Merce Cunningham Antic Meet


The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) is coming to Seattle for two dates as part of the Legacy Tour later this week (Oct. 27th and 29th) and several local institutions have programmed some corresponding events, beginning with a lecture today at the Henry Art Gallery. This lecture, Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns, by Roger Copeland (Professor of Theater and Dance at Oberlin College) examines the relationship between Merce Cunningham and the artists that he worked with in his dance company. The thrust of the lecture seams to be an examination of how Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns all broke away from the dominate forces on their respective fields and that this rejection of the current paradigm is their “shared sensibility”:

Between 1953 and 1980, the visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns frequently designed décor, costumes, and even lighting for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. This lecture will examine the sensibility shared by all three artists. Merce Cunningham began his professional career in dance as a member of Martha Graham’s legendary company. But by l953, when he first formed his own company, Cunningham had eliminated virtually every vestige of Graham’s influence from his own dancing and choreography. Significantly, 1953 was also the year in which Robert Rauschenberg created his Erased DeKooning Drawing, a work which -both literally and figuratively – declared his independence from the ethos of abstract expressionism. This lecture will argue that Cunningham’s repudiation of Martha Graham’s approach to choreography is paralleled in precise ways by Johns’ and Rauschenberg’s repudiation of painters like DeKooning, Pollock and the other great abstract expressionists. Collectively, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns (along with John Cage), spearheaded one of the great paradigm shifts in 20th century art: a transition away from the “hot,” anguished, personal energies of abstract expressionism toward the cooler, brainer, more impersonal aesthetic that would eventually manifest itself in minimalism and conceptualism.


2005 dress rehearsal for Ocean, in New York's Rose Theater

On Wednesday the Northwest Film Forum will present the Seattle premier of the Charles Atlas film of the most epic performance of Ocean.

In September 2008 Merce Cunningham staged Ocean, one of the most ambitious works of his legendary 60-year career, within a massive Minnesota granite quarry. Renowned filmmaker and longtime Cunningham collaborator Charles Atlas was there, using five cameras to document this uniquely epic production.

The film was completed last year and has only been shown by dance companies, festivals and in special screenings like this one. While the performance in the Minnesota quarry was seen to be somewhat of a failure by the critics in attendance it was notable (at least to readers of this blog) for several reasons. The first being that it contains the last piece composed by David Tudor (Soundings: Ocean Diary) and John Cage (Ocean 1-96 completed by Andrew Culver). In 1994 it would have still be performed by David Tudor and presumably for the 2008 performance it used recordings or Kosugi’s realization of the piece.  Furthermore it is possible that the issues the critics had with an outdoor staging of a piece in the round may not be an issue with a filmed version.  The five cameras would allow 360 degree coverage and editing and such could make for a more coherent piece than one could experience live. Atlas was a long time Cunningham collaborator and would I think create a film that Cunningham would approve of.

Daniel Squire in RainForest (photo by Tony Dougherty)

Daniel Squire in RainForest (1968) from the Legacy Tour

The week concludes with the two performances of from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour (which almost didn’t make it to Seattle; see this Seattle Times article) , which I wrote up extensively in this blog post: Legacy Tour comes to Seattle. Lots to see and hear for those interested in Merce Cunningham, his dance company and the composers and artists he worked with.  I’m off to the lecture at the Henry and of course have tickets to both the MCDC performances. I hope to make the Ocean screening as well, any chance to hear some unheard Tudor is not to be missed and of course more Merce is welcome. Look for a post on all of these activities after Merce Week concludes.

Merce Week in Seattle Lineup

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011, 2:00 – 3:00 pm
Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns
Henry Auditorium, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington

Wednesday, Octerober 26th, 2011, 8:00 pm
Ocean a documentary by Charles Atlas
Northwest Film Forum, Seattle  WA

Thursday, October 27th 2011, 7:30 pm
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour
The Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA

Sunday, October 29th 2011, 8:00 pm
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour

The Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA