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Merce Cunningham Dance Company: The Legacy TourNow in Miami...and a question.


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#31 Simon G

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 10:46 AM

For some reason I couldn't add the Septet Clip to my last post, so here you go:

http://video.google....61616907155481#

The three female dancers are from left to right: Barbara Lloyd, Carolyn Brown, Viola Farber.

The piece was created in 1953 this was filmed in 1964.

#32 papeetepatrick

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 11:08 AM

I don't know if you know but all Cunningham dance is created and rehearsed in silence and always has been the music is commissioned to last a certain length of time and it's not until first performance sometimes that the company hear what they're dancing to. ON Events they often draft people in at the last moment to freestyle and draft an artist in to create a decor. It really can be pot luck, it sounds like you got the pottiest pot luck going. Only once to his Sextet in the 50s did Cunningham choreograph and dance to a score, Satie.


That's fascinating, as are all these informative posts you're doing. It also makes me realize that all those events and performance art pieces of the 60s and 70s and beyond, come from Cunningham. I think I used to hear about Cage and Cunningham when I'd read about Laurie Anderson, although she's not one of the ones I've ever been a big fan of (I'm more the Karen Finley/Tim Miller/Monik Toebosch type in terms of taste in these areas). Some of those things in which the audience follows the artists around and 'into new worlds' comes to mind (there were some in Brooklyn in the 90s, even walking through muddy creeks and suchlike), and there's a memory of a London performance piece in a biggish house, where the viewer would sit in the room, and long periods would go by until all of a sudden some dancer would descend a staircase, dance startlingly, and then just disappear--very convincing embodiment of the ghost, I've often wished I had seen that. I don't know how to google it, though, as I can't remember the names, and never heard of anyone seeing it. Think i read about it in the Voice. I've been to a fair amount of performance art, but most of it doesn't attract me, and the interactivity between audience and artists is not for me, usually. I tend to want performance art to be somewhere between that sort and traditional theater, so that it's a little more firmly scripted. I've never found any of the 'chance music' of Cage or Stockhausen esp. interesting beyond the immediate moment; I don't find myself continuing to probe it. The high modernists used little of it, and I am more at home in that kind of difficult music: Boulez's Repons, with the computers responding to the orchestral playing, is much more my type of thing (this is superb if you ever get to hear a major perf., as I did at Columbia in 1986, and in 2003 at Carnegie Hall, which was all re-arranged (seats temporarily removed, etc. so the orchestra could be right in the middle), it is beautiful.

Cristian if you are willing to give him one more shot the company is coming to Berkley in California next March (the closet I could find to Florida) and they'll be performing Pondway which is absolutely lush. Go to that and if you still hate it I swear I will send you reimbursement for your travel and theatre tickets.


Oh, Mistah Simon, you're just soooo Prince of Wales, but California is about the same distance from Florida as London is. I'll go there and hate it for you if Cristian isn't into it...

#33 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 11:15 AM

Cristian if you are willing to give him one more shot the company is coming to Berkley in California next March (the closet I could find to Florida) and they'll be performing Pondway which is absolutely lush. Go to that and if you still hate it I swear I will send you reimbursement for your travel and theatre tickets.


...only if yo're willing to listen to a 40 minutes Power Point presentation on "Giselle" that I did a while ago for a college class... :flowers:

#34 Drew

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 01:26 PM

And yes, there are times I agree with Drew that it can seem too long


Quiggin spoke of problems with length and, later, Bart. I have only seen Cunningham's company a very few times and those few times I was always sorry when the performance came to an end. That may be luck (what I happened to see) or taste (what I happened to like), but I suspect it is also because I sometimes needed the time to 'get,' in my own partial way, what was happening on stage: the repetitions and permutations helped me to see more/better as the evening proceeded.

I will add that the two 'events' I attended were in theaters with proscenium stages and...uh...seats.

#35 Quiggin

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 01:52 PM

In the early days I think you went to see Carolyn Brown and Viola Farber as much as the cooler Cunningham, all were great dancers to watch. I once saw Merce in the seventies dance with his company like a strange Pinter street person and you couldn't take your eyes off him - but then it seemed to become less interesting without him.

The Septet clip has a some relation to "Apollo" with the soft banality of Satie rather than astingent neoclassicism of Stravinsky underwriting the movements. Ultimately with Cage - I agree with papeetepatrick - it isn't very interesting music - and was sometimes played horribly loud. It's is a taunt, a poke in the face at middle class values, and which ends up as Adorno has said "an exaggerated version of the very postivism it sets to out to denounce."

Sometimes the new music (though I like Donatoni) seems so elaborately stingy - I heard Sylvano Busotti at the San Francisco Museum last Thursday in the open atrium sing and very nicely play the piano with an opera singer adding voice patterns and there was some string playing - and I kept thinking but why don't they just go on and play "PIerrot Lunnaire" - they're so close and it would bring in so much range and pleasure. Or sometimes I think why don't they just say it and play one of the Beethoven late quartets and break through these arbitrary conceptual walls they all set up, Cage and Duchamp and the rest.

As Rauchenberg's collages derive from Kurt Schwitter's, Cunningham's on-site proceniumless works come from the experiments in Gemany and Russia in the twenties when they had real brute force and context - Eisenstein's last stage production, before he went to film, took place in a factory and the audience moved from place to place. Some of this mad experimentation Balanchine brought over with him (along with the earlier avante garde of Petipa) - there is more of this to him than Diaghilev or "jazz' or american venacular - and that's why I think Balanchine's work is more radical than Cunningham's - some of it like the Beethoven late quartets in its ranging over scary and lyrical uncharted territories.

#36 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 02:33 PM

I will break my promise of having done my final bow here-(hasn't Cher done the same for quite few years now with her "Farewell Tour"...? :D ). As I was writing a PM, I thought that I could share the thought, so here it goes.
I think that my experience with Cunningham is just a reflection of what's going on within the arts world in general, and here I will link this to that old discussion on the "death of ballet". I'm a firm believer in the "waves theory"-(if there's one, for which this is something that just popped off of my head as I'm writing). Trends in arts are born, conditioned by a historical framework, novelty and usually by some opposition to a certain pre-established past. We can see how right now the main trend in fashion by designers is to "create"-(or "recreate"?)-a "vintage" feeling in their designs. Hollywood starlets are more and more adopting the look of the actresses of the past, like Veronica Lake, Lyz Taylor, Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly in their clothes and hair styles for the red carpet, and the Christian Dior's "New Look" has experienced a total reborn/revamping in Galliano's designs. Nothing is "really new", and the newest thing seems to be about looking at the past instead of trying to create something original.
Last week I went to the Art Basel, the biggest art event of the US, which takes place in Miami Beach. I wandered for 4 hours looking at art installations, paintings, sculptures and everything in between. I didn't see that many original stuff among the THOUSANDS of works exposed. I kept looking at the paintings and thinking..."Oh..this looks like suprematism"...or "this is a Basquiat-inspired painting'...and on and on and on...
And then ballet...what's the most exciting thing happening to ballet at the moment, IN MY OPINION...? The XIX Century warhorses reconstructions. Here we're REALLY looking at the past and trying to be saved by it, for which we KNOW that this is a secure spot. The warhorses have endured centuries, and I have the feeling that they will keep carrying the bulk of the work.
There was a time when Duncan came over and danced barefoot...it was new, it was fresh and it hadn't been done too seriously before. Peope were ecstatic...until many decades later, when there was nothing else that could be drained from it. She came at the right time in the right place, and had the right audience. There's also the fact of getting to be part of a given creation process...of being THERE at the time and witnessed and LIVE its development. Simon's excitement when recounting his experiences tells a lot about this. To me the exposure to such alien body of work resulted in confusion and misunderstanding. It is not part of my past, nor of my culture, which is the totally opposite of Simon's case.
The times that I was faced toMalevich "Black Square" and Duchamp's "Fountain" I both laughed and looked with reverence. If I had been part of the public that witnessed the pieces when they were created, I would probably had had heated arguments in their defense. Now I looked at them with just curiosity.

There was a time when discarding ballet shoes for a free style type of dancing was the "it" thing...I don't think it is any longer. On Saturday night I kept thinking..."If right now it was 1954 and I was an 18 YO New Yorker, I probably would be sitting on the floor and cheering wildly to this..." But it is 2010..and I just wish I could have the opportunity to watch Vikharev's Beauty reconstruction.
Finally, I would like to quote a phrase that Mme. Alonso likes to repeat. She always says that "great dance masterpieces never die...they only sleep. It just takes someone with the passion and the means to awaken them..."
If this is the case with the body of work of Cunningham, then it is just a matter of waiting for another wave, when people will look at the past and rediscover this dormant pieces, and then revive them and present them back to where they belong...the stage.

#37 Simon G

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 03:04 PM

Sorry Drew, I get confused sometimes. You know what, the Events I've liked least have been the ones sitting in a traditional theatre and the promenade ones or ones in strange venues have been my favourites, not to say that the dancing or content have been markedly better or worse, just the element of surprise and my personal relationship to Cunningham. Truthfully, the photos posted of the venue and set up where Cristian had such a bad time made me really jealous that I hadn't been there.

Also, I can relate to not liking Cunningham, the first time I saw the company I was about 10 and really didn't get it, I was too young, for sure, the next time I was about 16 and in a theatre with a really bad sound system sitting in front of a loudspeaker which had been especially set up to play Rainforest at ear bleeding volume, and when I say I was sitting in front, I mean it, literally in front - I was in agony. Then the third time it was an Event in a park and that was it for me, I just fell in love with it there and then completely, but it certainly took time.

Sadly, though too, the company is dependent on the current dancers and my ardour really has cooled for this present company as I can honestly say I think it's the weakest company I've ever seen. For me only Julie Cunningham, in the company since 2004 is right up there for me, and one of the dancers I have to say is one of the worst dancers I've ever seen in any company anywhere it irritates me whenever they come on stage. But hey, that's the way it rolls, I just wish that the final company had been one I loved.

#38 Nanatchka

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Posted 02 January 2011 - 08:49 AM

You did not see "Coast Zone" in Miami, that is an older work out of repertory.

It might have been easier for you to approach the Event as a kind of living museum experience, and enjoyed the freedom to see the dancers as you chose, walking about, taking them in according to your won direction.

Speaking of direction, I can assure you that the Event was entirely a choreographed affair, staged by Robert Swinston, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's Director of Choreography after Merce's death, and before that the Assitant to the Choreographer for decades. That might not make you like it any better, it really does not matter, but to suggest that there is no choreography might mislead someone reading this thread.

You began by wanting to know more about Merce Cunningham. If you watch "Classtime at Westbeth" or "Cunningham on Technique," two of the programs in the free webseries "Mondays with Merce," you will see sections of class (with the company), with Merce teaching. There you will note the ballet technique that you love (though not a barre, and no pointe shoes) used as the base for Cunningham's own technique. Just watch the warm up and it will feel quite familiar to you. If you start out from a stance of familiarity, you will probably appreciate the whole thing more. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see what you love over and over, and some of what you love is in Merce's work. You just have to unclutter your mind and look.

Here is a link to a page which lists all of the Mondays with Merce episodes now on line: http://merce.org/about/mwm_archive.php

Simon,perhaps we might meet somewhere along the Legacy Tour.

Nancy Dalva
producer/writer
Mondays with Merce
nancy@merce.org

#39 Nanatchka

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Posted 02 January 2011 - 08:59 AM


Over the subsequent 46 years the Events each numbered, have become a tradition in the Cunningham cannon, and are very different from his presentations of his complete pieces in traditional sit-down theatres.

As the Event I saw in 2003 in Richmond, Virginia, the audience was seated. Perhaps it was just an event. :P I hope to have seats again in February, for what will be another E/event.

Here is a link to a review, with photos, of the Event Christian attended.


There are "site specific" Events, and also Events presented in proscenium theaters--that came later. The Event in February should be beautiful.

To see more about Cunningham Events, and to hear Merce talk about them and see him staging one at the Dia:Beacon Museum (with footage from several Events there), see

Mondays with Merce 007 Cunningham Events

#40 Nanatchka

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Posted 02 January 2011 - 09:55 AM

Thank you for your posts and your passion and your knowledge, Simon. What a pleasure to read them. I just want to add that Merce choreographed other pieces, very early on, "to" music. He loved Satie. And since you love Roaratorio,
you might enjoy this Mondays with Merce about the current revival and its first performances at Disney Hall in Los Angeles. It shows film of the original cast, including Merce, and ends with extended excerpts from the first performance there. The soundscore is from the original, with John Cage reading.

Mondays with Merce 013 Re: Roaratorio

The fall Cunningham season in London will be wonderful, and I hope to see you there. Also, consider jumping over to Paris for that last season there, it is the last repertory performance season before the final Events.

Nancy Dalva
producer/writer
Mondays with merce
nancy@merce.org


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