The UNCSA schools of Dance, Music, and Design & Production, in collaboration with the Merce Cunningham Trust and in agreement with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and John Cage Trust, will present the first performances in more than 40 years of Cunningham’s “Travelogue,” April 20-23. The work is a highlight of the annual Spring Dance performances at UNCSA, which will also include premieres of new works by alumnus Ashley Lindsey and Tom Gold, and “Shostakovich Suite” by Endalyn T. Outlaw, dean of the School of Dance.
The performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 20-22, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 23, at the Stevens Center, 405 W. Fourth St. Tickets, $15 for students and $20 for adults, are available at online or by calling the box office at 336-721-1945.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company premiered “Travelogue” in 1977 at the Minskoff Theater in New York City. Choreographed by Cunningham, with music by John Cage (“Telephones and Birds”) and design by Robert Rauschenberg (“Tantric Geography”), “Travelogue” was last performed by the Cunningham Company at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris in 1979. The complete work has not been presented since – until now.
“To be able to participate in this reconstruction of Cunningham’s “Travelogue” is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our students,” said Dean Outlaw. “We are fortunate to have the guidance of experts to produce as close a proximation to the original as possible, while, at the same time, allowing our students to embody the work with their artistry and individuality. UNCSA is proud of its long relationship with the Merce Cunningham Trust, and to be presenting this work.”
Ken Tabachnick, executive director of the Merce Cunningham Trust, said, “We are thrilled that “Travelogue” will be available again for people to see thanks to the talent and work of the UNCSA Dance and Design & Production programs, which are strong supporters of the Cunningham legacy.”
Andrea Weber and Marcie Munnerlyn, both former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancers, are staging the work for students from the School of Dance at UNCSA using Cunningham’s choreographic notes and archival video.
“It is really exciting to be recreating this piece,” Weber said. “We were lucky to have four archival videos from the late 1970s as well as Merce’s choreographic notes to use in our reconstruction. For the movement, we relied primarily on the video, but we were able to extract some evocative ideas from Merce’s notes – for example, he used the word “procession” to describe several entrances. It is so rewarding to finally realize this dance!”
David Vaughan, longtime archivist for the Cunningham Company, described “Travelogue” as episodic in structure, with eight dancers engaging in a series of antic encounters and deadpan entanglements.
Asked why it took so long to revive “Travelogue,” Weber speculated about its “intense physicality” and the elaborate sets and costumes.
“It’s so unusual for a Cunningham dance to have props and décor like this,” Weber said. “There’s a large set piece we call ‘the train’ made up of chairs and bicycle wheels and fabric sails. At one point, a dancer wearing pants covered in tin cans does a jumping, spinning solo. In another section the dancers wear large colorful fan skirts that they can pull up in front or behind or both. When they pull up both, it looks like a wheel.”
Cunningham, Cage and Rauschenberg were frequent collaborators in the 1950s and 1960s, but “Travelogue” was their first collaborative work since 1964. When the dance premiered in 1977, The New York Times praised Rauschenberg’s work and Cunningham’s use of contemporary art on the stage, writing, “Mr. Cunningham has always been aware and alert to modern painting, and, as a result, his performances have their very own individual style,” continuing that “the dancing has the pellucid elegance of Mr. Rauschenberg’s designing.”
The Rauschenberg set and costumes will be reconstructed by the School of Design & Production (D&P) and Dance Costume Shop at UNCSA using archival records assembled by Davison Scandrett through research at the New York Public Library and the Rauschenberg Foundation. Scandrett, the Merce Cunningham Trust’s design and production consultant and a graduate of the School of D&P at UNCSA, will also provide advance and onsite oversight of the production.
Adam Tendler, a renowned pianist and John Cage expert, will visit UNCSA to teach dance students how to perform Cage's “Telephones and Birds,” the original music for Cunningham's “Travelogue.” The music, a collage of prerecorded bird songs, live telephone calls to numbers with prerecorded messages, and silence, is determined on the spot by the performers through a series of chance procedures. “I’ve remained faithful to Cage's 1977 score,” Tendler explained, “but I’ve adapted it to incorporate modern technology, namely the use of smartphones, apps, streaming services, and the internet.”
The Merce Cunningham Trust (MCT) and UNCSA have a long and rich relationship. “Travelogue” is the sixth complete Cunningham work performed by UNCSA, the others being “Changing Steps,” “Duets,” “Beach Birds,” “Sounddance” and “Change of Address.” Cunningham Technique® is an integral part of the curriculum of the School of Dance, and MCT stagers have taught Cunningham workshops annually since 2012 as part of the UNCSA Intensive Arts program.
“We have assembled an outstanding team for this reconstruction,” said Patricia Lent, MCT’s director of licensing. “Andrea, Marcie, Davison and Adam are bringing all their expertise and passion to the project. It promises to be a dynamic production.”
Also on the program will be “Shostakovich Suite,” choreographed in 2013 for the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s professional training program by Endalyn T. Outlaw (née Taylor), UNCSA’s dean of Dance who was formerly director of the DTH school. It’s set to Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Jazz Suite.” Dean Outlaw will restage the work for the dance students with costumes designed by Director of the Dance Costume Shop, Marissa McCullough Peck. Alumna Jenna Anderson (B.F.A. Design and Production ’22) assisted with the assembly of the tutu skirts.
The performances will also include the premiere of a new work by alumnus Ashley Lindsey (College Arts Diploma, Dance, ’07). Lindsey is currently a visiting professor and the director of the Summer Dance programat UNCSA. His new piece will be a large-scale ensemble work that explores the theme of trust and its various layers. The choreography will use Lindsey's signature virtuosic and physical movement vocabulary.
A new piece by Tom Gold, former New York City Ballet soloist and founder of Tom Gold Dance, was inspired by his relationship with Dean Outlaw, with whom he attended ballet school in Chicago. It depicts the connections made through the arts as represented by the NYC subway system. “You are on your own journey but constantly crossing paths with old friends,” he said. The music – ‘Road Sign Variations’ – will feature actual announcements from the NYC subway.
The School of Dance at UNCSA is one of the world’s premier dance schools employing a distinctive conservatory approach to developing and teaching talented young performers, from the high school through undergraduate levels. Hands-on training from world-class resident faculty members and professional guest artists offers a thorough yet nurturing approach for the next generation of performers to become technically sound, artistically sensitive and versatile professional dancers. Students concentrate in either classical ballet or contemporary dance, but train and perform in both, with numerous performance opportunities that allow them to explore a diverse repertory. The school also offers a Preparatory Dance program in ballet for rising third- through ninth-graders as well as Summer Dance Intensives, and is host of the annual UNCSA Festival of Dance. Students regularly compete at competitions such as Youth America Grand Prix and Prix de Lausanne.
Classical ballet graduates have enjoyed successful careers, including becoming soloists, principal dancers, choreographers and artistic directors with the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet, among many others. Graduates of the contemporary dance program enjoy careers as dancers and choreographers for companies such as the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Martha Graham Ensemble, along with their own companies. Alumni include Camille A. Brown, Kyle Davis, Kevin Lee-Y Green, Blaine Hoven, Juel D. Lane, Trey McIntyre, Gillian Murphy, Anthony Santos, Helen Simoneau, and Dwana Smallwood, among many others performing, creating and leading worldwide.
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April 04, 2023