Daily Features

Catching Up with Abbott Miller and the Revival of Dance Ink

We revisit Abbott's book picks, talk to him about the re-launch of his magazine Dance Ink, a “performance for the page,” and get some new book recommendations.

By Steve Kroeter August 1, 2016
Abbott Miller, Graphic Designer: Pentagram (New York)
View Abbott Miller’s Book List

A new publication venture from Pentagram’s prolific designer Abbott Miller gave us the chance to bring back his original list of recommended books and to reconnect with him about his latest project. Miller is the editor and designer of 2wice, an award-winning performing arts journal, and, with Patsy Tarr, has just re-launched Dance Ink, a pioneering magazine dedicated to dance that the two originally published from 1989 to 1996. During its run, the original magazine won awards for writing, photography, and design and developed a cult following among dancers, photographers and designers.

Designers & Books: What led you and Patsy to start Dance Ink—and why after a hiatus of 20 years are you re-introducing it?

Abbot Miller: The original Dance Ink held a unique territory: the audience was small but passionate. It included fans of dance, photography, and design: we saw that no one had since captured that unique overlap of interests. In the ensuing years we realized that there was no one occupying that intersection, and that the base of talent in dance and choreography was stronger than ever. So we wanted to jump back in.

Patsy Tarr: In 1989, when we began publishing Dance Ink, dance was being created and performed by stellar choreographers and dancers. Choreographers like Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Trisha Brown, and Mark Morris were working from great strength and dancers from all corners of dance, both ballet and modern, were giving riveting performances. Hardly any of this was being properly documented or discussed in print, so Dance Ink had a real role to play in documenting the moment.

The first issue of the new Dance Ink (vol. 8, no. 1), features Silas Riener wearing a costume dsigned by artist Robert Rauschenberg performing Merce Cunningham's 1957 work “Changeling.” Dance Ink is published by Patsy Tarr and designed and edited by Pentagram’s Abbott Miller, both reprising their original roles. Photo: courtesy of Pentagram

AM: The revival of Dance Ink allows us to document a whole new generation of dancers and choreographers, which is still a famously underserved, under-documented aspect of the cultural scene. We saw that the niche had not been filled by others, and we feel like there is still so much possibility in our founding mission of creating performance for the page. As a designer, I love the challenge of conveying the sense of movement and duration in the format of the page. At the same time, we have more readily available tools to get the word out about the magazine.

D&B: How will the re-introduced Dance Ink be different from its original incarnation?

PT: The reincarnation of Dance Ink will owe something to 2wice, in that it will be more focused on fewer topics and explore those topics photographically in more depth.

Mural installation featuring the images from “Changeling.” Photo: courtesy of Pentagram

AM: Another different aspect of the new Dance Ink is the shift to environmental scale through the wallpaper/mural-sized prints we are now offering. That is another way that the mutability of media is helping us show that performance can find its way into more places and get people thinking about it, which is a big part of our founding mission.

D&B: How did you decide which material to include in your re-launch issue?

PT: We first deal with choreography—because it's always the dance that is more important than the dancer. So we think first of a choreographer whose work we can photograph. In the relaunch, we show the work of Justin Peck, the choreographer in residence at the New York City Ballet and also the work of Merce Cunningham, recently reconstructed from vintage photographs, in a dance not performed since 1957.

D&B: What made you decide to bring Dance Ink back as a printed magazine, rather than as an internet-focused publication?

AM: There is something so seductive about print and it seemed like a huge part of what made the original Dance Ink noteworthy was that it was a physical record of a certain moment in time. Fans collected the original, and that sense of being a collectible object has been a big part of that passionate connection. For us to return as a digital publication would miss the tactility and the sense of a tangible record.

Spread from the new issue of Dance Ink introducing “Everywhere We Go,” featuring the choreography of Justin Peck. Photo: courtesy of Pentagram

D&B: Since we're all about books, and we know you to be a dedicated reader, can you recommend a few books for those who want to read more about some of the subjects in Dance Ink?

PT: A few favorites are: Balanchine by Bernard Taper; Merce Cunningham by James Klosty, Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage (Cage was hugely influenced by Cunningham); Push Comes to Shove by Twyla Tharp; and Private Domain by Paul Taylor. There are many other excellent dance books but these give real insight into the work of these artists and provide a little glimpse of life through their eyes.

AM: I collect “How to Dance” books, mostly the kind that have the footstep diagrams, as well as books on dance that show some of the very esoteric systems of dance notation. I think it’s fascinating to see these spatial and gestural “scripts" devised to describe motion: for the most part each one is unique to that particular choreographer. That makes them closer to drawing than to any shared “writing” system. 

You can purchase vol. 8, no. 1, the new issue of Dance Ink (only 500 copies are being produced), online at 2wice.org. Back copies of some of the original issues are also available.

Read more about the re-launch on Pentagram’s blog.

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