Cunningham’s MinEvent

This Blog entry is from a class assignment based on reflections on Cunningham’s MinEvent

Cunningham’s MinEvent: An Abstract Relationship between Music and Dance

The collaboration between Merce Cunningham and John Cage are so often known as independently driven. Therefore, at times, it has resulted in an understanding (or rather misunderstanding) that there is no relationship between the music and the dance. How is this idea of extreme disconnectivity possible when the two elements are co-existing, or as Cunningham put it “operating” in the same space and time, serving the same performance purpose? I would like to challenge this perception and argue that although the relationship between music and choreography is abstract, and the works were made independent of each other’s influences, the collaborative results are still living in a relationship nonetheless.

Firstly, we must acknowledge that the two artists, Cunningham and Cage, have been a long time partners for life. Of course, their relationship as couples does not necessary reflect their collaborations directly, but it does shape the way they understand and allow for each other’s artistic choices and individual freedom. In Dime a Dance, the dancers set the lines and borders of space through rhythmic spatial patterns expressed through directional walks, large steps, or even runs. The music, supports the dance in shaping such space through its static, long-held-silents, tonal singularity, and simple rhythmicality. However, the music is doing so by owning its individuality in this collaboration and not as the only and must-be pillar that holds the dance on top of it. As a result, the independence of music and dance is harmonizing (not in a music term, but as a visual sense) a democratic relationship where two elements exist in regard to each other but created in disregard of their influences.

In Septet, Cunningham chose to construct choreographies that are based on the rhythmic sequences available in Erik Satie’s structure. Clearly, the piece was choreographed to the music, making movement choices that correspond directly to a rhythmic or musical cue. For example, in the opening le chant en dehors (allez moderement) when the male dancer is jumping straight (perhaps responding to the three consecutive measures of octave higher range than the rest of the piece) with vertical arm alterations, each jump falling on the beat and each arm switch getting the half note value with the last one quickly alternating on the quarter note.

However, these choices were not consistent. At times, Cunningham manipulated the impulse of repetition or expected rhythmic choices with surprising actions. One of the many moments that immediately was saved as a moving picture in my memory was the quartet section. The dancers’ architecture, interrelationship of shapes and sculptural moments, with variety of contrast from focus to direction and levels, are still vivid. That is partly due to allowing the music to be heard individually (as opposed to the embodiment of sound) and letting it smoothly color the surroundings of the quartet being performed without waving it off or around.

I would like to end with congratulating the dancers and all those involved in the OSU Department of Dance and Wexner in making the MinEvent happen. It was a successful performance!

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©Bita Bell

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