Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Merce Cunningham in New Cross

Merce Cunningham, the famous American dancer/choreographer, died this week aged 90.

Once upon a time he walked and danced in New Cross, thanks to his connection with Bonnie Bird (1914-1995). Bird was in the original Martha Graham Dance Company, and while teaching at the Cornish School in Seattle in the 1930s met Cunningham (as her student) and the composer John Cage (as her accompanist). Equally importantly, via Bird, Cunningham met Cage, his long term partner and collaborator.

In 1974 Bird became the director of the Dance Theatre Department at the Laban Centre Centre for Movement and Dance which moved to Goldsmiths College, New Cross, in 1976. It took over the former St James Primary School buildings at the back of the college, and then later, in 1981, expanded into the former St James Church (shortly after it severed its institutional links with Goldsmiths, and later still moved to its current building in Deptford)

And so it came to pass at Laban that 'In July, 1980 the annual summer school welcomed Merce Cunningham who taught technique, composition and repertory classes, and John Cage. One of the course’s high points was a showing of Imaginary Landscape No ???, a complicated compilation of the joint work of 12 visual artists and 30 dancers, performed to 21 sound scores all played at once by Cage’s students. It was a veritable musical circus, a far more complex version that first created by Bonnie and John at Cornish more than half century before! For the concluding performance, Cunningham and Cage presented Dialogue to an audience of 500 in the Great Hall at Goldsmiths’ College’.

If you're one of those people who get your John Cale and John Cage mixed up, never mind, they can both be claimed for SE14.

(If anybody out there has any memories of Cunningham and Cage in New Cross, bring it on)

Frontiers – The Life and Times of Bonnie Bird, American Modern Dancer and Dance Educator - Karen Bell-Kanner, 1998)


Anonymous said...

I've not been around long enough to have memories of the event, but the Laban archive has audio recordings made during the event for anyone who's interested. They might also have photos etc, I don't know. You can visit http://library.laban.org/ for access details. (I work for Laban's sister college, Trinity College of Music, which is how I know this!)

. said...

Thanks Multfaceted, like your blog too - all the best are written by current/former librarians and archivists. Do the words 'spent a week in a dusty library, waiting for some words to jump at me' mean anything to you?

Chris Nash said...

I remember seeing this event, although I didn't photograph it (dance photography was still just a glimmer in my eye at that point...

Chris Nash


Anonymous said...

I was one of the student composers on that Goldsmiths course. Still have Cage's computer printout of the I Ching.
Composers had dance classes in the mornings (never with MC) but dancers hung out with Cage.

David Burnand