library and Archive]

Thirty-three years later, Transitions Dance Company is still going strong.
In 1985 Bird set up the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund to encourage new young choreographers. She used her 70th birthday year to tour the world, raising money for the Fund.
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John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Marion North at a celebration for Bonnie Bird’s 70th birthday, in New York, 1984. Photographer unknown [poss. Bonnie Bird]. [RefNo: D5/2007/35/2/49, Laban Library and Archive]

The Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund  (BBCF) has influenced many internationally renowned choreographers including Lea Anderson, Matthew Bourne and Rosemary Lee.
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Bonnie Bird, Matthew Bourne and Gillian Lynne at the Bonnie Bird Choreography Awards, 1989. Matthew Bourne was one of the recipients of the award that year. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LA/D/12/1/2, Laban Library and Archive]

The BBCF continues in its work today, with recipients of the 2015 awards being Botis Seva and Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenberg.
 In 1989 Bonnie Bird offically retired and the theatre at the Laban Centre (now the Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance) was named after her.
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 Speech for the dedication of the Studio Theatre at the Laban Centre, Laurie Grove, to Bonnie Bird, 1989. (RefNo: D5/2007/35/8, Laban Library and Archive)

 

Bonnie Bird remained Artistic Director at the Centre until her death in 1995. The Bonnie Bird Theatre at the Laban Building, Creekside, London has the following dedication on its wall:
‘this theatre space celebrates bonnie bird; pioneer, educator and dancer whose spirit animates the commitment to developing dance artists of the future’.
Bibliography:
Laban Centre for Movement and Dance. (1993). Transitions Dance Company tenth anniversary year 1983-1993. London, England: Laban Centre for Movement and Dance
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance Faculty of Dance. [TL] (2016, November 3). Bonnie Bird. Retrieved from http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/about-us/our-history/bonnie-bird

 

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