Merce Cunningham 1919-2009
Ocean (1994)
John Cage’s original concept of Ocean, in 1991, was for a dance to be performed in a circular space, with the audience surrounding the dancers, and the musicians (112 of them) surrounding the audience. It was not possible to realize this project at the time, but a commission for performances in Brussels and Amsterdam in 1994 made it a reality. Andrew Culver composed music according to Cage’s concept and David Tudor made an electronic component (Soundings: Ocean Diary). Cunningham’s choreography was in nineteen sections, using a chance process based on the number of hexagrams in the I Ching—64, but owing to the length of the dance this was doubled, 128. This number of phrases allowed for solos, duets, trios, quartets, and group sections. To accustom the dancers to dancing in the round, Cunningham told them “you have to put yourself on a merry-go-round that keeps turning all the time.” Marsha Skinner designed unitards in varied colors; at a certain point the women added dresses. Ocean was first performed in May 1994 at the Cirque Royal, Brussels. It was revived in July 2005 in that year’s Lincoln Center Festival in New York City. The last performance was in the Rainbow Quarry in Minnesota, September 2008, at which time the piece was filmed by Charles Atlas.