MCA Merce Cunningham EVENTS Review — Miraculous Music Dance Connections

MCA hosts Cunningham EVENTS with Exhibit Opening

On Saturday February 11, a celebration of the collaboration between world renowned composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham was held at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.  Former members of the Cunningham dance company—Dylan Crossman, Silas Riener, Jamie Scott and Melissa Toogood—performed Common Time with a number of musicians, many whom had performed previously with the company.

Sound File Manipulations

Stephan Moore, who toured internationally with the company for six years, curated the celebratory reunion, performed prerecorded sound files from his collection, which he then manipulated using software of his own design. Gritty, aggressive, and at time sublime, Moore's presence fills the space with power.

Virtual “band”

KG Price used analog turntables to create “a band” using vinyl recordings that he further manipulated to provide an organic analog contrast to the electronica of Moore.  Katherine Young on bassoon, a graduate student at Northwestern University, gave the bassoon a voice often unheard, ranging from the traditional low resonances to squeaks and air sounds which she then at times processed using a number of old school guitar foot pedals.  The three voices worked well in contrast to one another, and complemented each other together when played together as simultaneous musical layers.  The effect was that of something somewhat familiar, while keeping us guessing as to exactly what we were hearing‑—a complex roar with many intricate nooks and crannies, taking time to breathe and sing expressively, grunting and soothing in its respites.

MCA Merce Cunningham EVENTS Review
Photo: Nathan Keay

Asynchronized independance

In previous conversations with Moore, he explained that the music was arranged such that each of the three musicians was to play during a specific time, but what he or she would do was up to the individual performer.  At times their performances would overlap, as well as provide gaps where the dancers would perform in silence. At no time were the musicians to look at the dancers, thus insuring intentional independence between the music and the dance, a staple of the Cunningham/Cage collaboration.

MCA Merce Cunningham EVENTS Review
Photo: Nathan Keay

Unique Audience Engagement

In contrast, the dance was choreographed and performed without improvisation. The resulting collage provided the audience opportunities to make their own connections between the dance and music.  Unlike traditional music/dance collaborations, intentional synchronization between the music and the dance is subverted in this style of simultaneous, though independent performance/collaboration. Connections are not overt: the performance invites the audience to participate by actively creating their own connections between the auditory and visual events. Many times we see wonderful contrasts and synchronizations between the two, more so miraculous knowing that these were completely coincidental.

Through motive, counterpoint, and artistic strength of each of the individual performers, the emerging form over the course of the half hour between the dancers and musicians produced an overall cohesiveness rare in experimental pieces of that length. Likewise, contrasts in form and texture created a needed contrast that kept attention engaged throughout.

Altogether an exciting event!

This performance is one of many being held in conjunction with the MCA’s “Merce Cunningham:  Common Time” Exhibit that runs through April 30.

Read the Picture this Post review of the “Merce Cunningham: Common Time” exhibit here.

And also follow ongoing and expanding coverage of this exhibit through Chicago’s choreographers’ eyes--   “Meet Merce:  Choreographer Spotlights”.

For a schedule of upcoming music and dance performances at the MCA in conjunction with this exhibit visit the MCA website .


Photos:  Nathan Keay, (c) MCA.

BradRobinheadshotAbout the Author:

Brad Robin composes and conducts music in a multitude of styles for soloists and ensembles ranging from jazz band to contemporary chamber groups and orchestras.  Compositions have also included a computer component designed to manipulate and augment naturally occurring environmental sounds, as well as those of acoustic instruments. As a pianist and keyboardist, he composes and performs music for dance, theatre, film and multimedia performance art. In addition to the United States, his music has been performed in Croatia, Mexico and New Zealand. Having completed a PhD in Music Composition from the University of North Texas and Master's degree in music composition at DePaul University, he currently resides in Chicago with his wife Nicole and continues his studies at Northwestern University.


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