Joan Accocella and Jennifer Dunning’s portraits, written at the time of his death, give an overview of Burt’s life. June Ekman’s reminiscences about her past with Burt and friends are taken from conversations in the summer of 2008.
Readers might also like to read the Tributes written by other friends and colleagues.
The sketch at left was made by Ray Daria, Burt’s partner for whom he cared during the writing of CONFESSIONS OF A CRABBY CRITIC.
Joan Acocella: Burt Supree Remembered
On the morning of May 1 Burt Supree, the dance editor of The Village Voice and a former president of DCA, died of a heart attack on the platform of the 14th Street and 8th Avenue subway station in New York. He was 51 years old.
Burt was born and raised in New York City. After graduating from City College, he had a lively career in the experimental drama of the sixties, acting in many Judson Poets’ Theater productions and in off-Broadway plays. From 1973 to 1979 he wrote a children’s column in The Village Voice. He also wrote three children’s books, including the 1977 Bear’s Heart.
This was the true story of a Cheyenne Indian, and a very sad story, which Burt told with a wholly unsentimental passion and a wonderful empiricism: a love of detail, of the actual feel of life. These same qualities he brought to his dance reviews, which he began writing in 1976 and continued to write, mostly for the Voice, until he died. His reviews were humane, witty and commonsensical. He was a well-loved editor and also a valuable member of the Bessies Awards committee, where he spoke sparingly and was always listened to
While extraordinarily modest, Burt was also very firm in his opinions, very independent-minded. (He hated The Sleeping Beauty, thought it was cold.) He knew what he liked, partly because he really liked it, rather than thinking he should. He had a huge capacity for enjoyment. Aside from dance, he loved music, particularly French and Italian opera. He bought paintings from artists he liked. He collected duck decoys. He adored candy, particularly the more unwholesome varieties. The first time I ever saw him a a DCA conference in 1982, he was eating a box of Good n’ Plentys. He had a farm in Pennsylvania that was his joy. He spent every weekend there, pulling up asparagus and propping up fences knocked down by neighboring cows.
Several years ago, Burt’s companion, Ray Daria, died of AIDS, and Burt feared the same fate for himself. In the end, he had a far more merciful death, just too young.
June Ekman: Burt and Friends
When I first knew him, Burt edited the back page of THE VOICE, the events listings, so he could never take a real vacation. By 1972, he and I were teaching a workshop at Sarah Lawrence College called “Making Things Up”. We had gotten the job from Remy Charlip. Shirley Kaplan , co-founder of the Paper Bag Players, had been working with Remy. When he decided to leave, it took both me and Burt to fill his shoes!
The picture above was taken during a summer residency in Connecticut in 1975, where Burt, Shirley Kaplan and I were working on a piece called “Ripped Edges”, performed by Sarah Lawrence students. We were called The Painter’s Theater and Burt was the business manager and consultant.
Remy was Burt’s partner for 13 years. They also collaborated on several books for children. I met Burt and Remy together in October 1962. Everybody knew everybody in those days. We were at a party and I said, “I’m cold, I’m really cold.” Remy said, “Let’s go to Puerto Rico.” So we did! The three of us stayed in a room on the top floor of a pension Remy had stayed at when he danced with the Cunningham Company. The room was filled with beds, and we kept moving the beds around. They couldn’t tell who was sleeping with whom. On that trip, we all learned our families were from the same place: we were all Lithuanian Jews. That mattered to us.
We were part of what we called the salon - Remy, Burt, me, Shirley, Charlotte Bellamy, and Jake Ross, Shirley’s husband. There was also a woman named Barbara Forst who became good friends with all of us. She was beginning to write plays. We decided to meet on Sundays; one person would present, and the others would respond. I did improvisations in movement and sound, Burt would read his poetry. Charlotte is an early childhood educator, and we’d have discussions for about two hours - and then we’d go somewhere to eat!
In 1967 or ’68 Burt, Remy and I were on the beach in Sarasota Florida. We had gone down with Walter Gutman to watch the Ringling Brothers Circus people working. Remy told us that Paulus Berensohn was going to sell his house in Clifford, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles from Scranton. We’d all been there many times before. Sitting there on the beach, we decided to buy it together. We each had $5,000 we could throw in, toward a share of $15,000 each. Our fourth partner was MC Richards, but she got it for nothing because she was Paulus’s “beloved teacher.” We agreed that down the road if any of us sold our share, we would just sell it back for the original amount: no one would make a profit. We spent a lot of time going there together. Later it was just Burt and MC, and we thought he’d be the last one living there, but in the end MC was.
Jennifer Dunning: Obituary
Burt Supree, a writer on dance who was a senior editor and dance reviewer at The Village Voice, died on Friday morning in Manhattan. He was 51 years old and lived in Manhattan. The cause of death was believed to be a heart attack, said a friend, June Ekman.
Mr. Supree wrote a weekly column called "kids" for The Voice from 1973 to 1979. To both subjects, children and dance, he brought equanimity, an eye for vividly telling detail, and a quiet passion and sense of humor. In the late 1960's and 1970's, he was the author of three children's books, including "Mother Mother I Feel Sick Send for the Doctor Quick Quick Quick," "Harlequin and the Gift of Many Colors," prize-winning picture books written with and illustrated by Remy Charlip.
Mr. Supree was born in New York City. After graduating from City College with a degree in literature, he performed as a dancer with Aileen Passloff, Elaine Summers, Surya Kumari and Sabine Nordoff. He acted in many productions of the Judson Poets' Theater, among them "What Happened," "A Beautiful Day," "Pomegranada," and "Lanford Wilson's," working with Al Carmines, Ruth Krauss and Harry Koutoukos. Mr. Supree also appeared in Paul Goodman's "Jonah" and Paul Foster's "Madonna in the Orchard" at the American Place Theater, in John Braswell's "Troyer" at La Mama, and as an extra in the Kirov Ballet's "Cinderella" at Madison Square Garden.
Mr. Supree taught "A Workshop in Making Things Up" with Ms. Ekman and Shirley Kaplan at Sarah Lawrence College in the early 1970's. With Ms. Ekman, he presented a participatory exhibition called "Costumes and Performing With Newspaper" at the American Crafts Museum.
He began writing about dance in 1976. His articles appeared in The Los Angeles Times and Herald-Examiner, the British Mirabella, Elle, Interview and Dance Ink. He contributed to “Body Against Body: the Dance and other collaborations of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane,” and was on the editorial board of Inside Arts, a publication of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. As the dance editor and listings editor of The Voice, he made a point of promoting the work of new and little-known choreographers and performers. Mr. Supree was also a former member of the dance panel of the New York State Council on the Arts and was a member of the Bessie Awards committee at the time of his death