David Vaughan, Chronicler of Dance History, Dies at 93

David Vaughan, Chronicler of Dance History, Dies at 93

As a performer, Mr. Vaughan’s most eminent role was as the narrator of Gertrude Stein’s words in Frederick Ashton’s 1937 ballet “A Wedding Bouquet.”

He performed as recently as last year in the Brooklyn Touring Outfit’s production of “Co. Venture,” a storytelling duet with Pepper Fajans, a choreographer and the founding director of Brooklyn Studios for Dance. The piece described their friendship and Cunningham’s legacy.

Writing in 1968 about a campy duet that Mr. Vaughan performed with Nancy Zala to accompany the James Waring Dance Company’s riff on ballroom dancing, Clive Barnes of The New York Times characterized him as “possibly the finest bad singer in the country.”

David George Vaughan was born on May 17, 1924, in London. His father, Albert, was secretary of the British Linoleum Manufacturers’ Association. His mother was the former Ada Rose Starks. His younger brother, Paul, a British journalist and the narrator of many BBC science documentaries, died in 2014. He leaves no immediate survivors.


Mr. Vaughan with an electronic tablet displaying an application dedicated to Merce Cunningham in 2012.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Mr. Vaughan studied at Oxford and, though he had been a dance aficionado since childhood, did not begin formal training until he was 23. He emigrated to the United States in 1950 to enroll in the School of American Ballet, where Cunningham was teaching.

When Cunningham received a grant from Joan K. Davidson of the J. M. Kaplan Fund to open his studio in the Westbeth artists’ space in the West Village in Manhattan, Mr. Vaughan went along as the company’s paid secretary, a position that also subsidized his performances in Off Broadway musicals.

Mr. Vaughan made his Broadway debut in 1957 as the parson in a Playwrights’ Company production of William Wycherley’s “The Country Wife.” He also appeared in “The Boy Friend” in 1970 and performed regularly with Al Carmines, a minister, in a cabaret revue.

Stanley Kubrick incorporated Mr. Vaughan’s ballet choreography in his 1955 film “Killer’s Kiss.” (Mr. Vaughan also had a cameo role in the movie as a drunken reveler.)

He won a Dance Magazine Award in 2015 for his contributions to the field, which included writing for several cultural journals. He sometimes demonstrated his affection for dance by candidly suggesting how the art form might be improved.

In 1988, after the Rockettes hired their first black dancer, Mr. Vaughan wrote an Op-Ed article for The Times admonishing major ballet companies for what he called “tokenism” in hiring when “ballet technique has always accommodated itself to human bodies in all their variety.”

He pointed out that opera companies cast blacks in nontraditional roles and that “it strains belief that a ballet audience would not just as readily accept mixed-race casting of even ‘Giselle’ or ‘Swan Lake.’ ”

Reviewing Mr. Vaughan’s Cunningham biography in The Times, the dance critic Jennifer Dunning called it “as complete and clear a portrait of the modern dance choreographer and his epochal work as has ever been published.”

In his book on Ashton, Mr. Vaughan explored “Enigma Variations,” the choreographer’s 1968 narrative ballet about a turning point in a composer’s career.

“Only a poet could have conceived a ballet like ‘Enigma,’ ” Mr. Vaughan wrote, “and only the audacity of genius could have brought it off, this use of the resources of classic ballet to achieve a nobility of discourse and carry a weight of metaphor that many would say are beyond its scope — but it is his faith in those resources that makes Ashton a great poet.”

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