Photo © Erie Times-News
In Memoriam:

Tom Caravaglia, 1928–2014


Tom Caravaglia, long-time photographer for the Nikolais
Dance Theater and the Murray Louis Dance Company —
and a much-revered photographer by the dance community,
died on Thursday, July 10, after a long illness.

A memorial was held on September 14 at
the Paul Taylor Studio in New York City.


Our good friend Tom Caravaglia died on Thursday, July 10 . We have lost a great human being and the best photographer we have known. His eye for the time to click the shutter was truly miraculous. I feel that our best way to celebrate his life is to reproduce here some of the pictures he took of our work. Tom, we cannot replace you, but we can show the world what we have of you that we treasure.  —Ruth Grauert

A Google image search of Tom doesn’t bring up many photos of Tom himself, but the shear numbers of dance images and portraits of dancers testifies to the incredible scope of his work in dance.

A funeral Mass was held on Monday, July 14, at St. Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan. Virginia Dillon has written this description of the Mass for us:
A Mass for Tom Caravaglia

The news spread fast that Tom had died. I received numerous emails, but the most important one was from Doris, informing me that there would be a Mass for him on Tuesday, July 14 at 2:00 p.m. in the Church of St. Francis Xavier on 16th Street in New York City. I knew that I had to go, even though I had not been in New York for more than year, nor in a bus for more than a mile. I was so glad I did because it was such a beautiful service, and a wonderful opportunity to see old friends, to hug Doris and their daughters, and to bid farewell to Tom.

The church, situated on a tree-lined block between 5th and 6th Avenues is very beautiful, full of light and gorgeous paintings. The first person that I recognized was Helen Kent Nicoll who was with Joe Zina. Then I was thrilled to see Mimi Garrard and we sat next to Steven Vendola. It was a very interesting mixture of people who attended, and it was difficult to figure out who were dancers and who were from other walks of life. People we did know included Phylis Lamhut and Robert Small, Kim Gibilisco, Janis Brenner and Mitchell Bogard and Audrey Ross, the publicist. I later learned that there were a number of younger dancers there whom I did not know.

Doris and their four daughters, Jody, Doreen, Yvonne, and Louisa were seated in the first pew, and Doris was so kind and gracious to everyone who went up to pay their respects to her. The priest was very charming, and when the mass began he acknowledged that many of us were probably not Catholic, so we were not to worry about the protocol of the Mass, but that we were all there to celebrate the life of Tom Caravaglia. Amen.

The cantor began to sing the service in a clear and beautiful voice, and it proceeded with contributions made by family members, including a reading from the Old Testament by Jeff, Yvonne's husband, and a reading from the New Testament by Holly Rice, Doreen's daughter. The gifts were brought to the altar by three grandsons: Jason, Derek and Jameson.

A highlight of the event was a eulogy given by Tom's grandson Sam Caravaglia, who is the son of Jody. His talk was the perfect combination of reverence and humor, and included anecdotes about Tom and him that seemed to sum up a wonderful relationship. On one occasion he and Tom were in a museum in Italy, and when Sam paused in front of a Caravagio painting, Tom leaned over his shoulder and said “We're related to him you know.” Sam thought it a possibility and mentioned it to a friend in school, who asked how they were related. So the next time Sam was with Tom, he asked him how they were related to Caravagio.

Tom said, “We're not.”

“Oh, but you said we were.”

“I lied,” said Tom.

Another eulogy was given by John Tomlinson, who had been Technical Director for the Nikolais Dance Theater for several years, which is where he met Tom. John continued to work with Tom when he became the General Manager for the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Tom had done extensive photography for both companies.

Finally, Mike McGowan, a friend of Kim Gibilisco, sang “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables.

The priest conveyed Doris’s invitation to everyone to come to her home for refreshments. Doris has always been such a gracious hostess and that day was no exception. Mimi and I arrived fairly quickly as we walked over, and of course, Dorisís home was beautifully prepared with food and drink arrayed in the studio and in the apartment. Doris was attentive to everyone and there's no doubt that she was the perfect partner for Tom.
Members of the extended Nikolais-Louis family are in­vited to contribute tributes and remembrances of Tom, which we will reprint here.

In 2003 the first of a series of legacy conferences on Nikolais’s teaching and aesthetic was held at Hunter College in New York. As technical theater was always a prominent element in Nik’s work, a panel discussion was held in which members of Nik’s technical staff over the years shared their experiences. The panel naturally included Tom as a key figure.

The panel on Nikolais’s Artistry & Tech­nical Theater was comprised of (standing) Gerald Otte (moderator), George Gracey, Jim Van Abbema, and Ruth Grauert; (seated) John Tomlinson and Tom Caravaglia.

The following tribute was contributed by Sara Pearson, July 2020:
For the brilliant dance photographer Tom Caravaglia—six years since he left us.

The first time I set eyes on Tom Caravaglia , I was lying naked on a dance floor with a dozen other naked people, and Tom was high up on a ladder taking photographs. He was such a marvelous director—and so handsome!—taking this group of dancers filled with nervous self-consciousness on a delightful adventure of design and perspective as he and Nikolais transformed us into a living kaleidoscope.

It was 1973 and my first "appearance" with the Nikolais Dance Theater. I was a new scholarship student, just having landed in NYC from Minnesota, in awe of those demigods who I would watch rehearse every afternoon as I went about my duties Ė helping Frankie Garcia in the costume shop, stuffing press kits for Peter Obletz, running errands for Betty Young.

Later that year, Murray sent Jerry and me to Tomís studio for the first time to get something called "head shots," and then a photo shoot of our choreography for our first NYC full evening show.

Tom was great—putting us at ease, funny, smart, warm, and genuine—and soon we learned that he was a fabulous artist as well as a remarkably generous human being.

Throughout the decades, Tom continued to offer to do photo sessions of PearsonWidrig DanceTheater—each time more stunning than the last. Even when he could no longer get down on the floor and contort himself into a position to get that perfect shot, when he could just direct his assistant and click the shutter, his photographs were all the more compelling, powerful, beautiful.

These photographs have been seen throughout the world in newspapers and websites and on posters adorning the streets of Beijing, Kyoto, Seoul, Auckland, Calcutta, Algiers, Cairo, Stockholm, St. Petersburg, London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Santiago, Lima, Mexico City, and of course New York City.

And Doris—meeting you anytime, anywhere—has always been special—such welcoming graciousness! Each visit to your home or the studio has been filled with abundant life and love.

And Tom? Thank you—over and over and over again. Each moment with you has been a delight, each visit has opened my heart and eyes more and more and still yet more.

With so much gratitude and love,
Sara Pearson


We present below just a few of the magnificent images that Tom brought us:




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