Choreography / 1960


First performed at the Thirteenth American Dance Festival in the summer of 1960, Crises was described by Cunningham as “an adventure in togetherness.” Choreographed for four women and one man, the dance focused on physical contact between the dancers. The physical entanglements came both through holding each other and being held, and through elastic bands, worn around a wrist, an arm, a waist or a leg, which connected the dancers in various positions. Cage noted, “This is a dramatic, though not a narrative, dance concerned with decisive moments in the relationship between a man and four women.” Conlon Nancarrow’s musical score reinforced the dance’s harsh atmosphere with an assortment of jangling rhythms, and Rauschenberg’s costumes were leotards in various shades of red.

The dance Crises (music, Conlon Nancarrow; costumes, Robert Rauschenberg), made in the summer at the Connecticut College School of Dance, was an adventure in partnering. I decided to allow for the dancers (there were five —four girls and one man) contacting each other, but not just through holding or being held, but through being attached by outside means. I used elastic bands around a wrist, an arm, a waist or a leg, and by one dancer inserting a hand under the band on another’s wrist. They were attached but also, at the same 47 instant, free.


But where these contacts came in the continuity or where they were broken was left to chance in the composition, and not to personal psychology or physical pressure.


The gamuts of movements were individualized to some degree for the five dancers, and I worked out the particular timing of each of them.


The music (Rhythm Studies #1, #2, #4, #5, #7 and #6 for Player Piano) was added after the dance was choreographed.


Facts like this—attaching people together by outward means, in this case elastic bands—always look as though they mean something. Well, they do. Or rather they are. Here two persons are held together, not only by the invisible bonds that can tie them, but visibly, and without being the instruments of the holding.


First published in a German translation in “Ballett 1966,” edited by Horst Koegler and Clive Barnes (Friedrich Verlag, Velber bei Hannover, 1966). This publication in Dance Perspecives No. 34, Summer 1968, marks the first publication of the original, English text by MC.


Premiere Date

Aug 19, 1960

Premiere Venue

American Dance Festival, Connecticut College

Premiere Location

New London, CT


Conlon Nancarrow, Rhythm Studies for player piano


Robert Rauschenberg


22 minutes

Original Cast

Carolyn Brown

Merce Cunningham

Judith Dunn

Viola Farber

Marilyn Wood

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