The Kennedy Center Presents A Celebration Of Merce Cunningham At 100
Opening the contemporary dance season, the Kennedy Center joins the global centennial celebration of one of the most important figures in modern dance, icon Merce Cunningham. Featuring multiple events exploring the Cunningham legacy, the centerpiece of the celebration is performances of Compagnie Centre National de Danse Contemporaine-Angers (CNDC-Angers) on the mainstage of the Eisenhower Theater, from October 3-5. The company is led by Robert Swinston, who danced for Cunningham and worked side-by-side with him for over 30 years, and who now works to keep Cunningham's brilliant flame alive with dancers of today.
Additional events from October 2-5 celebrate further aspects of Cunningham's wide-ranging artistic partnerships and pursuits, including: a one-night-only performance of music created by longtime Cunningham collaborator/partner John Cage, performed by avant-garde pianist and Cage interpreter Margaret Leng Tan; panel discussions and pre-show talks; and free activities in the Kennedy Center's new REACH campus, including film screenings on the REACH outdoor film wall and an interactive art installation, Silver Clouds Playground, featuring Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds (which were part of the iconic Cunningham dance work RainForest).
Throughout his seven-decade career, Merce Cunningham experimented with movement and sound (sometimes independently of one another) to create highly original, landmark inventions in concert dance. His creations often pulled from music, visual art, and film to expand the boundaries of performance including the radical concept that music and dance could exist independently within the same performance. His passion for exploration also made him a leader in applying new technological advancements in his work. In addition, his use of chance operations to determine elements of the choreography such as the continuity, rhythm, timing, number of dancers, and use of space transformed the landscape of the performing arts. Starting his career as a disciple of the legendary Martha Graham, Cunningham too stands as one of the founders of modern dance. His life and work have inspired countless artists and his legacy is one that continues to live on.
Compagnie Centre National de Danse Contemporaine-Angers (CNDC-ANGERS), Director: Robert Swinston, in Beach Birds and BIPED
The cornerstone of the celebration includes performances (October 3-5) led by Cunningham's former Director of Choreography, Robert Swinston, who worked side-by side with him as a dancer and assistant for over 30 years. Compagnie Centre National de Danse Contemporaine-Angers (CNDC-ANGERS/Robert Swinston) makes its Kennedy Center debut with Beach Birds and BIPED, two major Cunningham works rarely performed since his death in 2011. For 11 dancers, Beach Birds transforms the movements of a flock of birds into dance. The 1991 work features music composed by John Cage, with costumes, lighting, and décor by painter Marsha Skinner. The 1999 masterwork BIPED dives into the realm of animation technology and motion capture as an art form. Digital artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar collaborated with Cunningham who, working with two dancers, choreographed 70 phrases that were transposed via motion capture technology into digital images. During the performance, these images are projected onto a screen behind which live dancers can be seen. Also called "Biped," the music by Gavin Bryars, is part-recorded and partly played live on acoustic instruments.
The choreographer's approach to his work often included long-term collaborations with a range of visual artists, composers, filmmakers, dancers, and designers. From October 2-5, at the Center's newly expanded campus, the REACH, multiple events explore his connection and influence in different art forms.
On October 2, a one-night-only performance features renowned Singaporean pianist and John Cage interpreter Margaret Leng Tan on toy and prepared pianos in the Skylight Pavilion. Her mentor of 11 years, composer John Cage was one of the greatest influencers and closest collaborators on the choreographer's practice.
A panel discussion on October 5 as part of the Center's Education Division's Let's Talk Dance series includes Artistic Director of CNDC Robert Swinston and additional guests in conversation about Cunningham's artistic process and collaborations. Tapping into the potentials provided by the mobility of the video camera, Cunningham experimented with creating dance works specifically for the camera in the 1970's and 80's.
On the REACH Plaza video wall, on October 4 and 5 from 7pm to 9pm, free film screenings feature selections from Cunningham's legacy of dance on screen, both works created for camera and historic performances captured on film and video. The films to be shown are: Walkaround Time (1973), Beach Birds for Camera (1992), and eyespace 20 (2009), as well as Merce 100 special short film featuring historic footage of Cunningham dancing in historic works, created by the Cunningham Trust for the centenary.
Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds will feature in Silver Clouds Playground, an interactive art installation representing Cunningham's extensive forays into the visual art world. Cunningham's sphere of influence included work with celebrated artists such as Morris Graves, Robert Morris, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, and Warhol, among many others. His 1968 work, RainForest featured Warhol's well-known art installation Silver Clouds, a collection of floating Mylar pillow-shaped balloons filled with helium within the production. This free art installation, which will feature approximately 100 balloons, will be on exhibit from October 2-5 in Studio J for patrons to interact with and explore movement with the physical art itself. Visitors will also be able to view historic video of RainForest as part of the exhibit.
A complete list of activities for the Merce Cunningham at 100 celebration is listed here.