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Dancing in the library

Rudy Perez poses with dancers in this ca. 1981 photograph from the Rudy Perez Archive, part of the USC Libraries' Special Collections. (Photo/Ken Papaleo)

For decades, dancer and choreographer Rudy Perez pushed the envelope of dance, inspiring audiences and fellow practitioners to reimagine the art form’s possibilities. When the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance opens in 2015, Perez may inspire a new generation of dancers through his personal archive, part of the USC Libraries’ Special Collections.

A pioneer in the world of experimental and postmodern dance, Perez studied under such titans of modern dance as Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham before joining the legendary Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s. “Countdown” and “Coverage,” two of his solo works, became part of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater repertoire.

Though he was born and launched his career in New York City, Perez moved to Los Angeles in 1979 after completing a stint as a substitute dance teacher at the University of California, Los Angeles. Since then he has become a fixture of the Los Angeles dance community, choreographing more than 50 works and teaching at several institutions, including the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

The USC Libraries’ Rudy Perez Archive includes correspondence, photographs, programs, press clippings and other materials that provide rich biographical context and can inform historical research into the development of postmodern dance. Also included are dozens of costumes and props and several awards that Perez has received, including the 2004 Lester Horton Dance Award for Lifetime Achievement and an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts.

Of particular interest to dancers and choreographers are the hundreds of video recordings of Perez’s choreography. The USC Libraries recently began digitizing these recordings — many of them stored in obsolete formats such as 60mm film and three-quarter-inch videotape. Some of the recordings are now available for viewing by appointment at the USC Libraries’ Special Collections, and more will be added soon as digitization work continues.

Early in his career as an avant-garde artist, Perez challenged popular conceptions of dance through his work, which, rare books librarian Melinda Hayes explained, is sometimes described as performance art.

“He was very much interested in everyday movement and incorporating that into his dance,” said Hayes, who helped bring Perez’s archive to the USC Libraries.

Though music traditionally guides movement in dance, many of Perez’s works draw from nontraditional sources. One, for example, he choreographed to the sound of Julia Child cooking asparagus. Several different recordings of that work — titled “Bang Bang” — are included within his archive.

The Rudy Perez Archive, which the dancer donated to the USC Libraries in 2002, is just one of several dance-related collections housed at the libraries’ Special Collections. The career of Bella Lewitzky, another prominent Los Angeles-area dancer, is chronicled in the Lewitzky Dance Company Records collection. And the Grell/Colefax Russian Ballet Archive, which Los Angeles resident Dwight Grell compiled over several trips to the Soviet Union, documents through photographs, films and costumes the Russian dance company that captivated Cold War audiences around the world with lavish productions.

The USC Libraries catalogued the Rudy Perez Archive and Lewitzky Dance Company Records collection with the support of the National Historic Publications and Records Commission. Detailed finding aids for those collections are available on the USC Libraries website.

For more information about the dance-related archival collections at the USC Libraries or to schedule an appointment to see the materials in person, contact Hayes at or (213) 740-5141.

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Dancing in the library

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