Merce Cunningham

Septet (1964)

  • 4 individuals - 1 boy, 3 girls

  • Moving from being separate individuals to folding over together to become one, in one singular movement

  • Finding multiple ways by which they can achieve this unity

  • Each individual holding and supporting another individual in some way

  • Moving together, holding position, releasing to find the next position

  • One point where all energy is released from, all balance is restored at

  • Man seems to lead and the three women follow. Classic! He is the central focus. In fact, the 3 females always seem to gravitate towards the male.

  • Linking together of arms and legs - connections always tightened but the act of folding

  • Slow and steady movements. Breaks and moments of held positions. These do not mean that the routine is lacking in fluidity

  • Extreme strength and control involved in positions that a chosen - because most of the time they can’t just be fleeting. They have to be presented and stuck to. Moments and positions of incredible strength made to look effortless

  • Moments of unison - lunging together at the same time, moving forwards together. Travelling together

  • Motif of lifting up the leg, bending and holding at almost perfect right angles, pointed toes

  • Finding a point and relaxing into it

Pond Way (1998)

  • One of Cunningham’s ‘nature studies’ where the movement evokes birds, animals or landscapes

  • Movements, according to Cunningham, being reminiscent of the game of shimming stones over a pond, which he loved to play as a child

  • Large amount of performers - 12 in total

  • Moments when half the group - or a number of people within the group move in unison. Stop. Wait. The next half of the group makes a movement in unison

  • When the performers aren’t moving in unison they are picking up on the tail of the movements of others. So that when a moment is about to stop, it is picked up by another. The movement is continuous

  • Moving past each other almost as if they are moving through each other

  • Always stretching out - reaching towards something

  • Bounces in the air - landings making almost no sound at all

  • Someone has to be moving at all times. Even when the rest of the group is still. The energy has to be continued, carried by a being

  • Most movements seems to be a method of moving across the space - travelling

  • Sometimes you think a movement has ended and it is reborn

  • Sometimes figures appear almost perfectly still and then you realise that a small part of them in moving

  • Jumps involving the legs bending but the feet staying stuck together

  • Whole performance divided into sections of TYPES of movements

  • Any unison isn’t quite perfect unison - each person carries with them their own intricacies of timing, shape, harshness, softness

Beach Birds for Camera (1992)

  • Making different movements whilst also seeming to be synchronised - in tune with one another

  • A current running through the group

  • Co-ordination in separation

  • Supporting, responding to, mirroring each other without having to actually touch (at certain points). They don’t need to touch each other to support each other

  • Facilitating the movements of others. Actually moving the body parts of others into the correct positions. Holding the weight of them, changing their direction

  • Birdlike, their bodies are restricted according to the bodily restrictions that birds also face. The performers are not able to move to their full capability because this would not fit the criteria

  • Other body parts used to replicate the wings. Legs. Flapping, momentum, delicacy at the end points of the body part

  • Torso seems to direct the rest of the body. The body at least always being directed by a specific section

  • Moments of rest of certain groups allows other groups, bundles of performers, to be focussed on

  • Sometimes movement in unison suggests individuals being in the same environment or circumstances

  • Isolated movement of singular body parts

  • The hanging of limbs

  • Arms and legs made to curve round so that wings are replicated

  • A complete routine rotating around one spot, one space on the floor

  • Making slight movements back and forth. Not major but regular

  • So good when pairs or trios synchronise. Groups of people synchronising at the same time as other groups, but synchronising a completely different series of movements

  • Elegance - tip toes, extended arms. Elegant but stuttered

  • Spinning around, circulating one single point

  • Creation of circles, all individuals connected to each other by hands, all on different levels, hands facing downwards. Others come to perform movement in the middle of this circle. The circle acts as a stage

Within Cunningham’s choreography, the performers’ support of one another is thorough and profuse, meaning that although there are plenty of solos within the group routines, it is the facilitation of the movement of the other which really dominates. The performers move to allow the other to move, movement of individuals would not be possible without preparation and guidance provided by other individuals. His work has instigated thought regarding support and facilitation of the other within my own work, the consideration of these elements being a key feature. I believe that the sole aim of ‘assistance’ and ‘reinforcement’ is enough to drive a full performance, with each sequence of movements working towards . I would like to work on the idea of a performance in which performer is working FOR another performer, each performer provides for someone, and each performer has someone providing for them. As long as you provide, you are provided for.

Cunningham seems to work towards everlasting movement, the continuation of an energy which runs through individuals but is not exclusive to any one of them. When we as an audience begin to believe that a movement has concluded, we see it being continued elsewhere within the space by somebody else, and so begins a chain of movement. The original movement is remoulded, reconfigured, coded individual in each individual it is performed by. The multiple streams of movement which the routines consist of create the illusion that the motion is never-ending, that it HAS to exist is some shape or form : in a similar way to how energy works.

Cunningham provides an excellent example of a group of performers being set a criteria and working with it faultlessly, unwavering from the task and in this commitment, maintaining the illusion of the creatures they are embodying. Although I have often found it difficult (as I think most probably do, too) to buy into humans performing as animals, the meticulous nature of Cunningham’s routines allows for no deviation from the rules, the animalistic movements become the norm : we are convinced.

I have attempted on multiple occasions to involve synchronisation within my own performances - this has been unsuccessful for the most part because the accuracy this requires cannot be accommodated by a choreography which relies on interpretation. Cunningham’s work showcases synchronisation extensively, on multiple levels, happening at so many different points with so many different combinations of people. This synchronisation must require scrupulous planning and painstaking organisation which unfortunately cannot play a part in my current work, because it is characterised by its spontaneity, its improvisation. However, by making key changes to my notation, making my own intentions extremely distinct at points, implementing more direction through the stimuli, I may be able to include tighter and more regular synchronisation.