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  • Real Professionals? Andy Warhol, Fred Herko, and Dance
  • Paisid Aramphongphan (bio)

Of all the Judson Dance Theater dancers, Andy Warhol was “absolutely fascinated with” Fred Herko, the relatively unknown Judsonite who jumped out of a window to his death in 1964.1 Prior to Herko’s untimely death, Warhol had captured his dance on film. Recently preserved and made available for public screening, Jill and Freddy Dancing (4 minutes, silent, black & white) is a gem of a short. It brings together Herko and the Village Voice dance critic and Judson Dance Theater champion Jill Johnston, showing their dancing on a New York rooftop, anticipating the rooftop dances of Trisha Brown a decade later. From above, the camera shows the rectangular shape of their dancing space that, cordoned off with railings reminiscent of the ballet barre, is like an outdoor dance studio. The film starts with Johnston, tall and slim in a long dress, with long hair, standing on a chair close to the middle of the frame. She unwinds her arms and sways her hips in a rhythmic motion. Herko, slim, muscular, shirtless and in tights, enters from the left with a regal bearing. He dances around her, executing precise balletic turns and arresting jumps. Johnston holds her own as Herko goes all out. Later they dance opposite one another, feeding off each other’s movement. His torso erect throughout, Herko is formal as he approaches her, taking deliberate long steps with arms raised high in the balletic fourth and fifth positions. Johnston faces him and responds to his movement, sometimes mirroring him but deliberately adding her own looser twist, at times seemingly drunk.

Despite the everyday rooftop setting and Johnston’s free-flowing movement vocabulary, the duet harkens back to the pas de deux in classical ballet. The apotheosis of the love story, the pas de deux showcases technical bravura and formal elegance. However, unlike the classical format in which, adhering to strict gender roles, the danseur supports the ballerina in her turns and lifts, here Johnston and Herko show their individual movement styles while also dancing together. Instead of ballet footwear they wear ankle boots (Herko) and casual slip-ons (Johnston). When he circles around her, she is not an object of desire, but appears to be enjoying herself. He moves with an intense, almost raw quality; she sways her body to the rhythm of her own tune. [End Page 1]

Made in a period of Warhol’s early filmmaking, later known for “minimalist” films depicting stillness or everyday activities, the film is quite unusual in what it depicts: a dance occurring in a stage-like space. The casting adds another historical layer to the work. Known today for Marmalade Me (1971), the landmark collection of her dance writing from the 1960s, and the classic lesbian separatist text Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution (1974), Johnston had trained in modern dance in the 1950s and felt like a misfit due to the strict gender demarcation and its corresponding roles and movement styles. “I’m sure I wanted to be one of the boys,” she later reflected in a lecture given in 1991.2 In her autobiography, she describes the early 1960s as her “transvestite” phase, during which she constantly had to negotiate the difficulties, especially as a mother, in fitting in with binary gender expectations. The year after the film’s shooting, she met and developed a romantic relationship with Lucinda Childs, another Judson choreographer (whom, or whose shoulder rather, Warhol captured on film in Shoulder, 1964). As for Herko, Sally Banes, in her foundational study Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962–1964 (1983), characterizes his work, along with several others, as having “the theatrical, often humorous, baroque style.” This performance aesthetic emerged partly out of camp sensibility and the queer subculture of which Herko (and Warhol) were part, and it was rejected, if not openly denounced in homophobic terms, by the more art-world-connected side of Judson that has since dominated its history. Further, while Judson’s dance ethos signaled a turn away from technique and towards everyday task and movement, Herko, having trained at the American Ballet Theatre School, remained a resolute ballet dancer, even...