“Ocean is a work dance lovers might long to see often, for this piece for 14 dancers is a gorgeous spectacle, conceptually complex yet sensuously gratifying . . . Like the sea itself, Ocean teems with life. It is a vision of creation constantly reshaping itself into ever more wondrous forms.” —The New York Times
Spectacularly opening the 2008–2009 performance seasons of the Walker Art Center, the Cunningham Dance Foundation, the Benedicta Arts Center of the College of Saint Benedict, and Northrop Dance at the University of Minnesota is a restaging of Merce Cunningham’s monumental Ocean on the floor of the dramatic Rainbow Quarry in Waite Park, MN. The sold-out presentation of Ocean will be performed Thursday–Saturday, September 11–13, at 8 pm. This site-specific production of one of Cunningham’s most ambitious works, produced in such an audacious and breathtaking manner, involves not just the full 14-member Merce Cunningham Dance Company, but an electronic score by David Tudor, and Andrew Culver’s orchestral score, inspired by John Cage and performed by 150 musicians, including the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra, who will encircle the audience at the bottom of the quarry. Acclaimed filmmaker and longtime Cunningham collaborator Charles Atlas will stage a five-camera shoot of the entire production which will become a living record of this stunning work.
Of the work, Merce Cunningham says, “Ocean was originally conceived for out-of-doors. A quarry called ‘Rainbow Granite’ seems an ideal spot.”
A landmark statewide collaboration, and surely one of the most sensational dance projects to be mounted in the U.S. this year, this underground work in-the-round playfully dubbed “Merce on the Rocks” is coproduced by the Walker Art Center and the Cunningham Dance Foundation, with the Benedicta Arts Center of the College of Saint Benedict and Northrop Dance at the University of Minnesota. The St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra, along with other guest players, under the direction of Sandy Nadeau, will perform the orchestral score. Special thanks to Martin Marietta Materials and the city of Waite Park.
The title Ocean comes from the suggestion by scholar Joseph Campbell that the next work James Joyce would have written (after Finnegan’s Wake) would be about water and the ocean. The work has two musical scores: Ocean 1–95, orchestral music by Andrew Culver (inspired by Cage’s concepts); and Soundings: Ocean Diary, electronic music by David Tudor. Ocean designer Marsha Skinner, who previously designed Beach Birds and Change of Address for Cunningham, has written that for the lighting she took her inspiration from Moby Dick and for the costumes from Homer’s “wine-dark sea.”
Ocean is structured in 19 sections according to Cunningham’s use of a chance process based on the number of hexagrams in the I Ching, except that in this case he doubled the number owing to the length of the dance; there are, therefore, 128 possible phrases. There are solos, duets, trios, quartets, and ensembles involving the entire cast of 14 dancers. Cunningham has said: “In principle I have utilized the process based on the number of hexagrams in the I Ching, using 64 phrases as the source of movement, although due to the length of the dance, I decided to double the number so that a maximum of 128 phrases would be available . . . . Choreography in the round has opened up a number of possibilities, particularly in the terms of directions and facings. It is not flat space, but curved . . . . Each time we go over what has been worked on, I see possibilities missed: through chance operations I try to utilize them. It is amazing to be working in the round, in reference to the space, it brings up Einstein’s work about curving space—we tend to think flat. I told the dancers: ‘You have to put yourself on a merry-go-round that keeps turning all the time.’ I use chance operations to determine where they face at each moment in a phrase. Difficult, but fascinating.”
The revival of Ocean was held on July 12, 2005, at Lincoln Center, where New York audiences saw its U.S. premiere in 1994. Because it is a monumental production, the work has been seen only in Brussels, Amsterdam, Venice, Berkeley, New York City, Belfast, Montpellier, London, Miami, and Niigata, Japan. Also, in each of these prior performances, changes to the in-the-round presentation and orchestration were made compromising the full unique multidisciplinary work. The Minnesota presentation is the only time the work has been produced in a quarry, and only the second time with the full 150 instrumentalists.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s first Walker Art Center-sponsored performance took place in 1963 on the minuscule stage of the Woman’s Club Theater in Minneapolis. Dancing were Cunningham, Carolyn Brown, Steve Paxton, Viola Farber, Judith Dunn, and Marilyn Wood. Cage served as musical director and Robert Rauschenberg as set and costume designer. The Walker’s first full-scale residency with the company in 1969 was among the earliest of its kind, not only in Minnesota but also in the United States, and it continues to serve as a model of how to deeply support an artist’s work while effectively developing new audiences. The company would return to the Walker 15 times over the next 35 years. Later residencies included talks, lecture/demonstrations, and performances at venues ranging from the Minneapolis Regional Native American Center Gymnasium and the Benedicta Arts Center at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, to events with long-standing partners such as Northrop Auditorium and the Hennepin Center for the Arts. The Walker’s commitment to Merce Cunningham has included the commissioning of new works such as Fabrications (1987), Field and Figures (1989), and Doubletoss (1993). In more recent years, the Walker mounted the singular 1998 exhibition Art Performs Life that explored the life and works of Cunningham, Bill T. Jones, and Meredith Monk. The exhibition featured Event for the Garden, a special tribute to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and incorporated dozens of Andy Warhol’s mylar silver pillows floating in the air around the stage. In 2000, the Walker purchased Molly Davies and Richard Weise’s video installation which shows David Tudor’s preparation of the electronic score for Ocean. This work will be re-installed in Gallery 2 as part of the Walker’s permanent collection. Also in 2000, the Walker purchased for its permanent collection Jasper Johns’ set pieces for Walkaround Time, made in homage to Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass (the work is currently on view in the Walker’s Gallery 3). In 2005, the Walker and Northrop Auditorium presented Split Sides (2003), Native Green (1985), and Suite for Five (1956), with music by John Cage and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg.
The Benedicta Arts Center of the College of Saint Benedict’s relationship with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company includes performances at the Benedicta Arts Center in the 1980s, Cunningham’s 50th anniversary season in 2003, followed by the Midwest premiere performances of works co-commissioned by the college, including Split Sides in April 2005 and Views on Stage in April 2007. The College of Saint Benedict is a co-commissioner of the reconstruction of Ocean (2005) in addition to being a co-presenter of the work with the Walker Art Center and Northrop Dance at the University of Minnesota.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
(MCDC) came into being in the summer of 1953, when Cunningham took a group of dancers who had been working with him in New York to Black Mountain College, the progressive liberal arts school near Asheville, North Carolina. The group included Carolyn Brown, Viola Farber, Paul Taylor, and Remy Charlip, who also designed costumes for many of the early dances. John Cage was music director and David Tudor the company musician. At the end of the summer they gave two programs in the dining hall of the college.
Cunningham and Cage decided to keep the company together, and at the end of the year they performed for a week at an off-Broadway theater, an engagement largely ignored in the New York press. Performances in the early years were few and far between; the company famously toured in a Volkswagen bus with room for six dancers (including Cunningham), the two musicians, and the stage manager, who was often Robert Rauschenberg, who became the company’s resident designer in 1954.
In June 1964, as the company began its second decade, an enlarged group set off on a world tour that was to last six months, with performances in Western and Eastern Europe, India, Thailand, and Japan. The recognition, by audiences and critics alike, of the importance of the work of Cunningham and Cage and their associates made this tour a turning point in the company’s history.
At about this time the National Endowment for the Arts was inaugurated, as were state arts councils such as the New York State Council on the Arts. Both of these bodies organized touring programs, often including extended residencies at colleges, and the Company was frequently booked for these. Longer domestic tours and New York seasons became part of the annual schedule, as well as further trips abroad.
John Cage’s association with the company continued until his death in August 1992, when David Tudor succeeded him as music director. Tudor died in August 1996. In 1995, Takehisa Kosugi was appointed music director. Merce Cunningham Dance Company always performs with live music, whether electronic or acoustic. In recent years, the company practice has been to engage individual musicians according to the requirements of the repertory being presented.
At the end of the 1964 world tour, Robert Rauschenberg resigned as resident designer, though he has continued to collaborate with Cunningham from time to time. The following decade saw a number of celebrated collaborations with other visual artists such as Jasper Johns (who was appointed artistic advisor in 1967), Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman, and Robert Morris. Mark Lancaster succeeded Johns as artistic advisor in 1980, and was in turn succeeded by William Anastasi and Dove Bradshaw, from 1984 to 1995. Cunningham has continued and extended the practice of commissioning decors from contemporary visual artists.
Since the 1970s, Cunningham has choreographed a number of video- and film-dances in collaboration first with Charles Atlas and later with Elliot Caplan. The collaboration with Atlas resumed with the production of the documentary Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance in 2001. In August 2004 Cunningham and Atlas collaborated on a new work that was completed in two versions, Views on Camera and Views on Video. A stage version, Views on Stage, was performed for the first time in Edinburgh in October 2004. Atlas has directed further archival films of repertory works as part of an ongoing project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In July 2005 the company opened the Lincoln Center Festival in New York with a revival of the 1994 work Ocean, which was again performed in London in September 2006. European touring in 2007 began with two dates in Germany, in Leverkusen and Heilbronn. The company resumed domestic touring in late February, beginning with the residency “Merce in Miami,” where the numerous activities included two repertory performances with programs featuring the first performance of the second version of Cunningham’s latest work, eyeSpace, and the American premiere of a revival of CRWDSPCR (1993), first given in Germany in January, as well as three performances of Ocean. Domestic touring continued into June 2007, with engagements in Naples, FL; Asheville, NC (near the site of the company’s birthplace at Black Mountain College); Burlington, VT; Cedar Falls, IA; Louisville, KY; Scottsdale, AZ; St. Joseph, MN; Costa Mesa, CA; and New Canaan, CT (at the Philip Johnson Glass House). After further archival filming the company returned to Europe for performances in Ravenna, Italy, and Perpignan and Vaison-la-Romaine in the South of France. In September 2007 the company performed for the first time at Dia:Beacon as part of the Hudson Valley Project, a series of residencies continuing into 2009.
The October 2007 domestic tour began at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire (with the premiere of Cunningham’s most recent dance, XOVER), and continued at the Krannert Center in Urbana, IL, and the Harris Theater in Chicago, IL. The company then traveled to Australia for a residency and performances at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. The year ended with return engagements at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris (as part of the Festival d’Automne à Paris) and Le Manège in Reims, France. The European premiere of XOVER in Bruges, Belgium, as well as engagements in Toulouse, France; Stanford, CA; Philadelphia, PA; and Washington, DC, occur in spring 2008.
Merce Cunningham, born in Centralia, Washington, 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 with the company of Martha Graham. He presented his first New York solo concert with John Cage in April 1944. Merce Cunningham Dance Company was formed at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1953. Since that time Cunningham has choreographed nearly 200 works for his company. In 1973 he choreographed Un jour ou deux for the Ballet of the Paris Opéra, with music by John Cage and design by Jasper Johns. (A revised version was presented there in 1986.) The Ballet of the Paris Opéra also performed a revival of his Points in Space in 1990. His work has also been presented by New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, White Oak Dance Project, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Zurich Ballet, and Rambert Dance Company (London), among others.
Cunningham has worked extensively in film and video, in collaboration first 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 whose final form is in two versions, Views on Camera and Views on Video. This was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; further projects under this grant include films of Split Sides (2003) and Ocean (1994, revived 2005).
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 premiered in 2000, reunited Cunningham with his early collaborator Robert Rauschenberg, who designed both décor and costumes for the dance, which has music by John Cage.
In August 2001 Cunningham returned to the stage in the first theatrical presentations of John Cage’s An Alphabet, at the Edinburgh Festival, with subsequent engagements in Berlin, Champaign-Urbana (Illinois), Berkeley, California, and Perth, Western Australia. In the revival of How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (1965), first performed in the 2002 Lincoln Center Festival at the New York State Theater, Cunningham, together with David Vaughan, read the accompanying stories by John Cage.
In the 2002–2003 season the Merce Cunningham Dance Company celebrated its 50th anniversary, beginning with performances at the 2002 Lincoln Center Festival in New York City and ending in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in October 2003, when a new work with music by two rock bands, Radiohead and Sigur Rós, Split Sides, was presented. The décor was by the photographers Robert Heishman and Catherine Yass, with costumes by James Hall and lighting by James F. Ingalls. In the summer of 2005 MCDC again appeared in the Lincoln Center Festival, presenting a revival of the 1994 work Ocean. Cunningham’s latest work, eyeSpace, was presented at the Joyce Theater in New York in October 2006.
In October 2005 Cunningham received the Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo. Other honors and awards include: the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2000); the Handel Medallion from the Mayor of New York City (1999); the Bagley Wright Fund Established Artists Award, Seattle (1998); the Nellie Cornish Arts Achievement Award from his alma mater, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle (1996); the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale (1995); and the Wexner Prize of the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, Columbus (with John Cage, posthumously, 1993). Cunningham was also a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1990 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1985, in which year he also received a Laurence Olivier Award in London and a MacArthur Fellowship. In France, he was made Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1982 and first Chevalier (1989) and then Officier (2004) of the Légion d’Honneur.
Cunningham has collaborated on two books about his work: Changes: Notes on Choreography, with Frances Starr (Something Else Press, New York, 1968), and The Dancer and the Dance, interviews with Jacqueline Lesschaeve (Marion Boyars, New York and London, 1985). The latter, originally published in French, has also been translated into German and Italian. Merce Cunningham/Dancing in Space and Time, a collection of critical essays edited by Richard Kostelanetz (second edition), was published in 1998 by Da Capo Press. Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years, chronicle and commentary by David Vaughan, archivist of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, was published in 1997 by Aperture and in French translation by Editions Plume. A digital supplement (CD-ROM) entitled Merce Cunningham: Fifty Forward “from Ocean to Ocean” was produced by the Cunningham Dance Foundation in 2005. Aperture published a book of Cunningham’s drawings and journals, under the title Other Animals, in the spring of 2002.
A major exhibition about Cunningham and his collaborations, curated by Germano Celant, was first seen at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona in 1999, and subsequently at the Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal, 1999; the Museum moderner Kunst Stifftung Ludwig, Vienna, 2000; and the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Castello di Rivoli, Turin, 2000. A trio of exhibitions devoted to John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Merce Cunningham, curated by Ron Bishop, was shown in the spring of 2002 at the Gallery of Fine Art, Edison College, Fort Myers, Florida. Merce Cunningham: Dancing on the Cutting Edge, an exhibition of recent design for MCDC, opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, in January 2007. The major exhibition Invention: Merce Cunningham & Collaborators at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts closed on October 13, 2007.
Rainbow Quarry, Waite Park, Minnesota
From 150 feet below the earth’s surface on the floor of the Rainbow Quarry, Martin Marietta Materials will showcase its national commitment and proud tradition of giving back to the communities where quarry operations are located. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s performance of Ocean in the Rainbow Quarry in Waite Park, Minnesota, is the first event of its kind and just one example of the many ways Martin Marietta raises the standards of being a good neighbor.
Free First Saturday: Garden Games
Saturday, September 6, 10 am–3 pm, Free
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Movement Workshop: Merce Cunningham Dance Company, 12 noon and 2 pm
Move around the Garden with representatives of the Merce Cunningham
Dance Company and create your own experimental dances in response to the sculptures.
Merce Cunningham: Talking Dance
Sunday, September 7, 2 pm
Free tickets available at the Hennepin Lobby desk from 1 pm
Legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham joins friend/patron/dancer Sage Cowles for a conversation about his relationship with the Walker during his 50-year career as a dance-maker. Stories about innovative artistic collaborations for which Cunningham is known set the stage for a discussion about one his most ambitious works just days before it is performed. This talk is an exciting opportunity to hear about the upcoming performance of Ocean directly from its creator.
This lecture is made possible by generous support from Aaron and Carol Mack.
The Gertrude Lippincott Talking Dance Series is made possible by Judith Brin Ingber.
The Fantastic Collision of Art and Dance: Celebrating Ocean
Thursday–Saturday, September 11–13, 2 pm
Free with gallery admission
Join a Walker tour guide for an exploration of the Walker’s collection that focuses on visual artists who collaborated with or were inspired by Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and other innovative performers of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Film: Beach Birds for Camera
Saturday, September 13, 2 and 4 pm, Free
Directed by Eliot Caplan
Prescient for its connection to choreographer Merce Cunningham’s Ocean, this dance film is adapted from a stage collaboration between Cunningham and composer John Cage, who had been inspired by the work of James Joyce (the author’s next book after Finnegan’s Wake was to be titled Ocean). The widescreen film shifts from black-and-white to color, and the dance sequences served as a prototype for the expanded dance Ocean. 1992, 35mm, 28 minutes.
Programming assistance courtesy the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Please allow at least 90 minutes to travel from Minneapolis to the parking location in Waite Park, MN. No public parking will be allowed at the quarry site or on neighborhood streets. For safety reasons, walking into the performance site is not allowed. All parking for the event is in a designated free parking area at River’s Edge Park, located at 3rd Street Northeast and 13th Avenue North. From this lot, audience members will be shuttled, for free, from the parking area to the quarry beginning at 6:30 pm. The last shuttle bus will leave the parking area for the quarry at 7:30 pm. Because of the off-site parking and required shuttles from the parking area into the quarry, it is advised that you arrive to the parking area no later than 7 pm. Late seating will not be possible.
Bus transportation will be available for advance purchase or reservation from the Walker directly to the performance site. Round trip tickets are $15 and are available on a first come first served basis through the Walker box office or Northrop Auditorium. Buses will leave the Walker between 5 pm and 5:30 pm. Parking on site at the Walker includes the underground ramp or the Parade Stadium lot across the street for a small fee. Please go to the Bazinet Lobby for bus service (located at the Sculpture Garden entrance). Box lunches will be available for advance purchase for those riding the bus. Reservations for the bus and box lunch must be made no later than Friday, September 5. No alcohol is permitted. Please call the box office at 612.375.7600 for any amenity questions.
Limited food and drink will be for sale on site at the quarry. Patrons are allowed to bring their own food or drink if they so desire. For St. Cloud restaurant information and specials offers: www.granitecountry.com.
This performance may be cancelled due to weather conditions leading up to or on the day of the show. The event will be called off due to weather no later than 4 pm on the day of each performance. On that day, cancellation information will be available online and also on the info line at 612.375.7600. We will attempt to contact all ticket holders as soon as possible. In the event of cancellation, the rain date performance will be Sunday, September 14. No refunds will be issued.
For patrons with special accessibility needs, please contact Max Wirsing at the Walker box office to make arrangements in advance at 612.253.3556.
For more information, directions, maps, or rain date information, go to calendar.walkerart.org/ocean.