The Best Portrayal Of Dance Is In A Static Print Magazine

Pentagram partner Abbott Miller has helped resurrect a cult dance and visual arts magazine for a modern audience.

From 1989 to 1996, the avant-garde dance magazine Dance Ink developed a cult following among fans of experimental dance, photography, and design. Published by Patsy Tarr, a philanthropist and currently the director of the 2wice Arts Foundation, the magazine was developed as more than just a way to document dance performances–it was also a performance in and of itself. Tarr approached contemporary dancers and choreographers to create original works specifically for the printed page.


The task of actually translating the performances onto paper, then, fell to the magazine’s designer, Abbott Miller. Given the freedom to dedicate multiple spreads to laying out a dance sequence, Miller, now a partner at Pentagram’s New York offices, likens the time he spent designing the magazine to the art of choreography. “There’s someone who choreographs the dance and performance and then the designer, who choreographs the experience of the design on the page,” he says. Just as a dance piece has to be adapted from the practice space to the stage, the magazine also required adaptation, and was “a new kind of stage at a different scale.”

By the late 1990s, Miller and Tarr moved on to other dance publishing projects, eventually developing a series of dance-themed apps. Now, after a 20-year hiatus, the pair is reviving Dance Ink with a new generation of contributing performers and a refreshed design. But at a time when a digital platform can provide so much flexibility, how does one design a truly cutting-edge print dance magazine?

For Miller, the challenge of portraying a performance-based art form on a static platform was also what makes the project exciting. Long entrenched in the dance world, Tarr provides the link to the contributing dancers and choreographers; the new issue features Amar Ramasar and Adrian Danchig-Waring, two principal dancers from the New York City Ballet, as well as Silas Riener, the final dancer to join the Merce Cunningham Company. Miller then works with a photographer to document the dancers as they perform in a studio. He then sits down with the photos and puts them into sequence on the page.

For example, a piece in the new issue follows a performance by Ramasar, Danchig-Waring, and Reiner. The sequence starts out with Danchig-Waring for a couple of spreads, then moves to Ramasar, then Reiner, then ends with the three performers together. Much like a text story, the performance unfolds as the reader turns the page. Miller doesn’t always follow the performance as it happens in the studio, instead following his own logic to put it together in a way that makes physical and visual sense to the reader. “In print, it’s all about sequence and duration,” he says. “You replicate time in the sequence with a series of pages, rather than the way you use time as a resource on stage.”

In the new issue, Miller also used printing and typography to convey movement. Even though most of the photography is in black and white, like the original Dance Ink, Miller layered the back typography in cyan, magenta, and yellow to give the type the appearance of movement. Rather than laying it out in straight lines, the text is often undulating, giving off a sense of motion as well.

The new Dance Ink picks up at Volume 8, Issue 1, right where the old one left off, but dance has become more popular than it was in the ’90s. Celebrity ballerinas like Misty Copeland have helped to bridge that gap, as has New York City Ballet choreographer Justin Peck, who has appealed to other audiences with ballet performances scored by Sufjan Stevens, for example. Miller says that design can also help make dance accessible by experimenting with different ways to document performance. Dance can still be seen as an isolating and elitist art form, he says, but “designers can make it less mysterious and connect it more to other things like visual arts and popular dance as well.”


[All Images: courtesy Pentagram]

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.