In 2016, the Tang Teaching Museum acquired the digital video of award-winning film Beehive (1985) by Frank Moore and Jim Self and an archive of drawings by Moore featuring costume and set designs for Beehive and other dance and theater productions from the 1980s. On April 23, 2019, Dayton Director Ian Berry and Mellon Collections Curator Rebecca McNamara interviewed Self about the film and stage productions of Beehive.
How did you meet Frank Moore?
Frank and I met in 1979 through our mutual friend Richard Elovich. In the fall of 1978, I was on tour with Merce Cunningham in France and Richard came over from Italy to see the performances. He wanted me to meet his friend Frank, who was in Paris for some sort of residency. But it wasn’t until we were back in New York in the spring of 1979 that Frank and I actually met. About a year later, after I left Merce’s company, I was planning to do a show at the Cunningham studio with some new pieces I was working on.
Of your own choreography?
Of my own work, yes. Richard and I were collaborating on a piece involving storytelling and movement. It was called Silent Partner Changing Hands. Richard thought it would be a good idea to get a visual person to help with the look and suggested Frank.
It was the first time I was presenting a full show of my work in New York. There was a trio called Marking Time and a solo dance called Uproots, which I had done for a commission at the Walker Art Center a few years earlier. We went over to Frank’s loft on Crosby Street and talked. Richard asked Frank to do “a costume or something, like a T-shirt.” Frank said, “I could do all the costumes.” I asked, “Have you done dance costumes before?” He said, “No.” I thought for a minute and then said, “All right. Let’s try it.” It was quite a gift.
Marking Time had three energies. One was very fast and frenetic, and one was slow and sensuous and adagio, and that was for Ellen van Schuylenburch. The other energy was steady and measured as if “marking time.” The drawings Frank made interpreted that energy as death, and he painted a skeleton onto the dancer’s unitard. We hired a seamstress to build the costumes. She thought Frank was a total lunatic because his ideas were so unusual and very specific regarding the looks and actual construction. It all worked out very well, and those costumes are pretty indestructible. I still have them.
In the fall of 1980 I was working on a new duet, A Domestic Interlude. Frank watched a rehearsal and said, “It looks like a spider’s web and the two dancers are being drawn into the web.” I listened and was thinking, “You want that narrative on this? It’s just a duet, come on.” This was long before we started Beehive. We haggled back and forth and worked out a solution. That dance premiered at Dance Theater Workshop along with a revival of Scraping Bottoms with new costuming by Frank. We got a lot of good press, which led to Jacob’s Pillow offering a commission for a new work. We created Blue Grotto, also very well received by the public and press. For a couple of years, Frank and I didn’t work together. Instead, I worked with two different artists, Ken Tisa and Edward Henderson. After that, Frank and I came together and started Beehive.
You made both a film and a ballet called Beehive. What was the original conception of the project?