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Dance among the Water Lilies

Monday 4 June 2018, 7pm and 8.30 pm

Merce Cunningham Event
Arrangement: Robert Swinston, Centre national de danse contemporaine – Angers
Music: John Cage
With the kind permission of the Merce Cunningham Trust

While the Water Lilies. American abstract and the last Monet exhibition stops precisely on the meeting time between the rediscovery of big decorations of Giverny master and the recognition of the New Yorker Abstract School, an Event of Merce Cunningham is recreated in the Water Lilies rooms with seven dancers from the National Contemporary Dance Center of Angers and by its artistic director Robert Swinston; dancer and assistant of the American choreographer during more than thirty years, of whom he carries on the work.


Merce Cunningham Event, musée de l'Orangerie, 4 June 2018. Photo © Musée de l'Orangerie / David Jaquard-Delcourt

“Presented without an intermission, this Event consists of complete dances, excerpts of dances from the repertory, and often new sequences arranged for a particular performance and place, with the possibility of several separate activities happening at the same time to allow not so much an evening of dances as the experience of dance.” Merce Cunningham

Event #1, Museum Event, first Event of Merce Cunningham, had been presented in June 1964 in a Vienna’s museum (the 20 Jahrhunderts Museum), thus connecting museum space and present event. On June 4th 2018, this event designated specially for the Water Lilies rooms has reconnected art and the living, every event being unique inherently.

From autumn 2018, in the Water Lilies rooms of the musée de l’Orangerie, different generations of choreographers and dancers will make an appointment with the public with pieces and flexible formats about the modernist and contemporary repertoire.

Today, the Event presents a striking leap of what Merce Cuninningham has always offered: an irresistible passion for innovation and experimentation, and a chorographical vocabulary constantly evolving: whether a long-term promise because modern dance like modern art is less like a radical break with the past than like an ongoing project of the creation of a future. This definition and perception of the dance that Merce Cunningham has developed during 65 years of work, of 150 choreographies and more than 800 Events shape in his own way, a program in which the modern dance and the contemporary dance repertories interact. Thereby, this first season invites to discover, rediscover and experience numerous practices and artworks favorable to turn the museum into a transformation space and constant transmission highlighting the richness of modern heritage and its creative capacity for the contemporary creation like contemporary dance, which already establish its repertoire.

Isabelle Danto, dance programmer of the musée de l’Orangerie

Space releasing, composition techniques, movement draft: Merce Cunningham has brought about a revolution the way to practice and design the dance. By Robert Rauschenberg’s, Jasper Johns’, Marcel Duchamp’s and of course John Cage’s sides, these are also the possibilities of meeting, interaction, and interference between arts he diversified. First collaborations with John Cage with big abstract frescoes, including progressive integration of the hazard into the movement, the long career of Cunningham had only been research and exploration.

Born in Centralia, in Washington, on April 16th 1919, it is when he was 20 years old that Merce Cunningham began his modern dancer career, before getting hired as soloist within the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1944, he presented publicly his first recital and then taught in the Black Mountain College, in North Carolina, like Cage in 1952, who presented a show mixing dance, visual arts, poetry and sounds, often considered as the first happening.

In 1953, Cunningham created the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which could afford him to experience and to implement his unprecedented creations. During his whole career, he choreographed more than 150 plays and more than 800 Events. Among the dancers who learnt from him before founding their own companies, there are especially Paul Taylor, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Karole Armitage… Among his countless collaborations, that of John Cage had the deepest impact on his practice. Together, Merce Cunningham and John Cage offered numerous radical innovations. The most famous and the most contested between them is related to the relationship between dance and music, likely to coexist in the same space and time, but requiring to be designed independently from each other.

The passion that Merce Cunningham had for experimentation and innovation made him one of the instigators of the application of new technologies in the art field. In the beginning of the 1970’s, Cunningham choreographed thus dances for the cinema and the video, collaborating with Charles Atlas and Elliot Caplan before composing on computers from 1991, to continue developing possibilities for the dance.

He remained a choreograph and a pedagogue particularly active in his studio in New York of Wesbeth until his death, on July 26th 2000, Merce Cunningham benefitted from the highest distinctions given in the art world. The life and the Merce Cunningham’s work lead to the publication of several works and important exhibitions, many of his works have been presented by prestigious companies like the American Ballet Theater, the CCN-Ballet de Lorraine, the New York City Ballet, the National Opera of Paris Ballet, the Rambert Dance Company of London and the White Oak Dance Project.