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Cornish Celebrates Dance Icon — Merce Cunningham minEVENT Project 2010/2011

June 22, 2010

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SEATTLE, WA - Cornish College of the Arts Dance Department has been awarded a major grant from The National Endowment of the Arts to celebrate one of the creative giants of the Twentieth Century, Cornish alumnus Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) as part of American Masterpieces: “Three Centuries of Artistic Genius” - an initiative to acquaint Americans with the best of their cultural and artistic legacy.

The Merce Cunningham minEvent Project spans the 2010/2011 academic year and includes community events and campus-wide collaborations: performances, a multidisciplinary art exhibition, master classes, lecture-demonstrations, panel discussions, open rehearsals, workshops for youth choreographers, and community outreach activities in partnership with local public schools and cultural institutions. The minEvent Project will commemorate Cunningham’s artistic legacy, honoring his creative partnership with composer John Cage, and their association with Cornish and the Northwest. For more information, visit the Merce Cunningham minEVENT Project website, or keep reading.

Cunningham minEvent ACTIVITIES

The Cornish Dance Department will stage a minEvent by dance icon Merce Cunningham in fall 2010, presenting an uninterrupted sequence of excerpts drawn from three Cunningham masterworks: Roaratorio (1983), Fabrications (1987), and Enter (1993). Former Cunningham dancer Patricia Lent will stage the performance during a 3-week residency with Dance faculty Deborah Wolf acting as rehearsal director. Cornish Dance Theater will perform the Cunningham minEvent as part of the November 2010 Cornish Dance Theater Fall Concert to music by John Cage performed live by the Cornish Music Department’s student Indeterminacy Ensemble under the direction of Music faculty Jarrad Powell, with costumes by Performance Production Department faculty and students.

A site specific performance of the minEvent will also be presented in the Cornish Main Gallery in conjunction with the exhibit Cunningham in the Northwest, a multidisciplinary art exhibition co-curated by Jess Van Nostrand and Bridget Nowlin exploring the connection between the groundbreaking choreographer and his hometown region.

The first art exhibition to look at Cunningham’s work within the context of the Pacific Northwest, Cunningham in the Northwest honors the choreographer’s legacy and examines ways in which his relationship to Cornish and the Northwest inform his philosophies and the work he created. The exhibition features archival material from Cunningham’s student days at Cornish through contemporary work by Northwest artists who collaborated with the choreographer. Among those featured include Seattle sound artist Trimpin, and Seattle printmaker Barbara Robertson.

During spring 2011, additional site-specific performances of the minEvent will take place at the Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park, ACT Theater and a Seattle Theater Group season dance presentation, guided by Dance faculty Tonya Lockyer.

Community activities in partnership with public schools and local cultural institutions will extend throughout the 2010/2011 academic year including lecture-demonstrations on Cunningham’s creative methods and choreographic legacy; a panel discussion on collaboration in the arts; open rehearsals; workshops for youth choreographers; lecture demonstrations at public schools; and distribution of performance tickets to underserved communities.

The Merce Cunningham minEvent Project has been made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: “Three Centuries of Artistic Genius” with additional support from the Bossak/Heilbron Charitable Foundation.


FALL 2010

Exhibition: Cunningham in the Northwest
September 8 - October 22, 2010

Cornish Main Gallery
1000 Lenora St., Seattle, WA
Opening Reception: September 7, 5-8 pm
Preview available between September 2-7 by appointment.

Lecture: Dancing for Merce Cunningham
Monday September 20, 7:30-8:30 pm

PONCHO Concert Hall
710 East Roy, Seattle, WA
Patricia Lent, former Merce Cunningham Dance Company member, discusses ground-breaking aspects of Cunningham’s work including the separation of music and dance, the use of chance procedures, and the use of computer software.  Her talk focuses on the challenges and opportunities dancers face when learning and performing Cunningham’s work. 

Lecture: Lunchtime Conversation with Trimpin
Date TBD
Cornish Main Gallery
1000 Lenora St., Seattle, WA
The artist shares his experience collaborating with Merce Cunningham on “Installations” (1996).

Open rehearsal of the minEvent, directed by Patricia Lent
Friday October 1, 1:30-3:30 pm

Kerry Hall, Room 300
710 East Roy, Seattle, WA

Cunningham minEvent gallery performances
In conjunction with Cunningham in the Northwest art exhibition
Friday October 8, 12:15 pm and 1 pm

Cornish Main Gallery
1000 Lenora St, Seattle, WA
Performed by Cornish Dance Theater and the Indeterminacy Ensemble, this performance is part of Interface, Cornish’s interdisciplinary event series celebrating and promoting artistic collaboration across the campus.

CUNNINGHAM minEvent PERFORMANCES: Cornish Dance Theater Fall 2010 Concert
Friday November 19 at 8 pm, Saturday November 20 at 2 pm and 8 pm

Broadway Performance Hall
1625 Broadway, Seattle, WA
Performed by Cornish Dance Theater and the Indeterminacy Ensemble.


Site-specific minEvent performances
Date/time TBA

Locations include Seattle Art Museum, Olympic Sculpture Park, a Seattle Theater Group Dance Series performance, and ACT Theater.

Panel: Collaboration in the Arts
Date/time/location TBA

Part of the Spring 2011 Interface series

Cunningham minEvent CHEAT SHEET

“In his final years (Cunningham) became almost routinely hailed as the world’s greatest choreographer. For many, he had simply been the greatest living artist since Samuel Beckett. . . He was American modern dance’s equivalent of Nijinsky.”
- Alistair Macaulay, The New York Times.

CUNNINGHAM & THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST: Mercier Philip Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington and went on to international renown; but he took his birthplace with him. The names of Cunningham dances “Borst Park” (1972), “Inlets” (1977) and “Inlets 2” (1983), all refer to parts of Washington. It was as a student at Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle that Cunningham met his life-long collaborator and partner John Cage, and they began their groundbreaking interdisciplinary experiments. 

COLLABORATION: Dance counts Cunningham as one of its barrier-breaking pioneers, but the realms of performance, music, film, theater and conceptual art have also directly benefited from his radical innovations and collaborations with artists in a variety of media. It has often been said that Cunningham’s record as collaborator with contemporary artists and composers rivals that of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, which brought painters such as Picasso and Matisse; and composers Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Ravel to the stage. The variety of accomplished artists and composers Cunningham worked with is a testament to the brilliant challenge of working with him. Merce Cunningham Dance Company collaborated with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Bruce Nauman, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Northwest artists Morris Graves and Barbara Robertson. MCDC repertory composers included Brian Eno, Morton Feldman, Gavin Bryars, Pauline Oliveros, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Icelandic pop group Sigur Ros, and PNW artists Stuart Dempster and Trimpin. Cunningham’s most famous collaborator was composer John Cage whose musical concepts were a deep part of Cunningham’s process.

TAKING DANCE “EVENTS” TO UNUSUAL PLACES: Cunningham’s site-specific body of work known as “Events” collaborate with spaces and audiences. An “Event” consists of an uninterrupted sequence of excerpts from several dances in the MCDC repertory designed to suit the particular space in which it is presented. These dance fragments are so intermingled as to constitute a new entity which is satisfying on its own terms.  “Events” also reflect Cunningham’s love of unconventional spaces for performance; over the years they included the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Grand Central Terminal in New York and a beach in Perth, Australia. A “minEvent” is a shorter version of one of these evening-length site-specific performances.

Cunningham minEvent BIOGRAPHIES

MERCE CUNNINGHAM (1919-2009) was born in Centralia, Washington. He 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 in 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 choreographed nearly 200 works for his company.

His work has also been presented by New York City Ballet, the Ballet of the Paris Opera, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, White Oak Dance Project, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Zurich Ballet, Netherlands Ballet, and Rambert Dance Company (London), among others.

Cunningham 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. Atlas has directed further archival films of repertory works as part of an ongoing project funded by the Mellon Foundation.  The new webcast series Mondays with Merce features footage of Cunningham leading technique class and Company rehearsal interwoven with archival footage and interviews with former dancers and collaborators.

Cunningham’s interest in contemporary technology also 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 décor for BIPED, with music by Gavin Bryars.

His final production, Nearly Ninety, premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on his 90th birthday on April 16, 2009. Nearly Ninety featured a score composed and performed live by Sonic Youth, Led Zeppelin cofounder John Paul Jones, and longtime MCDC music director Takehisa Kosugi as well as the work of Barcelona-based architect Benedetta Tagliabue, fashion designer Romeo Gigli, and Tony award-winning lighting designer Brian MacDevitt

Merce Cunningham was the recipient of numerous awards including the Praemium Imperiale, Tokyo (2005), the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2000), the Handel Medallion from the Mayor of New York City (1999), 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 (1990) and the Kennedy Center Honors (1985), a Laurence Olivier Award in London (1985), and a MacArthur Fellowship (1985). In France, he was made Officer of the Legion d’Honneur (1989) and Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (2004).

PATRICIA LENT was a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (1984-1993) and White Oak Dance Project (1994-1996).  She has been on the faculty of the Merce Cunningham Studio since 1988, teaching technique classes and workshops, and staging repertory.  She is currently the Director of Repertory Licensing for the Cunningham Dance Foundation, and was recently named a trustee of the Cunningham Trust.  From 1998 to 2007, Lent taught second and third grade at P.S. 234 in Lower Manhattan.  Her essay in Forever After:  New York City Teachers on 9/11, includes an account of the class trip she took to an MCDC rehearsal which launched the Cunningham Studio’s Educational Outreach Program.  She holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia, and an M.S.Ed. from Bank Street College of Education.

DEBORAH WOLF is a professor in the Dance Department at Cornish College of the Arts where she has taught since 1992. She has been teaching, performing and choreographing for over thirty years, nineteen of which were with Concert Dance Company of Boston, New England’s premier modern repertory ensemble. At CDC, she was Artistic Director, Resident Choreographer and dancer, performing works by over 50 choreographers including Merce Cunningham, Bebe Miller, and Mark Morris. A recipient of a Massachusetts Artist Fellowship and seven Finalist Awards in choreography, she has also received grants from the NEA, Boston area Arts Councils, and Seattle’s Artist Trust. Her work has been produced or commissioned by Boston Ballet, Jacob’s Pillow, Boston’s Dance Umbrella, Velocity’s Strictly Seattle, Men in Dance, Composer/Choreographer, Bellingham Repertory Dance, and On the Boards’ 12 Minute Max Mainstage, and Northwest New Works, among others. Most recently her work was selected for The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2009, administered by The Joyce Theater and On the Boards.

JARRAD POWELL is Professor in the Music Department at Cornish College of the Arts where he has taught since 1987. His compositions have been performed and broadcast internationally and include pieces for voice, gamelan, various western and non-western instruments, electro-acoustic music, music for theater, dance and experimental film.

Since the early 80’s he has directed the group Gamelan Pacifica, one of the most active and adventurous gamelan ensembles in the U.S. He is Music Director and composer for Scott/Powell Performance, a contemporary dance company formed in 1994 with noted choreographer Mary Sheldon Scott. Commissions include the Walker Arts Center, Performing Arts Chicago, On the Boards, Music in Motion, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, and many others. He has received numerous grants, including NEA, Arts International, Rockefeller Foundation, Artist Trust Foundation and Creative Capital Foundation.

TONYA LOCKYER is a dance artist and educator with a special interest in site-specific performance. Lockyer studied on scholarship at the Merce Cunningham Studios 1990-93: studying with Cunningham, performing his masterworks Torse and Sounddance, and working in the Cage/Cunningham Archives.  As a dancer and award-winning choreographer Lockyer has directed site-specific events in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Russia. She was also a member of Magnetic Laboratorium, a New York City interdisciplinary collective including alumni of the company’s of Cunningham and Robert Wilson that created large scale “street-action” performances. As Artistic Director of VIA, she has also enjoyed a performing career since 1990 with numerous American and internationally-based artists and companies. Her work has toured internationally receiving awards from Arts International, The Nureyev Foundation, The Canada Council and The Banff Center. She holds an MFA from the University of Washington.

About Cornish College of the Arts

Cornish College of the Arts is nationally recognized as a premier college of the visual and performing arts offering Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in dance, theater, art, design and performance production, and a Bachelor of Music degree. A pioneer in arts education, Cornish College of the Arts sprang from the remarkable vision of Nellie Cornish, a woman determined to cultivate the arts in Seattle when it was scarcely more than a frontier town. Her philosophy of educating the artist through exposure to all the arts was progressive at the time, and continues to be innovative today.