Choreography / 1951

Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three

This dance was the first in which Cunningham made use of chance operations. The choreography was concerned with the nine permanent emotions of Indian aesthetics. The order, determined by chance, was: anger, the humorous, sorrow, the heroic, the odious, the wondrous, fear, the erotic, and tranquility. The first seven were expressed in solos, the last two by a duet and a quartet. Each of the solos was followed by an interlude that could be a trio, a duet, or a quartet. The final quartet (“Tranquility”) was choreographed by a chance procedure with a different gamut of movements for each dancer. John Cage’s music was for piano and small orchestra, with a set of 64 sounds for the first dance; for each pair of dances eight sounds were replaced by eight others, so that by the end there was a completely new set of sounds. The colors of the costumes followed a similar sequence, from dark to light.


Premiere Date

Jan 17, 1951

Premiere Venue

Bennett Junior College

Premiere Location

Millbrook, NY


John Cage, Sixteen Dances


Merce Cunningham

Eleanor de Vito

John Cage

Remy Charlip


53 minutes (est.)

Original Cast

Dorothy Berea

Mili Churchill

Merce Cunningham

Anneliese Widman

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