Cage Day HMT / November 2017 – Text Irina Pauls
The strong influence of the collaboration between John Cage and Merce Cunningham in the field of contemporary dance concerning the relation of dance to time
The collaboration of John Cage and the choreographer Merce Cunningham is a milestone in the development of dance as an art form in it’s own and in my view it is even more: It has still a strong influence on the contemporary dance scene.
We are talking about the connection of dance and music, but the most important moment for the development of dance as an art form was especially the moment, when dance and music separated altogether from each other
In the early 1950 Merce Cunningham had formed his own company in collaboration with his partner, the avant-garde composer John Cage. They saw music and dance as entirely independent forms of art. Cunningham’s dancers would learn the choreography in silence, and only at the first performance would dance, music and set meet for the first time. Cunningham was ennerved by the demand to discover meaning in art; commenting on what a surtain dance was about, he answered: „It’s about 40 minutes.“ The only constraint he tended to offer was the length of the piece.
Quote: „I think the separation of elements, of having dance, music and design created independently, when they do come together they can produce something which no one could predict. They can make something happen that hasn’t happened before.“
Cage’s new idea about the relation of music to time inspired the relation of dance to time! Cage wanted sounds to follow one another in a free, artless sequence, without harmonic glue. Works would be structured simply in terms of durations between events.
That means for the dancers that they are working constantly on the task to approach movement from an inner sensation.
Through this change of perception the dancers develop their inner rhythm, an inside groove, which is your natural rhythm and your personal experience of the timeframe.
What about the relation between movemnt to time nowadays in the professionell contemporary dance scene? It is underestimated!
I see so many choerographies with beautiful and interesting movements, but rarely in an appropriate duration.
Here comes the point of interest for me:
The desire of contemporary dance to establish itself as an art form in its own right, separate from the music (like the concept by Cage and Cunningham) has led to loosing the perception of duration while dancing and to let go the pulse as an organisation principle in the field of contemporary dance.
This in fact constitutes a strange narrowing of the expressive abilities of dance!
We have to develop a sensibility fo the inner rhythm of our movements: Make your dance hearable and visible – visible and hearable.
In my own dance performances I strictly try to work on this subject.