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Merce Cunningham

Resident Master

by Donald Hutera

October 2002

Merce Cunningham, commonly acknowledged as the America’s greatest living choreographer, is kicking off Umbrella 2002 with Fluid Canvas, a Barbican co-commission and world premiere, and repertory work (Tue 10 to Sat 14 Sep) at the Barbican Theatre. But that’s not all the venerable gentleman will be offering to dance-goers this year. Umbrella has seized the opportunity to create a week-long residency with him and his company. This is the troupe’s first major residency in the UK, and a part of a programme of events marking its 50th anniversary. Umbrella is joining forces with London Contemporary Dance School, which is co-producing the week and providing the newly-renovated school as a venue.

Residency co-ordinator and free-lance conference producer Elizabeth Anderson is excited about the entire agenda. “The range and variety of the week’s activities will provide unprecedented access to the company through classes and rehearsals, a study day, film screenings, a teachers’ discussion group and interviews with key collaborators. We’re privileged that Merce himself will be present at a number of events, and that company archivist David Vaughan, who has been with the company since the early 1950s, will also take part.”

Not all of the residency is open to the public, but those events which are should not be missed. Take the Study Day (Mon 16 Sep, 2pm-9.30pm). It features, in addition to an interview with Cunningham, panel discussions with past and present company members. Included among the former are Carolyn Brown, who danced with Cunningham between 1953 and 1972, and England’s Emma Diamond, who was a company member from 1988 to 1994.

The day has been organised by dance/theatre critic Alastair Macaulay, and will conclude with screenings of rare video footage of the company in rehearsal and performance between 1944 and 1995. On Tuesday 17 September Bob Lockyer, former executive producer of dance programmes at the BBC, presents three films of Cunningham’s work stretching from 1964 to 1991. The following evening at 6pm Charles Atlas’s award-winning documentary, Merce Cunningham - A Lifetime of Dance, will be shown. Later at 8pm, current Cunningham dancer Daniel Roberts will perform his reconstruction of Totem Ancestor, Cunningham’s first important solo dating from 1942.

At 6pm on Thursday 19 September you can see Elliot Caplan’s award-winning documentary about Cunningham and his on and offstage partner, the late composer John Cage. Two hours later omposer and company musical director Takehisa Kosugi will be in conversation with Richard Steinitz and Annette Moreau about his own, Cage’s and the late David Tudor’s contributions to Cunningham’s oeuvre. The next day the focus at 6pm is on three Charles Atlas films including his and Cunningham’s stunning 1982 collaboration Channels/Inserts, a dance made for the camera using chance methods. The residency culminates Friday 20 September at 8pm, when Cunningham will be in conversation with both Macaulay and British choreographer Richard Alston.

This interview first appeared in Dance Umbrella News.

Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance and arts for The Times, Evening Standard, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Magazine (US) and Dance Now. He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.

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Edited by Jeff.

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