Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1980-08-28/1980-09-03

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Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1980-08-28/1980-09-03
Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Associated name)
Cunningham, Merce (Interviewee)
Vaughan, David, 1924- (Interviewer)

Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection. Audio materials

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1980-08-28
Date Created: 1980-09-03
Library locations
Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound
Shelf locator: *LTC-A 1198
Cunningham, Merce
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Changing steps (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Exchange (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Event (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Imagined wing (Choreographic work : Graham)
Inlets (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Roadrunners (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Squaregame (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Squaregame video (Motion picture)
Tango (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Travelogue (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Torse (Choreographic work : Cunningham)
Dance in motion pictures, television, etc
Content: Title provided by cataloger based on audition and handwritten notes on original cassette and container.
Content: Handwritten notes on original cassette and container: "1. Interview with Merce Cunningham, 28 August 1980 ; 2. Interview with Merce Cunningham 3 September 1980".
Content: David Vaughan interviews Merce Cunningham, probably in New York, New York, on August 28, and September 3, 1980. This interview was created as research for David Vaughan's book, Merce Cunningham: Fifty years (New York, Aperture).
Numbering: Donor's inventory number: C375.
Venue: Recorded in, [New York, New York], 1980 August 28 and September 3.
Acquisition: Gift; Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation, 2011-2012.
Citation/reference: Forms part of the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection.
Physical Description
Extent: 1 audio cassette (113 minutes) : analog
Sound quality is mostly good to fair; there are occasional background noises, at times the interviewee speaks away from the microphone and is difficult to hear, and there is a low level ringing throughout streaming file 2.
Streaming file 1, Aug. 28: Merce Cunningham speaks with David Vaughan about performing with Nina Fonaroff in Martha Graham's Imagined wing (1944) while in the Martha Graham Dance Company; more on the Graham Company; Fonaroff's trip to Seattle and Cornish College of the Arts where Cunningham was a student; they view Fonaroff's photographs of Bennington College performances and of Cunningham with the Graham Company; Cunningham speaks about developing the technique of Torse (1976) through teaching class exercises related to it; his own work on the choreography of Torse, including figuring out phrases using the I Ching [Yi jing; ancient Chinese divination text] prior to teaching the dancers with the help of his notes; [inaudible, Cunningham speaks away from the microphone]; more on teaching Torse to the dancers and the similarities with teaching Fielding sixes (1980); Cunningham speaks about his inspirations for Squaregame (1976); finishing Squaregame while on tour; briefly, the duet in Squaregame and the locations the [Merce Cunningham Dance Company] performed while on tour to Australia in 1976; the Squaregame movement theme of dragging; changes to the parts and angles of the duffle bags for the Squaregame video (1976); the large space requirements for Squaregame; Cunningham speaks in detail about the choreographic procedures he used in creating Squaregame; an alternate ending to the Squaregame video; Cunningham's considerations for the camera arrangements in filming Squaregame, and dance on camera in general; the costume design of using primary colors for the couples; determining the entrances and exits for the six dancers; the re-use of movements from Squaregame in his Travelogue (1977); more on choreographing Travelogue especially in relation to Bob [Robert Rauschenberg]'s props [at times Cunningham is inaudible]; the stage placement of dancer Robert Kovich in Travelogue; working on the order of Travelogue; changes he has made to Travelogue; some of the themes Cunningham explored in Travelogue including referencing vaudeville; [ca. 42:00 abruptly ends, and new recording begins at what sounds like an airport based on background noises]; Cunningham speaks with Vaughan about discussing the props for Travelogue with Rauschenberg; more of Rauschenberg's ideas for the props; ways that the prop design influenced the dance; [ca. 45:18 abruptly ends, and new recording begins]; Cunningham continues to speak with Vaughan about the Travelogue props; Cunningham tells a brief anecdote about his mother flying through India; Cunningham speaks about Morris Graves' stage design for Inlets (1977); choreographing Inlets, especially in relation to the stage design; how the still moments and ambiance of Inlets reminds Cunningham of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States; Vaughan quotes a mesostic written by John Cage and performed at City Center; [ca. 55:01 abruptly ends, and new recording begins]; Vaughan describes a moment in Inlets; Cunningham briefly describes what it feels like to dance within that moment of Inlets. Streaming file 2, Sep. 3: Merce Cunningham speaks with David Vaughan about his Exercise pieces (1975, 1978, 1980) and the re-use of phrases for Events and Changing steps (1973); the structure of Exchange (1978) as related to the "old Company" and "new Company"; Cunningham speaks about the phrases in the first part of Exchange then using chance to determine if the phrases repeat in the second part; more on the choreography of Exchange including his original inspiration and the ending; the challenges of using a notebook to record choreographic notes; Cunningham recalls a conversation with Jasper Johns about the stage design of Exchange; Vaughan's impression of the urban tone of Exchange; they discuss a costume jacket that was never used for Exchange; Cunningham tells an anecdote on Johns' delivery of the costumes for Exchange; Cunningham speaks about the three sections and tells an anecdote about a lift of dancer Catherine Kerr in Exchange; Cunningham speaks about the hidden tango in the beginning of his solo, Tango (1978); briefly, Cage's score for Tango; Cunningham tells an anecdote about clarifying the cue for his entrance; the origin of the television set in Tango; Cunningham speaks about the movements with changeable order from Tango that he re-uses as solos during his Events; more on the choreography for his five solos within Events, including the "50 looks" choreographic component; how he choreographs the solos during the Company's rehearsal breaks; briefly, the section called "pantomime" in the Events of fall 1978, performed in Denver and Minneapolis; Vaughan briefly recalls the difference between the Denver and Minneapolis Event performances; Cunningham speaks about the origin and development of the "50 looks"; Event movement material that he re-uses from Loops (1971); characteristics of each of the five solos for Events [at times Cunningham moves away from the microphone to demonstrate movement]; [ca. 44:06, recorder stops and restarts]; Cunningham speaks about his re-use of components from other works for Events; they speak briefly about Vaughan's upcoming, first NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] panel; Cunningham speaks about creating work regardless of grant money support; [ca. 48:40 recording ends, and new recording begins]; Cunningham speaks about the choreography for Roadrunners (1979), including his inspiration taken from poses; the chance procedures used in the choreography of Roadrunners; more on choreographing Roadrunners, including specific examples from rehearsals.
Type of Resource
Sound recording
RLIN/OCLC: 900293223
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b20516338
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): b86d19b0-b82d-0133-8369-60f81dd2b63c
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

  • 1980: Created (Approximate)
  • 2022: Found by you!
  • 2023

MLA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1980-08-28/1980-09-03" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1980 - 1980.

Chicago/Turabian Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1980-08-28/1980-09-03" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed December 8, 2022.

APA Format

Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library. (1980 - 1980). Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1980-08-28/1980-09-03 Retrieved from

Wikipedia Citation

<ref name=NYPL>{{cite web | url= | title= (sound recording) Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1980-08-28/1980-09-03, (1980 - 1980)|author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=December 8, 2022 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations}}</ref>

Interview with Merce Cunningham, 1980-08-28/1980-09-03