An all-star cast celebrates the legacy of radical choreographer Merce Cunningham | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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An all-star cast celebrates the legacy of radical choreographer Merce Cunningham


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A couple of weeks ago “Merce Cunningham: Common Time,” a major exhibition devoted to the work and associates of the relentlessly experimental choreographer, opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The show incorporates sets, costumes, video, and photographs along with other ephemera reflecting Cunningham’s deep connections with visual artists like Bruce Nauman, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg. His most famous collaborator in art and life was composer and thinker John Cage, who helped foster Cunningham’s fertile partnerships with some of the most important experimental composers of the 20th century—Maryanne Amacher, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Annea Lockwood, Pauline Oliveros, Gordon Mumma, Jim O’Rourke, and Yasunao Tone among them. For most of his career the choreographer developed pieces that radically dissolved the typically strict connection between movement and pulse, and by working with music that cleaved to similar principles he created exponentially powerful and provocative experiences. This weekend several composers and musicians who collaborated with Cunningham gather to perform two programs over two days. Some of the works were part of the repertoire of Cunningham’s own company—including pieces by Cage, Christian Wolff, David Tudor, Earle Brown, and David Behrman—while others were written after his passing. But all share a spirit of freedom and exploration. The remarkable lineup of players reflects the choreographer’s range and influence: Wolff, Behrman, John King (who organized these concerts), vocalist Joan La Barbara, Radiohead drummer Philip Selway, Fast Forward, Ikue Mori, harpist Zeena Parkins, trombonist George Lewis, and Quinta.   v

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