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Choreographer Merce Cunningham invented and regularly utilized a performance format known as an Event, or MinEvent, in which excerpts from the company’s vast repertoire of dances were combined in fresh, unexpected ways. Each MinEvent is unique and designed to suit the particular space and context in which it is presented—“to allow for not so much an evening of dances,” as Cunningham explained, “as the experience of dance.” For our Black Mountain MinEvent, Ohio State Department of Dance professors Karen Eliot and Daniel Roberts, both former dancers with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, restage sections from several key Black Mountain–era Cunningham works: Septet (1953), Dime a Dance (1953), and Suite for Five (1956). The works are performed by current Ohio State dance students to piano pieces by Erik Satie and John Cage.
Septet is a quintessential Black Mountain–period work that was first performed there by Cunningham’s newly formed company and danced to Erik Satie’s composition Trois morceaux en forme de poire (Three pieces in the form of a pear), a piano piece for four hands played here by Susan Chess and Quinton Jones. The title Septet refers to Satie’s seven-part score; the dance is performed by six dancers. According to David Vaughan, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s archivist, Septet is “influenced by the intersection of joy and sorrow, [with] Cunningham focused on the overriding theme of Eros…[and] each of the seven movements ranging from grave to playful.” Composer John Cage described the piece as “an experience that one is unable to resolve, leaving one, as a dream often does, uncertain of its meaning.”
Satie’s music was a source of great inspiration for Cage during the Black Mountain years. Satie’s surrealist play The Ruse of the Medusa (1913) was one of the earliest full productions staged at the college; its 1948 performance featured Cage on piano, choreography and dancing by Cunningham, direction by Arthur Penn, décor by painters Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and architect/visionary Buckminster Fuller in the role of Baron Medusa.
When first performed, Dime a Dance added a new dimension to Cunningham’s and Cage’s evolving experiments with chance operations. At its 1953 premiere, the audience at Black Mountain could pay a dime to pick a card from a deck to determine which seven of 13 pieces of choreography would be performed. Suite for Five, a work begun in 1953 and completed in 1956, is comprised of three solos: one duet, one trio, and one quintet. According to an early program note, “The events and sounds of this ballet revolve around a quiet center, which though silent and unmoving, is the source from which they happen.” Dime a Dance and sections from Suite for Five are performed by Ohio State dance students to John Cage’s solo piano work Music for Piano, played by Susan Chess.
Merce Cunningham and John Cage were joint recipients (in 1993) of the prestigious Wexner Prize, which recognizes artists whose achievements in any medium reflect bold originality, innovation, and creative excellence. Read more about the award.
Merce Cunningham’s choreography is performed with the permission and support of the Merce Cunningham Trust. Thanks to Ohio State’s Department of Dance for its support and partnership with this project.
MAJOR SEASON SUPPORT FOR PERFORMING ARTS
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Merce Cunningham Trust
GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT FOR THE WEXNER CENTER
Greater Columbus Arts Council
Ohio Arts Council
Black Mountain MinEvent