Merce Cunningham is turning 90 this week. In a previous post I wrote about the musician, John Cage and his use of the I Ching in his work. I didn’t mention that John Cage was the romantic and artistic partner of Merce Cunningham who also incorporated the use of I Ching into his art form of dance.
The following is a recent video of Merce Cunningham talking about his work from, Monday’s With Merce. He mentions a time when Helen Keller came to his studio. Take a listen.
Here some excerpts from a longer article in Wikipedia:
“John Cage and I became interested in the use of chance in the 50’s. There were a number of things, I think, that came about that time about chance. I think one of the very primary things that happened then was the publication of the “I Ching,” the Chinese book of changes, in which you, from which you, can cast your fortune: the hexagrams.
Cage took it to work, as, in his way of making compositions then; and he used the idea of the 64—the number of the hexagrams, 64—to say that you had 64, for example, sounds; then you could cast, by chance, to find which sound first appeared, cast again, to say which sound came second, cast again, so that it’s done by, in that sense, chance operations—the continuity. Instead of finding out what you think should follow—say a particular sound—what did the I Ching suggest.
Well, I took this also for dance.
I was working on a title called, “Untitled Solo,” and I had made—this was chance, using the chance operations—a series of movements written on scraps of paper for the legs and the arms, the head, all different. And it was done not to the music but with the music of Christian Wolff.
—Merce Cunningham, Merce Cunningham: A lifetime of Dance, 2000
Merce Cunningham (born April 16, 1919 in Centralia, Washington, United States) is an American dancer and choreographer.
Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington, and received his first formal dance and theater training at the Cornish School (now Cornish College of the Arts) in Seattle. From 1939 to 1945, he was a soloist in the company of Martha Graham. He presented his first New York solo concert in April 1944 with John Cage, who became his romantic partner until Cage’s death in 1992. . . .
. . . Cunningham has worked extensively in film and video, first in collaboration with Charles Atlas and later with Elliot Caplan. In 1999 the collaboration with Atlas was resumed with the production of the documentary Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance. In 2004-2005 they collaborated again on a new piece presented in two versions, Views on Camera and Views on Video. . .
. . . Cunningham’s interest in contemporary technology has led him to work with the computer program DanceForms, which he has used in making all his dances since Trackers (1991). In 1997 he began work in motion capture with Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar of Riverbed Media to develop the decor for BIPED, with music by Gavin Bryars, first performed in 1999 at Zellerbach Hall, University of California at Berkeley. Another major work, Interscape, first given in 2000, reunited Cunningham with his early collaborator Robert Rauschenberg, who designed both décor and costumes for the dance, which has music by Cage.