Our first glimpse of Eye on Dance took place on January 1, 1981. It came in under the radar, with far less limelight than the big television broadcasts—“Live From Lincoln Center” and “Dance in America”—events that brought the 1970s dance boom into living rooms around the country. Eye on Dance was grass roots and intimate, inside scuttlebutt and ahead of the curve, historical, radical, and wildly diverse. It was also weekly and live, which meant the enterprise had an anything-can-happen wit and grit.
Celia Ipiotis, its creator, producer, and host, had been an aspiring dancer in her youth, but by the time she got to grad school in New York City she was possessed by another vision: she believed dance and video were a pas de deux waiting to happen and she would be the choreographer. Jeff Bush, the man who was her professor at the New School and then became her husband, believed in that vision too. One more thing. They didn’t want to just see dancers, they wanted to hear them.
For 30 minutes a week, Ipiotis coaxed insight, anecdotes, hard truths, and performance poetics from dance artists of all disciplines and ages. Even the camera-shy blossomed, supported by Ipiotis’s understanding of their art and issues, not to mention her rigorous preparation for each interview. Required watching in the dance world, Eye on Dance ran from 1981 to 2004—a total of 400 shows. But there also happen to be another 2,400 tapes that include outtakes, shows that were shot but never aired, and video material from artists, plus reams of print material, publications and photographs. This totality is called the Eye on Dance Legacy Archive, and Ipiotis is now focused on its restoration and management.
Looking over the series today, one is stunned by the remarkable resource Ipiotis and Bush created, a treasury of gems such as Alvin Ailey’s last interview; Peter Frame on Paul Taylor’s coaching of the “fly in milk” solo from Balanchine’s Episodes; and the only existing film footage of Karel Shook, a cofounder of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Indeed, Ipiotis herself is stunned by what she and Bush achieved. “The aim was to raise the public’s dance literacy,” she says, “but I’m awed by the guests’ honesty, and the unabashed freedom to explore all topics in public.”
A few years ago, the couple discovered an hour-long special they made in 1986, a celebration of their 200th episode. Because 2021 is the 40th anniversary of the Eye on Dance launch, and because funds are needed to restore the complete Legacy Archive, the Dance Enthusiasts platform is streaming the anniversary special on March 28, at four P.M. Crisscrossing the dance map, it travels from Violette Verdy to Gwen Verdon, from Dudley Williams to Joseph Campbell, from Anna Sokolow to Merce Cunningham, from “Cookie” Cook to Meredith Monk. And that’s just a handful of the offerings.
So Celia, in retrospect, how in the world did you do it? “Sheer determination to excite the public about all forms of dance,” she answers, “coupled to youthful ignorance, the belief I could do anything, and Jeff Bush.”
Laura Jacobs is AIR MAIL’s Arts Intel Report Editor