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Peay 1 Sharlee Peay Dance 461: Dance History II Caroline Prohosky/Graham Brown 8 April 2014 Merce Cunningham Simply

put, Merce Cunningham can be defined as the Moderniz[er] of Modern Dance (Copeland). He continued to be one of the most iconic figures of Modern Dance for more than 50 years. During these years, Cunningham participated in various collaborations with other artists. This aspect of art interested him and continued to bring him further information. Ultimately, his lead at the forefront of dance for so many years can be accredited to his deep connection to movement and appetite for new information. Cunningham explained that after his years dancing with the Martha Graham Company (with whom he also trained), he set out to discover dance that would embrace a large base of movement. Therefore, he did not seek to define a specific technique or particular way of moving. He rather sought ways he could research movement in all its forms and uncover new information (Cunningham). This desire was different than many preceding artists, like Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, who created specific movement languages that defied ballet. In contrast, Cunninghams movement approach was similar to ballet. It was closely related in the way he used articulate footwork and an upright open torso (Kraus, Hilsendager, Dixon ). However, he claimed that his main purpose for creating movement was not to define it, but to discover it, in whatever genre it may resemble. In an interview with Twin Cities Public Television in 1981 he expressed that he can use movement easier than words. I can think of something moving without having a word for it necessarily and that somehow makes sense to me. Thats the way

Peay 2 Ive dealt all my life (Cunningham). Through this statement we can better understand Cunninghams love for movement. He thought in terms of movement and therefore allowed it to be a part of him. His desire to listen to whatever movement said to him not only allowed for discovery of new information, but also enabled Cunningham to create original work. Cunningham also felt it was important for people not to be alike in the way that they danced. He did not ask for (or want) an imitation of his own personal style. Instead, he found it reasonable for a [choreographer] to allow for individual variation in performance with respect to tempo and dynamicsthe instructors business is not to show the way itself [through technique or specificity of movement], but to enable the pupil to get the feel of this way by adapting it to his individual peculiarities (Brown). It was through this nurturing that Cunningham patiently waited for the movement to grow, develop, and become ripe. Similarly, he demonstrated movement for his advanced dancers in a way that was hard for them to regurgitate precise steps. Instead, his dancers experienced an impression that he wanted created, something that may have resembled tremendous vitality, speed, and wildness (Brown). In this way, Cunningham allowed for dancers to make artistic choices within the movement he gave them. It also enabled dancers who had indefinite desires to know precisely what Merce wanted them to do, to view (and experience) dance in a different way. It allowed for his students to therefore grow and move beyond their current level of experience. Although Cunningham allowed his dancers freedom concerning their approach to his movement, he was very specific about where timing should originate. Merce believed that the timing of movement does (and should) lay independent from music. Therefore, the rhythm of dance should come from within the nature of the step, phrase, musculature of the body, and soul. It should not rely on the music for guidance, especially since music will inevitably impose its

Peay 3 independent rhythm on the dance. He conducted rehearsals without music. In fact, his dancers often did not hear the music for a piece they were performing until the first performance of it. Cunningham also never told a composer what to compose. He simply asked if they would be willing to collaborate with him. If they agreed, he would allow them to work independent from him. Cunningham believed that movement and music can support each other, but they do not have to. Instead, they merely occupy the same amount of time without any relation. For him, music and dance were performed at the same time; they are independent events that simply occur simultaneously. He often related this philosophy to the concept of our everyday lives as human beings. For example, we can concentrate on the busyness of the streets outside an open window (of our inside environment); however, we usually ignore it and direct our attention to whatever our personal movement may be. These two things, however, coexist but are not affected by or related to one another (Cunningham). This emphasis on timing for the body was also prevalent in rehearsals. He choreographed with composers, such as John Cage, based on the timing of the piece. With composers, he often mapped out sections of the dance by lengths of time. Therefore, it became important for the movement to match the amount of time laid out. It also fostered his belief that movement was generated from the body and rhythm came from the nature of the movement itself. Upon finishing a piece in rehearsal that the dancers felt was a complete catastrophe, Cunningham would simply look at his stopwatch and say, Its one minute and thirty-eight seconds too long (Brown). He never said anything about the spacing, collisions, or approach to the dance. Similarly, when he wanted to change his movement and make it more interesting he would ask his dancers to do something twice as slow, or perform three phrases in thirty seconds instead of one minute.

Peay 4 This act of splicing time can also be viewed as a way Cunningham put limitations on himself as a choreographer in order to open windows for more creativity. The emphasis he placed on timing was significant. Many of his philosophies in this area continue to thrive in the teachings of many choreographers today. For example, in composition classes at Brigham Young University, professors often advise their students to choreograph movement before they put music to it. This choreographic tool allows the choreographer to witness the natural timing and nature of the movement, so they can accompany it with music that appropriately compliments it. Many artists and historians attempt to define Cunninghams work as abstract art. A common understanding of abstractionism is that the art does not intend to look like anything recognizable. In this light, Cunninghams work fits ideally. For example, as discussed previously, he sought to simply discover movement, not wanting it to take on a specific form. He, therefore, did not seek to name or identify his movement (others did this for him). However, when Barbaralee Diamonstein inquired of him his connection to abstract art in an interview, Cunningham denied abstractionism as his intent. He said that movement does not need to be explained using an overarching term (like abstractionism). He declared: I could never think of dancing as abstractI always thought that anything any human did was somewhat human. You may have difficulty saying exactly what it was, but it was certainly done by a human being. Even when humans attempt to be machines you realize that its a human, being a machine, not the other way around. (Cunningham) This declaration describes Cunninghams feelings that his movement exposes something human. Although he was performing movement in a way that may not be explicit, he did, in some form, portray the struggles of the common man. He created authentic movement that dictated timing and allowed for a personal influence from its performers to radiate through it. This describes

Peay 5 expression and freedomtwo aspects that are innately yearned for by the common man. He made these aspects available for his dancers to experience, and an audience to witness. Cunningham felt that it was ultimately the viewers responsibility to complete the dance. This accountability therefore allows the observer to experience whatever they desire from his abstract art. Many contemporary dance artists view their work in a way similar to Cunningham. Today, artists claim that their works are expressions of humanity. True, some movement may be more task oriented, resembling what we do in everyday life, but there is arguably a lot of representation within contemporary movement that is abstract. For example, a New York-based choreographer, Loni Landon, embodies some of these ideas. Her movement expresses human emotion, task-oriented, subtle movement; yet, the subject matter is not completely clear for the viewer. One cannot clearly identify the concept of the piece through watching it. Instead, the observer is allowed to make assumptions based on the movement presented and complete the dance, as Cunningham would say. Therefore, his abstraction influence has not disappeared from the dance world. It has arguably become the most important ingredient in order to artistically convey a subject. It is what enables an audience member to take whatever message they want from a dance and not feel like they are being forced to accept or experience a subject they do not want to. Cunninghams movement has, therefore, inspired dancers and continues to impact contemporary choreography. Various contemporary artists now build on the foundation he laid. Merce Cunningham aspired to find new information until he died (in 2009). He supported new ideas, technology, and ultimately innovation. He continued to search for things that would enliven and allow him to discover new methods of creating. His constant collaboration with other artists of different disciplines expanded his horizon and ability to create art. In the 60s,

Peay 6 Cunningham also became fascinated with television and the way that it changed dance. For him, an interesting difference in choreographing for a film versus the stage was that when he did not want to see a dancer anymore, he could simply move the camera and they would be gone; therefore, he did not need to choreograph any exit. He constantly explored the newest technologies and their relationship to movement. For example, in 1990 Cunningham began collaboration (something he constantly engaged in) with a computer software company to create the program Life Forms, which assisted choreographers in creating movement. The program allowed for Cunningham to manipulate bodies on the computer; it would remember the sequences that were created and repeat these phrases for the creator. Therefore, Cunningham did not need to use actual bodies and risk the possibility of wearing his dancers out. Life Forms also allowed for multiple bodies and sequences to be viewed at the same time which allowed Cunningham to see what the choreography might actually look like on stage. This new software opened a window of possibilities in dance (Calvert, Bruderlin, Mah, Schiphorist, and Welman 115-122). After using it to help him create movement in his old age Merce said this about it: The thing that interested me most, from the very start was not the memoryit wasnt simply notationbut the fact that I could make new things (LA Times May 15, 1991). He enjoyed the way this new way of creating opened him up to new possibilities as a choreographer that he may not have discovered or thought of without it. This open mindedness relates to the way he believes dance should be. In an interview with Twin Cities Public Television, Merce explains that one of the marvelous things about us as human beings is that we can change our minds, we can shift, we can open ourselves to something, which isnt just like what it was or isnt just like what we thought (Cunningham). He continued to explain that we are forced to do such shifting and opening in our lives every day. It is an inevitable challenge we face as human beings. Problems

Peay 7 constantly cross our paths, and we learn to find solutions to deal with them. Therefore, in his mind, we might as well find as many ways to do this as possible. Merce Cunningham ultimately shifted the thought of modern dance into what I recognize it as today in dance artists I have worked with. Yes, his dance was different than a lot of contemporary dance done now, but he catalyzed its journey. Artists around the globe (e.g., Summer Rahtigan and Christian Burns) continue to play with and discover principles and ideas that he used. For example, he valued creativity, a performers personal artistic voice, and collaborated with other artists in order to find new possibilities. He was constantly eager to discover movement and all the information that would evolve as a result. He can be attributed with one of the longest careers in dance, and was truly an iconic figure of his time.

Peay 8 Works Cited Ballett am Rhein. Merce Cunningham: Pond Way. 2013. Video. YouTubeWeb. 7 Apr 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_AMXmCZNaI. Calvert, Tom W., Armin Bruderlin, Sang Mah, Thecla Schiphorist, and Chris Welman. "The Evolution of an Interface for Choreographers." Interchi '93. (1993): 115-122. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. http://ivizlab.sfu.ca/arya/Papers/Dance/An Interface for Choreographers.pdf. Copeland, Roger. MerceCunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance. Great Britain: Routledge, 2004. 1-295. Web. http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=m6aTAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq =collaboration between Merce Cunningham and Andy Warhol&ots=1_lCiqgaWK&sig=arAy_a2UbcPpHfPrgAmLnSZC9no Cunningham, Merce. Interview by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. "Merce Cunningham." About the Arts. DukeLibDigitalColl. 08 Dec 2008. Web. 7 Apr 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVAEQaZpL0k&list=PL2BC6ED608833963D. Cunningham, Merce. Twin Cities Public Television KTCA-TV, prod. Merce Cunningham's Working Process. Walker Art Center, 1981. Web. 7 Apr 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhK3Ep4HiI0. Cunningham , Merce, and John Cage. Chance Conversations: An Interview with Merce Cunningham and John Cage Apr 1981. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 27 Jul 2009. Web. 16 Mar 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNGpjXZovgk. Kisselgoff, Anna. "Dance: Merce Cunningham's 'Rain Foresst'." New York Times 03 Mar 1988, Archives n. pag. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/03/arts/dancemerce-cunningham-s-rainforest.html

Peay 9 Klosty, James. Merce Cunningham. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1975. Print. Kraus, Richard, Hilsendager, Sarah Chapman, Dixon, Brenda. History of the Dance: in Art and Education. San Francisco: Pearson Custom Publishing, 1991. Print. MerceCunninghamDance. Mondays with Merce - Episode 1 - Cunningham on Technique. 2013. Video. YouTubeWeb. 7 Apr 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q318rHkDDHo. profesionalesartes. Points in Space (1986) Choreographer Merce Cunningham Dir Elliot Caplan & Merce Cunningham.mkv. 2011. Video. YouTubeWeb. 7 Apr 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qf_kLcdijz8. Silver, Howard. Merce Cunningham Ocean, Minnesota 2008. 2008. Video. YouTubeWeb. 7 Apr 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aBJdHnv5tM.