Merce Cunningham showcased at Columbia

By BenitaZepeda

Columbia will be welcoming the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to debut two different events at the Dance Center, located at 1306 S. Michigan Ave., from Thursday, Oct. 1 through Saturday, Oct. 3. The performances will also showcase the work of two Columbia faculty members.

The events are called Chicago Event 1 and Chicago Event 2, and run 75 minutes each.  Chicago Event 1 will be performed at the Thursday night show and the Saturday matinee, and Chicago Event 2 will be held on Friday and Saturday nights.

The four performances, which are already sold out, will debut the two different events highlighting various pieces of Cunningham’s choreography, arranged by Robert Swinston, assistant to the choreographer, who worked closely with Cunningham throughout the years.

This is the first time the Dance Center has hosted the company. Columbia has previously hosted the company at the Harris Theater, which has approximately 1,500 seats. The Dance Center has just

272 seats.

Phil Reynolds, executive director of the Dance Center, said the center is very excited about these programs.

“The fact that the company is going to be performing at the Dance Center is pretty extraordinary,” Reynolds said. “We will be hosting some of the finest dancers in the world doing choreography from Merce Cunningham in a theater where the back row is literally 60 to 80 feet from the stage.”

What sets a Merce Cunningham production apart from other shows is the way the show is assembled. The music, art décor and musical scores are not rehearsed together. All elements come together on the night of the performance.

“[The elements are] almost like a choreographic collage of excerpts of various pieces of choreography from a body of repertoire,” Reynolds said.

Anna Kunz, assistant professor in the Art and Design Department, will provide décor for the Thursday and Friday night performances, and both Saturday shows will display a backdrop created by artist Robert Rauschenberg.

“What Merce’s philosophy is in the events he created was to have an artist, a soundperson and the dancers come together the night of the performance,” Kunz said.  “They didn’t do much discussion between themselves before they made the piece.”

Kunz constructed three enormous curtains that are 18 feet high by 45 feet wide, which will hang one foot apart. The curtains are made from hundreds of thousands of pieces of ribbon. Kunz said she wanted to make it seem like a color field painting that is influenced by 60s Pop art.

Richard Woodbury, associate professor and music director in the Dance Department will create music for all four performances in conjunction with the company’s music directory.

“This is a performance that will be invented in real time,” Woodbury said. “The music will be created, the dance will be created and they will happen at the same time. Any connections that exist will be made in the minds of the


Woodbury said they have prepared material and strategies, but will be making up the music as the show goes along. It is not a recorded or scored performance.

Both Woodbury and Kunz said they are honored to be part of these performances.

“The practice of providing music in this type of an environment where I’m essentially free to do what I like is a great gift,” Woodbury said.

Kunz said that Cunningham traditionally worked with several well-known artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage and Jasper Johns.

“From a historical standpoint, it’s a thrill for me to be a predecessor of such great artists and to have the opportunity to make the décor,” Kunz said.

Merce Cunningham is recognized as one of the greatest, most innovative choreographers and dancers of modern dance. At age 90, Cunningham died from natural causes on July 26. These events will serve as a tribute to him.