Make That 101: Cunningham Centennial Moves Online

Make That 101: Cunningham Centennial Moves Online

Make That 101: Cunningham Centennial Moves Online

Make That 101: Cunningham Centennial Moves Online

Last year, dance companies around the world celebrated the centennial of Merce Cunningham’s birth by performing some of his vast repertory. Now, over the next few months, more than a dozen of those performances will be viewable online, the Cunningham Trust announced today.

The idea germinated when New York Theater Ballet, whose 40th anniversary performances were canceled because of the pandemic, asked Patricia Lent, the trust’s director of licensing, for permission to stream some of its recent renditions of Cunningham works.

The trust’s standard licensing agreements allow for the streaming of short clips, not full works. Ms. Lent would have to get the other rights holders — composers, designers — to sign off.

Ms. Lent was inclined to make the arrangements, she said — as an exception. “But then I thought, wait a minute, nobody can do a live performance right now,” she recalled. “And there are these videos out there. Might other companies also be interested in streaming right now?”

Many were: Stephen Petronio Company, Ballet de Lorraine, Lyon Opera Ballet and more. And the other rights holders, Ms. Lent said, were “cooperative and generous, wanting to help out in this time when we have no live dance.”

Ken Tabachnick, the trust’s executive director, had a further thought: Why not aggregate all the videos on the trust’s website, creating an online festival?

The festival selections, starting today with Ballet de Lorraine’s performance of “Soundance,” will roll out in an overlapping series through the summer, each available on the website for a month (and on the company’s sites at a different time).

In making selections, some considerations were practical: Which companies had video ready to go? The trust also aimed for variety: a variety of works to demonstrate Cunningham’s stylistic range and a variety of companies, big and small.

Many of the former Cunningham dancers who staged the works are creating introductory videos, in which they will discuss the that process and teach a short movement phrase from the dance.

“When we do that in workshops,” Ms. Lent said, “people always say they find it interesting to see the phrases in advance and then notice them in the dance. It all gives you a kind of backstage view.”


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