Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-07-07/1978-12-13

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Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-07-07/1978-12-13
Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Associated name)
Cunningham, Merce (Interviewee)
Vaughan, David, 1924- (Interviewer)

Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection. Audio materials

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1978-07-07
Date Created: 1978-12-13
Library locations
Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound
Shelf locator: *LTC-A 1446
Brown, Carolyn, 1927-
Burns, Louise Ann
Cunningham, Merce
Rauschenberg, Robert, 1925-2008 -- Minutiae
Rauschenberg, Robert, 1925-2008
Satie, Erik, 1866-1925 -- Nocturnes
Tudor, David, 1926-1996
Wolff, Christian, 1934- -- For pianono. 1no. 1 no. 1
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Antic meet (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Galaxy (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Labyrinthian dances (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Lavish escapade (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Minutiae (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Nocturnes (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Springweather and people (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Summerspace (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Suite for five (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Untitled solo (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Dance -- Study and teaching
Content: David Vaughan interviews Merce Cunningham, probably in New York, New York, on July 7 and December 13, 1978. This interview was created as research for David Vaughan's book, Merce Cunningham: Fifty years (New York, Aperture).
Content: Title and dates provided by cataloger based on audition and handwritten and typed notes on original container.
Content: Handwritten and typed notes on original original container: "Merce Cunningham with D. Vaughan ; 1. Interview with Merce Cunningham, 7 July 1978 ; 2. Interview with Merce Cunningham ; 13 December 1978".
Venue: Recorded in, [New York, New York], 1978 July 7 and December 13.
Acquisition: Gift; Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation, 2011-2012.
Citation/reference: Forms part of the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection.
Physical Description
Extent: 1 audiocassette (92 minutes) : analog
Sound quality is mostly good; at times the interviewee is muffled or speaks away from the recording microphone but is mostly audible.
Streaming file 1, Jul. 7, 1978: Merce Cunningham speaks with David Vaughan about the costumes for his Untitled solo (1953) performed at Black Mountain College; Cunningham speaks about Christian Wolff's music for Untitled solo, For piano no. 1 (1952), and David Tudor's playing of it in rehearsals; they speak about Fragments (1953), including the difficulties created by the chance procedures he used to choreograph it; they speak about how there were very few performances by his [Merce Cunningham Dance] Company during 1954; Cunningham speaks briefly about teaching classes and rehearsing Minutiae (1954) during that year; he speaks about the Company's auditioning for an out of town dance festival with a studio performance of Springweather and people (1955) that was poorly received and the limited opportunies for the Company that year; they speak about the locations and dates of Springweather performances; [brief interruption]; they speak briefly about the single performance of Springweather at Bard College in May, 1955; Cunningham speaks about a tour to the West coast during the fall of 1955 and his solution to the lack of financial resources for the Company during those years; they speak briefly about the reasons that Suite by chance (1953) and Fragments (1953) were difficult to keep in repertory; Cunningham speaks briefly about the re-design of the costumes for Springweather and lists the costume designers involved; he tells an anecdote about Earle Brown's music for Springweather, Indices (1954), and a piano collapse during a tour; they speak about the collage sculptures that Robert Rauschenberg made for Minutiae, including taking them on tour; they list the Company dancers at that time: Remy [Charlip], Carolyn [Brown], Viola [Farber], Marianne [Preger-Simon], Anita [Dencks], with "Nick" [Nicola Cernovich] as lighting designer; Cunningham speaks about the multiple aspects and challenges of running his own dance company including gaining experience over time; Cunningham speaks about the daily routine of the Martha Graham Dance Company and the inspiration of holding a daily class for his own company; he speaks about his Company dancers holding other jobs to make ends meet and how this impacted his class and rehearsal schedule; the quirky circumstances while touring and how Cunningham gave class for the consistency of Company's dancers; he speaks about using class excercises to develop movements used in his choreography, including for his Septet (1953) and Nocturnes (1956); they speak briefly about maneuvering around the set for Minutiae; Cunningham speaks about the solos in his Galaxy (1956); he speaks briefly about his solo, Lavish escapade (1956); they discuss when Cunningham made Suite for five (1956); Cunningham speaks about a chance procedure that he used in choreographing works at this time, especially in Suite for five; he speaks about wanting to reconstruct Suite for five and referencing his choreographic notes to do so; Cunningham recalls Brown dancing in Suite for five; he speaks about how performing Suite for five on larger stages made the piece more fullfilled; briefly, how daily classes kept the Company "going"; they speak about the Company's performances at Jacob's Pillow in 1955, including an anecdote on his Nocturnes (1955); ends abruptly. Streaming file 2, Dec. 13, 1978: Merce Cunningham speaks with David Vaughan about a solo from the early 1950's that was never performed, Boy who wanted to be a bird; he recalls a very informal performance at Martha's Vineyard that included his Monkey dances (1948); Cunningham speaks about using chance methods to choreograph Nocturnes (1955), including the relationship of the choreography to Erik Satie's music of the same title; he speaks about the chance procedure that dictated the opening of Nocturnes; more on Nocturnes including his listening to records of the composition and John Cage playing it for rehearsals; Cunningham tells an anecdote about the first performance of Nocturnes and Robert Rauschenberg's set; Cunningham speaks about how the challenging movement in Lavish escapade (1956) created a dramatic quality; briefly, the loss of his choreographic notes in a flood; Cunningham speaks about how various performance spaces impacted Labyrinthian dances (1957); more about Labyrinthian dances including the music by Josef Matthias Hauer, movement inspiration, set design by Rauschenberg and costumes; they speak briefly about Picnic polka (1957) and how, at David Tudor's suggestion, it was always performed with Banjo (1953); Cunningham speaks about the props and costuming by Rauschenberg for Antic meet (1958); briefly, the chance procedure he used in the choreography of Antic meet; anecdotes about Antic meet including Rauschenberg finding a door frame for a prop while on tour and an article written about it; he tells an anecdote about observing Martha Graham teaching a class that illustrates the quality he was trying to elicit in Antic meet; he speaks briefly about the burden of the chair he wears on his back, how it impacted his movement and a partnering move that he wanted to do using the chair; he speaks to the element of parody in Antic meet, especially his initial inspiration from a sweater with four sleeves and the misperception that it's parodying Graham; Cunningham speaks about the awkwardness of the parachute dresses that the women wear in Antic meet; they speak about the final section being a self parody and Cunningham describes his inspiration as stemming from "old film where everything goes so fast"; Cunningham comments briefly on the summer residencies at American Dance Festival; he speaks about the first performance of Summerspace (1958), a matinee at ADF, and its set by Rauschenberg; his inspiration for the title of Summerspace originating in the movement; he speaks about Brown's movement quality in Summerspace; they speak about Louise Burns dancing Brown's part in a 1977 revival of Summerspace; more about the first performance of Summerspace and the lack of his colleagues' interest in it.
Type of Resource
Sound recording
RLIN/OCLC: 913960269
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b20732894
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 91b68dc0-b8f9-0133-5f93-60f81dd2b63c
Rights Statement
This item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Item timeline of events

  • 1978: Created (Approximate)
  • 2021: Found by you!
  • 2022

MLA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-07-07/1978-12-13" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1978 - 1978.

Chicago/Turabian Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-07-07/1978-12-13" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 24, 2021.

APA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. (1978 - 1978). Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-07-07/1978-12-13 Retrieved from

Wikipedia Citation

<ref name=NYPL>{{cite web | url= | title= (sound recording) Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-07-07/1978-12-13, (1978 - 1978)|author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=October 24, 2021 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations}}</ref>

Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-07-07/1978-12-13