Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1979-03-16/11-19

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Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1979-03-16/11-19
Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Associated name)
Cunningham, Merce (Interviewee)
Vaughan, David, 1924- (Interviewer)

Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection. Audio materials

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1979-03-16
Date Created: 1979-11-19
Library locations
Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound
Shelf locator: *LTC-A 1446
Brown, Carolyn, 1927-
Cage, John
Cunningham, Merce
Johns, Jasper, 1930-
Komar, Chris
Lancaster, Mark, 1938-
Wolff, Christian, 1934- -- Burdocks
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Opéra de Paris. Ballet
Borst Park (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Changing steps (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Exercise piece (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Event (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Jour ou deux (Choreographic work : Cunningham, M)
Landrover (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Loops (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Sixteen dances for soloist and company of three (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Solo (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Sounddance (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
TV rerun (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Content: David Vaughan interviews Merce Cunningham, probably in [New York, New York], on March 16, and, November 19, 1979. 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 - Mar.16/70 & Nov. 19/79 ; 1. Interview with Merce Cunningham ; 16 March 1979, continued 19 Nov 1979 ; 2. Interview with Merce Cunningham ; 19 November 1979 conclusion". Handwritten note affixed to original cassette: "Loops".
Venue: Originally recorded in, [New York, New York], 1979 March 16, 1979 November 19.
Acquisition: Gift; Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation, 2011-2012.
Citation/reference: Forms part of the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection.
Physical Description
Extent: 1 audiocassette (96 minutes) : analog
Sound quality is mostly good; there are occasional background noises and, at times, Cunningham speaks away from the microphone and is muffled.
Streaming file 1, Mar. 16, and, Nov. 19, 1979: Begins abruptly; Merce Cunningham speaks with David Vaughan on Mar. 16, 1979 about the sections of his Sixteen dances for soloist and company of three (1951), including an evaluation of them in a Dance Observer review; briefly, they speak about a possible commission for the San Francisco Ballet in 1955 that fell through; Vaughan asks Cunningham about his recollections of an ex-student, choreographer Dan Siretta; Cunningham speaks about the choreography and visual designs for his solo Loops (1971) performed at the Museum of Modern Art; his re-use of material from Loops for his Dialogues, performances with John Cage, and his Events; Cunningham speaks about the current reconstruction of his Landrover (1972); his original idea to make Landrover flexible for performances in non-traditional settings and for it being "a continuously changing landscape"; Cunningham speaks about TV rerun (1972) as the last work in which indeterminacy was used to give the performers' choices, including an anecdote about Carolyn Brown choosing one time to not show up for a performance of it; they speak about the repetition and ordering of the sections in TV Rerun; Cunningham speaks about why he decided to make TV rerun indeterminate; Cunningham speaks about the title of his Borst Park (1972) as a reference to a park in Centralia, Washington; he speaks about selecting Christian Wolff's Burdocks as music for Borst Park and wanting to make the musicians visible in the work; more on the choreography for Borst Park that references picnics and other activities in a park; Cunningham speaks about Changing steps (1973) as being created for his "new" Company after Brown had left; the distinct sections in Changing steps that could be performed in any order; he speaks about a staging of Changing steps, by Chris Komar, on Théâtre du Silence; reasons that he didn't give Théâtre du Silence his Exercise piece (1975); setting his Excercise piece on his current scholarship students and the renditions of it since the 1975 performance; he tells an anecdote about a French student's response to learning his choreography; [ca. 38:30, end of Mar. 16 interview]; [ca. 38:36, Nov. 19 interview, begins abruptly]; Cunningham speaks about his plans to create new Exercise pieces; [Cunningham gets up to demonstrate]; he speaks about taping the steps for Exercise pieces as opposed to making choreographic notes; they speak about the fast quality of the first Exercise piece; Cunningham speaks about the premiere performance of his Solo (1973); he speaks briefly about changes to his Solo for the Dance in American program; inspiration for the movements in Solo, his observations of animals at a zoo; using chance methods to determine the order of Solo; ends abruptly. Streaming file 2, Nov. 19, 1979: Begins abruptly; Merce Cunningham continues to speak with David Vaughan about his Solo (1973), including feedback from John Cage about its length; the costume for Solo created by Sonja [Sekula] and the process of creating it; Cunningham speaks about choreographing Jour ou deux (1973), on dancers of the Paris Opéra Ballet, including Michael [Denard], Wilfride [Piollet], and Jean [Guizerix]; more about the rehearsal and class schedule for the Paris Opéra Ballet; challenges the dancers faced in learning Jour; material that he re-used from his other works for Jour; an unnamed Paris Opéra Ballet dancer that he admired; more on aspects of his style that challenged the Paris Opéra Ballet dancers; Jasper Johns's set design and process for dying the costumes for Jour; Mark Lancaster's contribution to the production of Jour and an anecdote on a production rehearsal; an anecdote on consulting the I Ching with Cage for the title of Jour; Cunningham speaks about his admiration of Johns's set in relationship to the architecture of the Palais de Garnier; Vaughan speaks about the set for a play he attended at the Palais de Garnier; Cunningham speaks more about the Paris Opéra Ballet dancers' responses to certain aspects of Jour; his desire to accelerate the tempo of Jour to a speed that was never realized, and how this impacted his next work, Sounddance (1975); Cunningham tells an anecdote about a Boston Ballet dancer's speed in Summerspace (1958); a portion of Jour that he re-used in the Event versions of Scramble (1967); Cunningham tells an anecdote about Jacqueline Lesschaeve's recollection and response to the opening sequence of Jour; more on the opening sequence of walking in Jour, including the ballet master's initial reaction to it; Cunningham speaks about how he started to choreograph Sounddance; he speaks about the sections of Sounddance and determining the dancers' entrances; the movement sequence for a quartet in Sounddance; a brief anecdote about Karole Armitage's response to the difficulty of dancing Sounddance; Lancaster's set design for Sounddance including anecdotes about several performance mishaps; origins of the title of Sounddance, from Finnegan's wake; Cunningham speaks more on the inspiration for Sounddance, including looking at microbes under a microscope; Vaughan speaks about the "writhing" quality in the movements of some of Cunningham's works; Cunningham speaks about titling his works; he speaks about the "foot beats" in his Sounddance as being inspired by the Paris Opéra Ballet dancers; ca. 46:41, ends abruptly .
Type of Resource
Sound recording
RLIN/OCLC: 913964112
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b20732913
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): a5511590-b8fa-0133-5db0-60f81dd2b63c
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

  • 1979: Created (Approximate)
  • 2023: Found by you!
  • 2024

MLA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1979-03-16/11-19" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1979 - 1979.

Chicago/Turabian Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1979-03-16/11-19" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed December 4, 2023.

APA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. (1979 - 1979). Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1979-03-16/11-19 Retrieved from

Wikipedia Citation

<ref name=NYPL>{{cite web | url= | title= (sound recording) Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1979-03-16/11-19, (1979 - 1979)|author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=December 4, 2023 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations}}</ref>

Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1979-03-16/11-19