Merce Cunningham Trust

Nocturnes 1956


PREMIERE DATE July 11, 1956
PREMIERE VENUE Jacob's Pillow
LOCATION Becket, MA
MUSIC Erik Satie Nocturnes
DECOR Robert Rauschenberg
COSTUMES Robert Rauschenberg
DURATION 30 minutes
ORGINAL CAST Carolyn Brown, Remy Charlip, Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber, Bruce King, Marianne Preger-Simon
The dance in five parts was subtitled, "from dusk to the witching hour." Unlike "Septet", Cunningham’s earlier dance to music by Satie, which was choreographed on the music, "Nocturnes" was made with a chance procedure “that would function in terms of the music.” Cunningham wrote: “I made separate lines for each dancer. Occasionally a line for a dancer crossed [from] one Nocturne to the next.” The chance procedure determined when the dancers came together in a duet or a group such as the “star” formation familiar from photographs. Rauschenberg divided the stage into two areas: the main space, which was open and flooded with light, and on stage left at the rear a scrim through which dancers could be dimly seen, as in the final image of Cunningham jumping up and down like a moth at a window screen. The dancers’ basic costume was white tights, with white leotards for the women and white shirts for the men. Rauschenberg designed make-up for the men, with one side of the face painted white and the other a color (red, yellow, or blue). The women wore fantastic headdresses. Cunningham’s notes are insufficient for any attempt to reconstruct the dance, and there are only a few fragments of film. "Nocturnes" remained in the repertory until May 1968.