Oral Histories

Interview of Allegra Fuller Snyder

UCLA professor of dance and director of the Graduate Program in Dance Ethnology.
Interviews not in a series, part one
Biographical Note:
UCLA professor of dance and director of the Graduate Program in Dance Ethnology.
Smith, Richard Candida
Snyder, Allegra Fuller
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Richard Candida Smith, Principal Editor, UCLA Oral History Program; B.A., theater arts, Ph.D., history, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Snyder was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and make corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Birth and early years in Chicago--Family genealogy--Mother's family background--Family's participation in New York cultural life--Family and religion--Early exposure to diversity--Margaret Fuller--Early experience of (father) Buckminster Fuller's work--Buckminster Fuller's role in Snyder's intellectual development--Family's financial situation--Perspective on feminism.
Interest and ability in math, successful application to MIT--Education at Dalton School--Significant teachers at Dalton--Importance of movement/dance in Dalton education--Buckminster Fuller's influence on thinking about movement and bodily experience--Relationship to Helen Parkhust, founder of Dalton School--Connections to John Dewey--Figure skating--Studying at the School of American Ballet--Education at the Madeira School--Learning Labanotation at Madeira--Dyslexia--Awareness of national and international issues, including World War II.
Father's relationship to Christopher Morley and the literary/academic world--Snyder's own relationship to academia--Full-time study at the School of American Ballet--Influence of Lincoln Kirstein--Work at the Dance and Theater Archives of the Museum of Modern Art--Lack of exposure to modern dance--Classical Ballet technique and training at SAB--Close friends at SAB--Lack of intellectual stimulation in conservatory training--Kirstein’s New York Ballet Society--Decision to leave ballet and go to Bennington College--Relationship to George Balanchine--Choreography for the Joffrey Ballet--Thoughts about ballet.
Admiration of Jerome Robbins--Studying with Hanya Holm and Alwin Nikolais in the late 1940s--Interest in Broadway dance--Working with George Amberg at the International Film Foundation--Interest in Maya Deren's films--Other examples of early dance film--Early films of Martha Graham's work--Decision to study at Bennington--Martha Hill, Bennington College dance department chair and former dancer with Graham company--Training influenced by Graham and Humphrey-Weidman techniques--Early training in choreography at Bennington--Study in other fields enriching her choreographic explorations--Studying anthropology and its effects on Snyder's early choreography--Other influential professors at Bennington.
Foundations for choreographic research at Dalton School--Difficulty in developing choreographic perspective in context of technical training at SAB--Discussion of one of Snyder's early works at Bennington--Choosing not to pursue choreography professionally--Exploration of ritual and symbol in choreography--More discussion of dance pieces created at Bennington.
More discussion of Bennington professors outside the dance department--Discussion of James Joyce and Ulysses, the connections between mythology and formalism--More discussion on study of anthropology and its effects on Snyder's choreography--Discussion of psychoanalysis (Freud and Jung), and Joseph Campbell's work--Snyder's relationship with father (B. Fuller) during Bennington years--More discussion of Snyder's interest in "the mythic."
Discussion of various intellectuals' influence on Snyder--Cultural climate in 1950, McCarthy hearings, Snyder's lack of awareness around issues of socialism and communism--Snyder's lukewarm response to abstract expressionist painting, visual arts in general--Snyder's lack of interest in literature and fiction--Snyder's interest in documentary filmmaking--Working on Gods of Bali with Robert Snyder--Snyder's growing interest to and commitment to film through the International Film Foundation.
Snyder's interest in lending dance more recognition as an art form--Development of television in the early 50s--Moving with Robert Snyder to Los Angeles in 1956 to start a family--Working with the Tewa Pueblos in New Mexico with a friend from Bennington.
Focusing on motherhood at the expense of professional life--Life in a diverse Silver Lake--Moving to the Pacific Palisades in the early 60s--Decision to pursue graduate work at UCLA--Growing interest in the area of dance therapy--Communication with Alma Hawkins at UCLA--Screening dance films in Los Angeles for a Bennington alumni group--Comparing cultural life in Los Angeles to cultural life in New York--Involvement with Kate Hughes and the Lester Horton New Dance Theatre (and school), meeting Bella Lewitzky--Organizing dance film showings at New Dance Theatre--Awareness of and interest in Lester Horton--Relationship between Horton and Lewitzky, Lewitzky's separation from the company and development as a choreographer--The founding of Cal Arts--More on relationship between Snyder and Lewitzky, teaching together at Idyllwild--Snyder's feelings on dance reconstruction in general--Back to Snyder and Lewitzky teaching at Idyllwild--Snyder being invited to Cal Arts.
Filming the Bayanihan (Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company)--Technical information about filming the Bayanihan dances--Discussing the difference between proscenium performances of non-Western dances and performances in their own cultural context--Challenging the perception of dance as mere entertainment--Bella Lewitzky as a teacher and choreographer--Early years of the Joffrey Ballet, especially focusing on patronage--Snyder's choreography for the Joffrey Ballet, The Venetian Glass Nephew.
Continuing to discuss The Venetian Glass Nephew--The work's lack of written documentation (dance notation).
Snyder's interest and work in dance therapy--Working with Mary Whitehouse--Approaching Alma Hawkins about the dance therapy component of the UCLA dance program--Decision to pursue a master's degree at UCLA--Disappointed that theory and practice were separate at that time, Snyder stopped dancing in graduate school--Returning to Mary Whitehouse and her teaching--Using the experience of the body as a starting point for exploration--Practicing dance with an inward attention--The emergence of form in spontaneous movement explorations--Making connections to the work of Isadora Duncan--Returning to the work in a dance therapy context--Comparing dance therapy work to contact improvisation--Discussing the importance of the Pilobolus Dance Company--Snyder's decision not to further pursue choreography--Returning to early interest in choreography as an interest in the emergence of a personal way of moving--Snyder discussing the integration of filmic visuals into other choreographic work, identifying that as an area she would have explored--Returning to Mary Whitehouse and her encouragement to verbalize movement experience.
Continuing to address the importance of verbalization and articulation in the therapeutic process of Mary Whitehouse--Discussing the theoretical influences on Whitehouse and Snyder in the late 1960s--Various encounters with Mary Wigman's work--Questioning the relevance of Jung and archetypal forms--teaching Native American circle dances--Further discussion of movement and ritual--Studying ballet with Carmelita Maracci in Los Angeles, separating from Maracci at the time Snyder entered UCLA--Integrating body and intellect through dance practice--Comparing UCLA's program to USC's--Returning to Maracci's influence on the LA dance community of the period--Discussing divisions within the UCLA department when Snyder entered.
Snyder's conviction that her major contribution to the field would concern “world dance” or dance ethnology--Discussing the UCLA ethnomusicology department at the time of Snyder's graduate work--Elsie Dunin’s folk dance classes at UCLA--teaching Dance Cultures of the World mainly to students with no background in dance--Teaching non-Western studio dance classes--Departmental hierarchy--Snyder’s identity within the department and the dance field as a whole.
Review of Snyder’s program as a student, working with faculty, thesis project--Writing articles for Impulse and Dance Perspectives--Thesis Panel--Research into Dance Film and screenings--Becoming part of the faculty at UCLA and Cal Arts.
Teaching at UCLA and affecting broader attitudes towards dance--Struggles developing the ethnodance program--Teaching four theory courses in addition to chairing the department--Nature of consensus within the department.
Margalit Oved Marshall--Divisions between, and fusion of, theory and performance--Programmatic inflexibility in the dance department--Snyder’s role as chair in shaping departmental policy--Encouraging service on UCLA faculty committees.
Snyder’s strong belief in the UCLA Dance Department, and her commitment to its breadth--Returning to the integration of practice and theory--Meeting university course requirements--Faculty recruitment--The abundance of lecturers over tenure-track faculty--Student recruitment--Beginning a discussion of the Graduate Dance Center.
Continuing a discussion of the Graduate Dance Center--Student demonstrations and cultural developments of the 60s and 70s--Interplay between ethnic studies, activism, and Snyder’s teaching in the department--Carlos Castaneda and Snyder’s work with the Yaqui--Teaching American Indian material.
Working with African Studies academics--Discussion of Asian and Chicano Studies in the department.
Minimal effects of 60s counterculture on the life of the department--Monitoring explicit content in student performances--Snyder’s ambivalent feelings about feminism and the women’s movement of the 70s--Incorporating widespread changes in the arts, teaching a class on “philosophical bases and trends.”
Encouraging dance ethnology students to question academic conventions--Preparing students for careers--Divisions between ethnology, therapy, and performance students in the department--Returning to a discussion of the philosophical bases classes--Impact of gay and lesbian civil rights movement on the department--Dealing with the AIDS crisis--The interplay between gender studies and dance ethnology--Discussing some difficulty being female, and engaged in the dance field, in the academic community.
Snyder’s filmmaking--The inherent difficulties in bringing dance and film together--Classic Hollywood dance films, Fred Astaire versus Gene Kelly--Returning to her creative decision on the Bayanihan film--Snyder’s engagement with film theory--Returning to Gestures of Sand and Snyder’s ethnographic research in preparation for that film--Discussing another of Snyder’s films, Reflections on Choreography.
Continuing a discussion about Reflections on Choreography--Moving on to Snyder’s next film, Baroque Dance--Storyboarding the films--Use of Feuillet notation in Baroque Dance--Working on the Mary Wigman film--Interest in working with Isadora Duncan material--Beginning a discussion on Celebrations: A World of Art and Ritual.
More discussion of Celebrations--The spectator’s kinesthetic involvement in dance films--Working as the dance film editor for Film News magazine.
Developing the Ethnic Arts program, which became the UCLA department of World Arts and Cultures--Reaching out to an interdisciplinary range of faculty members across the UCLA campus--Evaluating interdisciplinary programs in the university context--Developing the program’s curriculum--Working to tie multiple disciplinary positions together and iron out the logistics of the program--Dance Department taking on the bulk of the administrative responsibility for the program--Mobilizing performance as a theoretical concept--Drawing a diverse student population, the effects of the program on the students.
Further discussion of the program’s development--Working with the art history and ethnomusicology departments--Facing challenges from program reviews, working to credit faculty for their teaching in the program--Moving from an interdepartmental program to an independent department, Snyder expressing concern about that development--Changing the name from Ethnic Arts to World Arts.
Discussing the merger of the Dance and World Arts and Cultures Departments--Discussing Snyder’s concerns about the changes to the dance department that such a merger would bring.
Discussing the role and position of the arts in the university more broadly--Transitioning from UCLA’s College of Fine Arts to the School of the Arts--Discussing internal administrative politics and the acceptance of “world arts” in academic departments across campus--Evaluating the creative work of faculty using standards developed for academic publishing--Discussing Snyder’s own academic advancement--Snyder’s participation in the department of art review (including Richard Diebenkorn’s removal from the faculty) early on in her academic career.
Arguing for the support of the arts in the university, particularly in the development of “laboratory” space--How to encourage arts faculty to remain invested in artistic careers--Comparing the situation at UCLA to Bennington--Comparing UCLA to other large universities with investments in dance--Discussing the dance department at UC Riverside--Developing the MA program in the UCLA dance department, advocating for a PhD--Discussing the state of dance studies in academia at large--Snyder’s involvement in the Arts Management program--Snyder’s involvement with the Institute of Ethnomusicology--Mantle Hood and the relationship between dance ethnology and ethnomusicology.
Discussing the Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology, possible retrenchment--Lack of university support for World Arts and Cultures model, and related models such as folklore--Serving on the Special Committee on Cultural Diversity--Discussing various other UCLA initiatives in the arts--Involvement in the UC Experiential Learning Project--Working on the Chancellor’s Committee in Instructional Development.
Discussing arts education in the university context--Snyder expresses her belief in looking at the arts in the midst of a larger cultural context--Returning to UCLA (and World Arts and Cultures) as a venue for the exchange of ideas--Possibilities for nurturing the arts outside the university context--Buckminster Fuller’s work in educational contexts--Continuing to explore alternative educational structures in the arts--Bringing notable artists to UCLA for intensives--Discussing “The House” and the challenges to creating space for experimental dance in Los Angeles--Returning to arts in the university context--Buckminster Fuller’s teaching and the effect of his growing status on a young (post-college) Snyder.
Discussing the Buckminster Fuller Institute, and the ongoing development of his ideas in late 20th century--Snyder’s role as a mother, and her prioritization of family life--Discussing the careers of Snyder’s daughter and son--Addressing the broad theme of individual versus collective development--Snyder’s field research, preferring to focus on the larger picture of arts in society rather any particular cultural context--Snyder’s interest in serving as a facilitator to those working in their own cultural contexts.
Discussing major thinkers in the field of anthropology, from 1970 onward (Turner, Lévi-Strauss, Ortiz, Geertz, Griaule, Douglas)--Discussing post-modernism, post-structuralism, discourse analysis, and deconstruction; the influence of these intellectual developments on Snyder’s work in dance at UCLA--Snyder’s feelings about dance studies scholars and dance ethnologists Adrienne Kaeppler and Joann Kealiinohomoku--Looking at gender difference in the context of dance ethnology--Snyder’s thinking on the concept of transformation.