Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-06-06/09

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Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-06-06/09
Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Associated name)
Cunningham, Merce (Interviewee)
Vaughan, David, 1924- (Interviewer)

Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection. Audio materials

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1978-06-06
Date Created: 1978-06-09
Library locations
Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound
Shelf locator: *LTC-A 1446
Barrett, Maude
Barrett, Marjorie
Bird, Bonnie
Cunningham, Merce
Cage, John
Cage, John -- Credo in us
Cornish, Nellie Centennial, 1876-1956
Erdman, Jean
Graham, Martha
Weidman, Charles
Weston, Dorothy Herrmann
Bennington College
Bennington School of the Dance
Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle, Wash.)
Martha Graham Dance Company
School of American Ballet
Appalachian spring (Choreographic work : Graham)
Credo in us (Choreographic work : Cunningham and Erdman)
Deaths and entrances (Choreographic work : Graham)
Letter to the world (Choreographic work : Graham)
Root of an unfocus (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Totem ancestor (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Dance -- Study and teaching
Content: David Vaughan interviews Merce Cunningham, probably in New York, New York, on June 6 and 9, 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: "1. David Vaughan: Interview with Merce Cunningham, 6 June 1978 ; 2. Continued ; 9 June 1978".
Venue: Recorded in, [New York, New York], 1978 June 6 and 9.
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, Jun. 6, 1978: Begins abruptly, Merce Cunningham speaks with David Vaughan about dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe at the age of 10; he speaks about early influences in cinema, local performances, and studying tap dancing with his first dance teacher Mrs. [Maude] Barrett in Centralia, Washington where he grew up; performing with Marjorie Barrett (Maude's daughter) as a teenager at local Grange Halls and schools; he describes some of their acts that included soft shoe, exhibition ballroom, and his specialty solo; he speaks more about Marjorie; his attending Cornish College of the Arts as a theater major and taking dance classes there; reasons that he chose Cornish for college, including his family connection with Mrs. [Nellie] Cornish; his father's support of his attending Cornish to study theater and dance; briefly, his teacher at Cornish, Bonnie Bird; Vaughan shows Cunningham a program from a performance at Cornish; Cunningham speaks about the daily classes he took while at Cornish; briefly, on his theater teacher, [Alexander] Koriansky; briefly, the Graham technique and composition classes he took with Bird; meeting John Cage during his second year and the way Cage taught composition classes; Vaughan lists the works that Cunningham choreographed and co-choreographed while at Cornish: Unbalanced march, Jazz epigram, and Skinny structures; Cunningham speaks about his co-dancer while at Cornish, Dorothy Herrmann [Weston]; he speaks about another friend while at Cornish, Joyce Wike, including an anecdote about Wike's audition for a Cornish scholarship; he speaks briefly about meeting Morris Graves through Wike; more about Bird's composition classes and how the students worked with music; he speaks briefly about Bird's students touring to perform at other colleges in the Pacific northwest; they speak about Bird's Marriage at the Eiffel Tower (1939?); Cunningham speaks about his participation as a percussionist in Cage's percussion concert series, including some of the composers and instruments they played; [brief interruption]; Cunningham speaks about some of the theater productions he performed in while at Cornish; he speaks briefly about dancing in a piece by Lester Horton during his first summer at Mills College for the Bennington School of the Dance summer sessions; briefly, on returning for his second summer at Mills for the Bennington School and dancing in a piece by Charles Weidman; an anecdote on rehearsals with Weidman; while at the summer session, being invited to attend Bennington College as well as to dance with Martha Graham [in her Martha Graham Dance Company]; he tells an anecdote about telling his parents that he was leaving for New York to dance with Graham; his clarity about wanting to leave Cornish for New York; ways that his Cornish tuition was payed; ends abruptly. Streaming file 2, Jun. 9, 1978: Merce Cunningham speaks with David Vaughan about moving to New York in the fall of 1939 at the invitation of Martha Graham; taking dance classes with Graham teaching and Ethel Butler demonstrating; performing with the [Martha Graham Dance Company] in December, 1939; his income from teaching at a boy's school until going on tour with the Graham Company; the modern dance performance venues in New York at that time; the Graham Company's sharing a week of performances with the Ballet Caravan; some of the other performances and choreographers he saw at that time, including works by [Antony] Tudor; the payment he recieved from Graham while on tour, impressions of Graham, and his first year in New York; being in residence with the Graham Company at Bennington College in Vermont the following summer; more on dancing with Graham, including brief anecdotes on Graham's works that he performed in: Penitente (1940), Letter to the world (1940), and Punch and the Judy (1941); briefly, taking classes at School of American Ballet and meeting Lincoln Kirstein; an anecdote on being a super[lative] performer in a Ballet Russe production of Petruchka while in Seattle; an anecdote on seeing a Ballet Caravan performance in Seattle; he speaks about ballet teacher Mary Ann Wells and having not studied with her; more on the dance classes, teachers and guest artists at Cornish; more about his taking class at School of American Ballet and his first year with the Graham Company; they speak briefly about his role in Graham's Land be bright (1942) and also in American document (1938); teachers at the School of American Ballet and an anecdote on Joseph Cornell watching ballet classes there; briefly, on the one class he took from George Balanchine; he speaks about becoming dissatisfied with working under Graham while working on her Letter to the world; Cunningham's discontent about the roles that Graham cast Cunningham and Erik Hawkins in for her Deaths and entrances (1943); his solo in Graham's Appalachian spring (1944); his enjoyment of dancing with her despite his disagreement on her artistic vision; briefly, on performing in Boston performances of One touch of [Venus] with choreography by Agnes de Mille; briefly, spaces where he rehearsed his own work in the early years, including at his 17th street loft in New York; he speaks about his correspondence with Cage to compose the music [Credo in us] for his shared concert with Jean Erdman at Bennington College; they speak more about the Bennington concert which included Credo in us (1942); Cunningham speaks about the zarzuela he was the dance director for, The Wind Remains, with music and adaptation by Paul Bowles, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943; they speak about the 1944 joint concert with Cage of music and dances that consisted of his solos: Totem ancestor, Root of an unfocus, Triple-paced, Tossed as it is untroubled, Unavailable memory of, and, Spontaneous earth; his investigation of a variety of movement in these early dances; ends abruptly.
Type of Resource
Sound recording
RLIN/OCLC: 913959924
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b20732884
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 77122e70-b8f8-0133-90af-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, 1978-06-06/09" 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, 1978-06-06/09" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 30, 2021.

APA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. (1978 - 1978). Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-06-06/09 Retrieved from

Wikipedia Citation

<ref name=NYPL>{{cite web | url= | title= (sound recording) Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-06-06/09, (1978 - 1978)|author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=November 30, 2021 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations}}</ref>

Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1978-06-06/09