Virtuoso Dance Teacher with Human Touch, June Finch, Dies at 81


June Finch is a dancer, choreographer, and teacher specializing in choreographed technique. Merce Cunningham, Passing this on to generations of students, he died in a Manhattan hospital on June 18. He was 81 years old.

Her niece, Amy Verstappen, said the cause was lung cancer.

Known for her sophisticated sense of rhythm, egalitarian spirit, and fierce devotion to the Cunningham technique (a movement system Cunningham developed to prepare the body for her complex choreography), Ms. Finch began teaching at Merce Cunningham Studio in Manhattan in the late 1960s. .

Often as one of the first instructors people encounter in their work on Cunningham’s work, he has trained hundreds of dancers who have passed through the studio, including many who continue to join the illustrious ranks of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. (Mrs. Finch never joined the company.)

On March 30, 2012, three years later Cunningham’s deathAs the school prepares to close, Ms. Finch taught the senior class, who had been in her longtime home, on the light-filled top floor of the Westbeth Artists Housing complex in the West Village. About a hundred people came to dance and watch. “He was greeted with thunderous applause when he entered teaching,” choreographer Pat Catterson wrote in an account of the class for Dance magazine.

In the competitive environment of the Cunningham studio, where dancers often compete for coveted spots in the choreographer’s company, Ms. Finch was noted for her attention to students regardless of their star potential. Ms. Catterson, who trained with Ms. Finch for decades, beginning in 1968, said most teachers at the school did not show individual attention “unless they were company material in their eyes”.

“It wasn’t June,” said Ms. Catterson in a phone call. “He was really there to teach everyone in the room.” This approach continued throughout Ms. Finch’s final teaching at 100 Grand, a SoHo penthouse where she taught Saturday morning classes until March 2020, when the pandemic forced her to stop.

Dancer Janet Charleston, also a respected Cunningham technique teacher, attended classes that weekend, when no dancer was too experienced to learn from Miss Finch.

“After decades of studying this technique, it was so nice to have someone still have this eagle eye and give really valuable feedback to very, very experienced dancers,” said Ms. Charleston. “He followed people like hawks. He just got totally involved.”

In a short letter of recommendation dated January 9, 1989, Cunningham expressed a similar sentiment, summarizing his respect for Ms. Finch in one sentence: and outright concern for the individuals he works with.”

June Gebelein was born on June 13, 1940, in Taunton, Massachusetts, the youngest of three siblings. His mother, Roberta (Seaver) Gebelein, volunteered for families in need. His father, Ernest George Gebelein, ran a factory that made bags and boxes for silverware and was later president of a bank. (his father George Gebelein, a famous Boston silversmith.)

Between the ages of 4 and 17, Miss Finch studied ballet in Taunton and Provincetown. She also took piano lessons and learned some country folk dance from her great-aunt.

She attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dance and studied with a respected dance composition teacher. Bessie Schoenberg. He began training at Cunningham Studio in 1965 and joined the faculty within a few years. From 1969 to 1977 she danced with Viola Farber, a distinguished founding member of Cunningham’s company, who founded her own group in 1968.

In 1965 she married Caleb Finch, a scientist who played violin in a bluegrass band. Miss Finch, whose deep, melodic voice was the hallmark of her classes, sang with the group from time to time. She and Mr. Finch divorced in the early 1970s when Mr. Finch accepted a job in California and chose to continue dancing in New York. He is now a leading researcher of human aging.

From 1977 to 1982, Miss Finch created a job as the artistic director of June Finch and Dancers. Reviewing an evening of his choreography At the Cunningham Studio in 1979, Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times described it as “a fluid and graceful dance program performed by an equally graceful ensemble of eight men and women.”

One of these women was a choreographer. Elizabeth StrebHe took lessons from Miss Finch for the first time in the mid-1970s. Ms. Streb said in an interview that students flocked to Ms. Finch in a meticulous but humane way, in part because of her ability to get to the root of a technical problem. “He knew which part to fix that kept everything else in line,” Ms. Streb said.

Ms. Finch has also reached out to dancers outside of New York, teaching and staging Cunningham’s work at universities around the country and internationally. All his life he spent summers in Cape Cod, where he followed a small but dedicated student and organized performances in Provincetown.

A short and expressive dancer, Miss Finch has performed with choreographers such as Margaret Jenkins, Meredith Monk and Jeff Slayton in addition to working with Miss Farber. Ms. Jenkins, who also taught at the Cunningham studio for many years, described Ms. Finch’s dance as “wild and clear at the same time”.

Ms Jenkins added that as a teacher, Ms. Finch was deeply committed to Cunningham’s aesthetic, but she “inserted her own wit, precision, and distinctive rhythm” into that loyalty.

He is survived by his sister Peggy Sovek and brother Robert Gebelein.

Jennifer Goggans, program coordinator of the Merce Cunningham Trust and a former member of Cunningham’s company, recalled the inspiring, almost frightening power of Ms. Finch’s demonstration of her act in class. “I remember passing by and restrictive in space,” he said, “and I said to myself, ‘How am I going to do this?’

Students are also drawn to the nuanced musicality that feeds into the exercises Miss Finch teaches.

“A rhythmic sentence is inevitable when true,” said Ms. Catterson, “and she really understood it.”


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