July 2022 News

Recently, I traveled to Germany and Austria to see performance of Merce Cunningham repertory onstage. It was such a joy to see the works again and to be back in the theater with live dancers. The Oldenburg Ballet finished a run of How To Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (1965), which was staged by former MCDC Dancer and Director of Choreography Robert Swinston. The company, directed by Antoine Jully was energetic and embodied the work nicely. Hopefully, we will see more Cunningham in Oldenburg soon as Mr. Jully, a graduate of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris where he experienced Cunningham, is committed to sharing this work with the public.

In Vienna, at the Staatsballett, Andrea Weber staged Duets (1980). The director of the company, Martin Schläpfer, is a true Cunningham supporter having invited stagings of Pond Way (in 2013) and Scenario (in 2014) at Ballet am Rhein, where he was then the director. It is always great to see classically trained dancers take on Cunningham; some even incorporate Cunningham Technique® and principles into their daily practice after exposure.

Here at home, we are about to launch into our summer intensive workshops. This month, former MCDC dancers Carol Teitelbaum and Jennifer Goggans are working with a diverse group of dancers on Loosestrife. This 1991 piece was originally staged on Cunningham's company, which numbered 16 (!) dancers at the time. He wrote of the piece: This dance, as it moves through time, is in a field, where the life may be wild and tame. The space for the dance was divided into thirteen separate sections, or ‘territories,’ in any of which loosestrife might be found. There will be two public showings of the workshop on July 29 at Gibney 280 Broadway. See below for more information and to RSVP.

Next month, former MCDC dancers Jean Freebury and Patricia Lent will delve into Doubletoss, a 1993 work whose title describes Cunningham's process in creating the piece. David Vaughan wrote: Cunningham choreographed two separate dances by a chance procedure involving tossing coins, and then merged them. Like in the Loosestrife workshop, we are working with a diverse group of dancers: some have great experience in our workshops and with the Technique and they will work alongside "new" dancers who have much less experience with Cunningham's work. Information on the public showing of this workshop will be announced as we get closer.

These experiences help us keep the work in the bodies of today's practitioners and give the dancers opportunities to stretch themselves and engage with work that is not regularly available. Truly a win-win for everyone involved. They are an integral part of the Trust's ecosystem that consistently strives to expand the reach of Merce Cunningham's legacy and keep the work alive in physical bodies, which is the only place that dance exists.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's 1972 Piazza San Marco Event, which is being memorialized with a new Event (staged by former MCDC dancers Jeannie Steele and Daniel Squire) at the Venice Biennale under the direction of Wayne McGregor. Carolyn Brown, in her memoir Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham wrote the following about the 1972 Event:

[The Event in the Piazza San Marco], unlike any other, began in daylight at seven p.m. and ended, an hour later, under an inky sky, illuminated by lighting instruments placed on high towers that also held the loudspeakers for the electronic soundscape. Again, the three composers worked separately: John [Cage] placed a microphone on a chair, and whenever he moved it, the sounds were amplified; David [Tudor] contributed a composed sound environment; and Gordon [Mumma] attempted to find a piece of classical music in the shortwave range. Merce thought the music superb. A German critic deemed it “gruesome” and the entire occasion “an embarrassment,” while another felt that in the San Marco Event he was “able to participate in the immediate birth of inspiration.”

We dancers entered the piazza, armed with brooms and metal folding chairs. We formed a tight circle, and then, with our chairs, moved out, pushing back (figuratively) the gathering crowds in order to form a much larger circle. The brooms came into play when some of us swept the pigeon droppings from our performance space (more theatrical gesture than useful), “scattering the dust and tourists” before everyone began Field Dances followed by TV Rerun. At the end of one section we’d forge through the crowd to another space to form another circle. We made four circles in all, dancing sections from the repertory with an added little bit of Grand Union material performed by Valda [Setterfield] and Douglas [Dunn]. The good-humored crowd, mixing and melding, seemed to join in the spirit of the occasion. Unsuspecting people who just happened to be strolling through the piazza also got caught up in the fun.

Enjoy your summer activities and I hope to see you at one of our showings.

Best regards,

Ken Tabachnick,

Executive DirectorMerce Cunningham Trust